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Fiji Time: 11:17 AM on Thursday 31 July

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Slaves no more

Solomoni Biumaiono
Saturday, August 04, 2012

Reverend Jovilisi Lutu took a long hard look at the people who were sitting inside the church and reminded them that they would not be reading their history as was the practice in the past.

Instead he shared with them the gospel about the need to surrender to God first and then they will find that the rest of the world will glorify them as a people.

All heads were bowed reverently as they all listened intently to the new message coming from the pulpit.

Mr Jovilisi who also hails from Lovoni shared this gospel with his kinsmen as they commemorate the day their ancestors were sold off as slaves by Ratu Seru Cakobau way back in 1871.

On the 7th of July every year, the people of Lovoni all over the world mark this day with a church service.

According to the history that was passed down to the Lovoni people by the late Tui Wailevu Ratu Isikia Rogoyawa, the people of Lovoni people and their lands were sold off to planters, traders and others who could afford to buy a servant.

The facts of this story were given to the late Ratu Isikia by a Saumatua man who was only 15 years-old when the events took place in 1871.

The four page document explained how Ratu Seru Cakobau could not subdue the Lovoni people through open warfare and reverted to treachery to defeat them.

Ratu Cakobau offered the people of Lovoni an olive branch by inviting them to Levuka Village where he prepared a feast for them. The feast was his way of saying that any animosity between the two warring people has ended, but as soon as the Lovoni people laid down their arms, he ordered his army to arrest them.

The Lovoni people came down to Levuka on June 29 of 1871 and were sold off as slaves on July 7 of the same year.

But first they were tortured by being forced to crawl on their hands and knees through Levuka with a heavy basket of soil hanging from their necks.

According to the document, Ratu Cakobau gained 5,695 pounds from the sale of all the Lovoni people, which were being sold at three pounds per head.

The Lovoni people were scattered into the wind and villages which have connections to the Lovoni people are the people of Vanuakula in Waidina, Naitasiri, the people of Kavala in Kadavu, the people of Daku in Tailevu and the people of Ono-i-Lau in the Lau Group.

Four of them made it as far as the United States of America where they became an act in a touring circus.

The sum Ratu Cakobau gained from the sale of the Lovoni lands is not known.

It was only in the 1900s that the people of Lovoni were allowed to return and rebuild their villages

Lovoni village headman Samueli Saurara said when the history of his people used to be read from the pulpit, people always openly cried.

This is one time of the year which is a stark reminder to the Lovoni people of how they have been treated as pariahs from their very own lands.

The way they responded to this tag varied but many have resorted to violent physical behaviour as a reminder to themselves and the rest of the world that they are the unconquered people.

Much of the time this has not worked in their favour and considering the very spiritual and superstitious nature of the iTaukei, many see this as a curse or still feel maligned in general society.

They still feel like a people scattered. The hurt and the pain that is more than 100 years-old still linger like a festered sore.

As the men of Lovoni gathered at the residence of the Lovoni chief the Tui Wailevu, after the church service, one of the men,Vatere Mateiwai shared his thoughts about the church service.

Vatere said Mr Jovilisi's sermon struck a chord in his heart. He said when he was growing up in Lovoni, his elders always reminded him that he came from a line of people that were never conquered in war.

He said this has always made him proud, even to the extent of involving himself in fist fights and other rowdy behaviour to show that he was a kai Lovoni. He says because of this thinking, many of them have ended up in prison.

But he was baffled by what Mr Lutu shared with the congregation. He may have expected some sympathy from Mr Lutu since he is a Lovoni man too, and pointedly adds that they were asked to surrender 141 years ago when they were sold off as slaves. Now they're being asked to surrender again.

After a few more rounds of grog, Vatere piped up again and said that after thinking of what Mr Lutu shared with them, he has come to a conclusion that it is indeed true, that a change in mind-set is needed.

He agreed that it is time for their people to surrender to God and he thinks that great blessings will be awaiting his people once they have given everything over to God and allow his will to be done.

I thought this may have been a grog induced speech but as Vatere continued, it dawned on me that this is a lament. A lament for his people. A people scattered.

Belonging to a generation that grew up with the hatred borne out of the suffering of their ancestors, Vatere has finally gone full circle.

Whether the vanua has gone full circle too is another question that is best left to the villagers of Lovoni to answer.


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