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The land at Nukuwatu

Sailosi Batiratu
Sunday, December 16, 2012

IN late October, The Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley introduced me to a gentleman by the name of Frank Shaw. Frank had come into the office with his book, Beacon of Hope, a map he says we can follow in our daily lives to realise the hope for a better Fiji.

Mention the name Shaw along with that of the Rogers and Rodans and some among us will immediately make connections with Nukuwatu in Lami.

Apart from the Beacon of Hope, Frank said he had another story. It was his version of the piece of land at Nukuwatu. A few days later he popped into the office with typed notes titled Nukuwatu: A Brief History.

He writes: The history of Nukuwatu is closely linked to the history of the Shaws. The first Shaw (Sipriano) arrived in Bau around 1814 on the armed Manila brig Laurice (Captain Josef Belistrana) to fish for bech-de-mer (dri). (The motley crew was comprised mainly of Manila-men who were of Spanish-Filipino ancestry). Following a mutiny on bird the ill-fated vessel in which the captain, mate and boatswain were killed, the crew settled on the chiefly island of Bau."

After putting forward a possible reason for the mutiny, Shaw continues: "According to tradition Sipriano, Saviriano in Fijian, married Miriama, also known as (aka) Kapua or Kafua. It is said that she was a close relative of Cakobau."

Frank says Sipriano had a son, Jone Soa Catimaibau, aka Jone Cati, and at least one daughter Ana, Ana Levu from Miriama.

"Some Bauans suggest that Jone's father was actually Charles Savage. I would be rather sceptical of this argument considering that Jone Cati's descendants look more like Manila-men than Swedes. (Children don't lie.) A more probable explanation would be that Sipriano married Charlie's widow. Jone was switched at birth to survive," Frank said.

He says that Charlie Savage's sons were killed at birth because of their high vasu status and the same fate would have befallen Jone Cati. However he was saved because another woman gave birth to a girl close by. The babies were then switched by the midwives and Jone was thus allowed to live.

Frank believes Cati's survival was reward for Sipiriano saving the foreigners on board the Laurice during the mutiny. He says it is interesting to note that of all the crew on the ship only his descendants remain as a community to this day.

Frank says Sipiriano also had a son, Aminiasi Tiritabua, from a Waiqanake woman. Nukuwatu was given to this vasu by the Navakavu people of Waiqanake who were the original owners.

Tiritabua was unable to have children so he invited his half-brother, Jone Cati, to come and settle at Nukuwatu. There seems to be a jinx attached to the name Tiritabua. Any kai Nukuwatu or Waiqanake who bears this name cannot have children. Frank believes God allows this to prove the veracity of the legend.

The original boundary of Nukuwatu was from the Lami Bridge to the native reserve at Naivikinikini including Mosquito Island with the Lami River as the inland border. (Mosquito Island was named Moririka in Fijian. The name stems from the sound marororika made by the sea creatures in the area. The penultimate syllable had a high pitch. The sound was not unlike the chirping of crickets on land.) It is interesting to note that when the Queens Rd was being built our ancestors stopped construction works at Naivikinikini. The area near the Novotel hotel is known as Kelikoso to this day. It is also referred to as Nabulukoso.

Frank says it is significantly there were no iTaukei villages or settlements in the Nukuwatu area prior to their arrival probably because much of the area was marsh, unsuitable to sustain a large group of people.

There was also much superstition attached to the area. The sea god, Dakuwaqa, was supposed to come ashore here and proceed to a location up in the hills in the guise of an old Indian man. I remember we told as kids not to talk to any old Indian man walking alone the road at night.

The original settlement of Nukuwatu was up by Vetaia St where the Ezi Build Factory and BOC Gas now stand. It was shifted to the present location nearer the beach to facilitate repair works on fishing boats and occasionally government vessels. Technically the Shaws would be the original settlers of Nukuwatu considering it was devoid of human habitation prior to our arrival.

After an initial read through the story, checks were then made with the people of Navakavu. This was not hard to do as their spokesmen; Taniela Bani the secretary for their development committee and Joape Tukitoga Caginidaveta, the committee chairman, had been recently in the news regarding work at Draunibota.

A call to Bani led to Caginidaveta who is known in that area as Turaga ni ovisa vakacegu (retired police officer).

When informed of Frank's version, he said: "E ka dina qori. (That is the truth.) E vica na ka keitou sa qarava tiko me baleta na qele kei na i qoliqoli. (We are looking into several matters regarding the land and qoliqoli)."

Caginidaveta said all those things would have to be referred to the Veitarogivanua or the Native Lands Commission (NLC). He however was quick to point out their committee is new and they were working on one issue at a time.

The former police officer said that while the ownership of land and fishing rights was important, what was more important was that the truth should prevail.

A call was then made to Esiromi Ratini, more commonly known as Ratini, of the mataqali (landowning unit) Nasevou at Lami Village.

Upon hearing the reason behind my call he agreed to a meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

Our driver Anthony Magnus, who resides in that area, was on duty and was more than happy to take me to meet Ratini.

After traditional protocol had been observed, Ratini started off by saying that he preferred he meet those making such statements regarding the piece of land at Nukuwatu face-to-face.

To give some context, he then related an account of a two-day gathering that was held at Waiqanake in 1904. A check with the office of the NLC revealed there had indeed been a meeting at Waiqanake in 1904 and was headed by Basil Thomson.

Ratini said his grandfather, Vetaia Seni, represented Nasevou at the Waiqanake forum.

His grandfather's meals he said had been prepared by whom he refers to as the koivalagi; Rodan, Rogers and Shaw families, who then resided at Nukuwatu. He says it was with the help of the koivalagi of Nukuwatu, which they have had amicable relationships with, no tract of Nasevou is classified as freehold. It is all still under native ownership.

Ratini says this amicable relationship lasts to this day as evidenced by two names from the Rogers family, Louis and Anna, which they in the mataqali Nasevou now use. He pointed to a lad beside the tanoa and said his name was Lui, the iTaukei version of Louis.

It was after that meeting at Waiqanake Ratini says that Seni decided to give the land at Nukuwatu to the families residing there. The families, he says, however asked that it be written the land had been purchased for a shilling. Maybe so as to ensure they had legal rights to the land.

He says Seni's yaqona was prepared by the Solomon Islanders residing on their land, where their boundary meets that of those from Tamavua Village, at Wailoku. Ratini said the yaqona was then filled in stalks of bamboo and taken to Waiqanake.

A living testament to this agreement of his elders and those who settled at Wailoku is that every year their descendants make their way over to Lami Village and clear the cemetery. He said it did not happen this year because they at Lami had asked that they from Wailoku not come over as the cemetery did not need weeding.

So came to an end our meeting regarding the piece of land at Nukuwatu. But not before Ratini had shared about the sandbank that is the harbinger of death.

That, however, is for another day.

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