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Tanoa keeps memories alive

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

IT is reported to be in existence for more than two centuries.

But it is no longer in use now because it is cracked.

However, the tanoa (carved wooden kava basin) has kept memories of a buried village alive.

The tanoa is the only thing retrieved from Nagaga Village that was buried by a landslide on the night of February 22, 1931.

Many people were killed in the landslide which started from Mount Batilamu with only three men surviving the tragedy.

Story has it that the trio were sitting next to the tanoa when the landslide happened, thus one of them was able to get hold of it.

Rupeni Saukitoga or Sau, Levani Kubu and Livai Lobau were reported to have crawled out of a small gap "underground", with the tanoa.

The landslide happened after two weeks of continuous heavy rain, resulting in a part of Mount Batilamu breaking away.

As a result, the boulders went tumbling down straight towards the village, burying everything in its path, including several Nagaga villagers.

It has been reported in various websites that Fiji was hit by a cyclone around that time in February, 1931 and Lautoka bore the brunt of it.

From stories passed down by the survivors, the landslide is said to have happened during the cyclone.

The Nagaga villagers were reportedly drinking yaqona and singing when a part of Mount Batilamu broke loose and headed straight for their village.

Surprisingly, a 'deaf' person in the village reportedly heard the "bulldozing" sound from up in the mountains and alerted other villagers.

But the villagers reportedly ignored the alert simply because the person was deaf.

However, after crawling out from the buried village, the three survivors went out in search of a new village site and found the letters ABC written high up on a rock.

It resulted in the formation of their new village ABACA in the Koroyanitu mountain range, which is 16 kilometres away from Lautoka City.

Abaca Village chief, Ratu Ilai Urunakuila, 76, said the tanoa was the only thing retrieved from the buried village by the three survivors.

Ratu Ilai is the second eldest of Rupeni Saukitoga's five sons and one daughter.

His younger brother, Viliame Rokoua is the headman of Abaca, which has also gained popularity as an eco-tourism site.

"The tanoa was used by our ancestors and even us in Abaca for more than 200 years and it was carved with a stone axe," said Ratu Ilai.

"The survivors, including my father, spoke very little about the tragic landslide.

"When I was small, my father told me stories about what had happened and how they named Abaca Village.

"But the survivors, including my father, would say just a few things about the past and then stopped and sat silently."

Ratu Ilai said apart from the tanoa being used by their ancestors in the former Nagaga Village, it was also used in Abaca Village until recently.

He said when visitors went to Abaca before, they used the tanoa for the sevusevu (traditional kava ceremony).

But the tanoa is no longer in use now and it is hanging in the chief's house in the middle of the village.

"The tanoa was the only thing that the survivors were able to retrieve from the buried Nagaga Village when they crawled out to safety," said Ratu Ilai.

"From what I know, the three men were sitting next to the tanoa when the massive landslide happened on the night of February 22, 1931.

"So my father managed to get hold of the tanoa when he and the other two men crawled out to the open from a gap underground.

"It is the only thing that we have in memory of our ancestors and the older Nagaga villagers and it's our treasured possession."

Ratu Ilai said his father, Mr Kubu and Mr Lobau married women from other parts of Viti Levu and settled in their new village ABACA.

The letters ABC written on the rock were translated as ai vakatekivu (beginning), B as bula tawa mudu (eternal life) and C as cakacaka mana (miracle work). The three survivors knew the letters as those from the alphabet because a missionary is reported to have gone to the old Nagaga Village in 1835 and taught the villagers.

The knowledge was passed down the generations, thus the three survivors being aware of the three letters.

It is still not known how the letters were written or rather engraved or carved high up in the rock, as the only way one can reach there is by flying.

Abaca villagers say how the letters came there remains a mystery and they sometimes wondered how they got on that part of the rock.

While the letters A and B have disappeared to some extent naturally or mysteriously, the letter C can be seen slightly.

The villagers believe that there would be some good luck for Abaca when the letter C disappears naturally or mysteriously.

Ratu Ilai said he could not really say what made his ancestors translate ABC into what they did.

"But the belief is there that there's some good luck in store for Abaca by the way the letters have been translated.

"We don't even know yet how the letters got on the rock as no one can reach there just like that.

"It's a mystery but the belief is that when the letter C disappears, then something good will happen for the people of Abaca."

Ratu Ilai said he saw a good future in store for Abaca Village, which has rocks dating back to a volcanic eruption millions of years ago.

Being isolated from the outside world, Abaca has an interesting history, which is also filled with mystery. Villagers have reported hearing voices of their ancestors when out alone at or near the buried village, which is three kilometres away from Abaca.

They have also reported hearing cries for help from the buried village at night, something which they have become used to now.

Several questions about Abaca may remain unanswered and only time will tell whether the mystery of the letters ABC will be solved and the villagers belief come true.

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