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Saru's rock of ages

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

IT is the site of an ancient village and it has been preserved by the Fiji Museum.

The village is said to have been established well before the arrival of Lutunasobasoba, who is documented to be the first iTaukei to set foot on Fiji.

Villagers say Fiji was inhabited when Lutunasobasoba came with his family and other people on board the Kaunitoni.

Among those already in Fiji at that time were their ancestors, who lived on the coast of Lautoka and later moved inland, they said.

Considering the historical importance of their village, the villagers of Saru requested the Fiji Museum to conduct an archaeological impact assessment of their old village site.

The old Saru Village site is located at Taiperia settlement, an area commonly known as Naqiroso, which is a 10-minute drive from Lautoka City.

Some of the things found at the old village site during the assessment in October 2012 were pieces of pottery, shell middens and a house mound.

A rock which is said to hold supernatural powers was also at the ancient village site but it lies at the centre of the new Saru Village now.

The turaga ni mataqali Nadakuvatu, Seremaia Seuseu, said the old village site holds important historical stories of their forefathers.

Mr Seuseu, 67, said the site was archaeologically and culturally significant for the villagers because it was where their ancestors lived.

A copy of the Fiji Museum's assessment report was handed to The Fiji Times by the villagers, who said they treasured the ancient village site.

The report states that the inspection focused on identifying cultural features and tangible evidence that still exist within the site, including the boundary layout and structure of the old village site.

As a result of the assessment, the team was able to verify the originality and the state of the preservation of the site and to determine the need to establish a buffer boundary.

The assessment report says the ancient site contains significant cultural remains of the traditional owners.

An overview of the assessment was to record and assess archaeological or historical sites and to provide an opinion on the importance of the site and recommend appropriate development restrictions and conservation requirements.

The Fiji Museum team found a house mound measuring 10 metres by nine metres, which is similar to mound structures identified on Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

"The mound was partly destroyed due to the erosion processes as the area is vulnerable to flooding," read the museum's assessment report.

"This factor has contributed largely to the disturbances of cultural features that may have existed in the area."

Furthermore, the report says an ancestral burial ground or bulubulu was also highlighted by the villagers and the place is used for farming now.

The report says there were no visible burials or relevant formations on the site surface as the area had been cultivated upon over the years by people living in the area.

It says pottery shards and shell middens were also identified at the site, with several of the shards having incised markings, patterns that date back hundreds of years.

But of all things found at the ancient village site, the most important and sacred is a rock or the vatu ni veibuli as the Saru villagers call it.

From what they have been told by their forefathers, members of the yavusa Saru say the rock holds supernatural powers as it can move by itself.

Jiuta Vuda, an elder of Saru Village, said the vatu ni veibuli was used during the installation of a chief by their ancestors.

He said the chief used to sit on the rock during the installation.

Measuring a little more than two metres and about 45 centimetres at its widest with the head section split, the rock may have also been used for sharpening stone tools as sharpening engravings were evident on the surface, says the assessment report.

The report says the assessed area is of great cultural significance as they contain tangible evidences and historical accounts of the yavusa Saru whose descendants now reside at the new Saru Village.

Undocumented oral accounts of the movements of residents of the ancient village are also available from village or mataqali elders, it says.

Furthermore, the report says the assessment team was able to find distinct evidence of cultural features and remnants that were sufficient enough to support and ascertain human settlement.

The team identified a house mound that was a typical structure of ancestral sites and characteristic of rectangle house mounds identified on the two main islands in Fiji.

In the report, the team says infrastructural development and human occupation are major contributors to the disturbance of cultural sites.

"This site has undergone great disturbances that have permanently removed cultural features that may have existed on the site," the report read.

"The activities of agricultural farming in the area and the usage of farming equipment by occupants has greatly affected the preservation of this cultural site."

On non-human related disturbance, the report says these threats occur naturally and cause irreversible damage.

"These natural elements — tropical cyclones, heavy rain, strong winds and erosion contribute to changing and shaping the natural and cultural landscape.

"As the site is situated beside the river, it is envisaged that during heavy rainfall the area is prone to flooding, thus this will greatly affect the original structure of cultural features within the study area.

"The site is also beside the coast and the rising of sea level nowadays could also be a contributing factor to the erosion of the site."

In concluding its assessment report, the Fiji Museum team says the site is an important tangible part of the historical accounts of the descendants and original owners of the ancestral site and plays a significant role in the identity of its people.

As a result of the assessment, the museum was able to confirm the cultural features that still exist on the site.

To safeguard the assessed areas from further development, the museum utilised the Preservation of Archaeological & Palaeontological Interest Act Cap.264, Laws of Fiji to preserve a part of the site's history and its people.

* NEXT WEEK: The movements

of Saru villagers' ancestors





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