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The tale of the ancient settlers

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, April 01, 2014

THEY are said to have arrived in Fiji hundreds of years ago.

And their arrival was said to have been before Lutunasobasoba, the first documented iTaukei to set foot here with his family and other people.

It is documented that Lutunasobasoba landed at Vuda in Lautoka but Viseisei villagers told this newspaper early last year that he disembarked from the ship at Lomolomo, some distance away.

There have been recent claims by villagers of Vatusekiyasawa in Rakiraki that he was not the first iTaukei to arrive in Fiji.

Vatusekiyasawa villagers claim their forefather Tuiwai was the first person to set foot on Fiji and he settled in the Nakauvadra mountain range in Rakiraki.

In the most recent claim, villagers of Saru (commonly known as Tavakubu) in Lautoka say their forefathers were in Fiji before Lutunasobasoba and his family's arrived.

Their ancestors reportedly lived near the coast of Lautoka, between Navutu and Naqiroso in Natabua, and the village was known as Saru.

But before moving there, the villagers' ancestors are said to have lived at Lomolomo, which is between Lautoka and Nadi, after arriving in Fiji.

What made them move from one place to another may not be documented but villagers have an oral account of it, as passed down the generations by their forefathers.

Village elder Jiuta Vuda said their forefathers were in Fiji before the arrival of Lutunasobasoba, adding he was not the first person to set foot on Fiji as documented.

"When Lutunasobasoba came to Fiji with his family, people were already in Fiji and the Vuda district," he said.

"Story has it that our forefathers made lovo for the then Tui Vuda and it was half cooked. As a result, the then Tui Vuda got angry and he chased our forefathers, who moved from Lomolomo with other people who were with them."

Mr Vuda said some people settled at Lawaki while his forefathers moved to the Marine Drive area in Lautoka and settled there before moving to the old Saru Village.

He said there were six villages at the old site between Navutu and Naqiroso, including their ancestors' village.

"When they fought, the villagers split and some went to Sabeto, others to Lawai in Valley Rd, Sigatoka and some to Natokowaqa from where they looked out for boats.

"From the old village, our ancestors moved to Namoli and some people who lived in Vitogo later came to live in Namoli.

"Some people lived where Vunato is now. People from other places came and asked our ancestors for place to stay.

"Our ancestors gave them land to stay on but these people who came and asked for a place to stay later tried to kill our forefathers, who moved to the new Saru Village."

Mr Vuda said after moving to Saru, his forefathers later learnt that the land where they lived on in Namoli had been sold.

He said people who allegedly sold the land approached his forefathers to seek forgiveness for selling the land without their permission.

"These people then built homes for our ancestors as a form of payback for what they did."

Mr Vuda also said when the Lautoka wharf was being constructed, people involved in construction works faced difficulty.

"The workers went to all the villages to seek the assistance of villagers because the concrete poles they used to drive into the water during the construction phase always sank.

"When they did not get any help or blessings from the villages, they came to Saru to seek the blessings of our forefathers.

"They went back to continue with the construction of the wharf and the concrete posts never sank in the water, they went in well."

Mr Vuda said the permission of his ancestors was also taken for other blasting or major construction works in the Lautoka area.

He also said 38,000 acres of land, including Bekana and Vio islands, which belonged to his ancestors, were sold in 1865 in exchange for 25 guns.

"The land from Naqiroso to Lagilagi in Naikabula (towards Ba) and right up to the hills belongs to our mataqali (landowning unit)," he claimed.

Mr Vuda said Saru villagers were getting the lease money for Bekana Island, saying Savala Island also belonged to the mataqali.

The turaga ni mataqali Nadakuvatu, Seremaia Seuseu, also said his landowning unit owned Bekana and Savala islands, which are off Lautoka.

Mr Seuseu, 67, also stated that his ancestors were chased from where they lived after arriving in Fiji and they later moved to various places.

He said their forefathers moved out from the Marine Drive area in Lautoka because they were at a great risk of being killed.

"It was sometime in the 1800s when a European man bought land from my forefathers and he gave the name of the new village as Tavakubu. The place where my forefathers lived in the marine drive area was called Tava."

Mr Seuseu said a stone that was at the ancient village was now at the new Saru or Tavakubu Village as it is commonly known.

He said the stone or vatu ni veibuli measuring slightly more than two metres in length was used during the installation of a chief, who sat on it during the ceremony.

"There is no chief at Tavakubu now and a turaga ni yavusa will be named soon," said Mr Seuseu.

In October 2012, the Fiji Museum's archaeology department did an archaeological impact assessment at the old Saru Village site.

The assessment found a house mound measuring 10 metres by nine metres, some pottery sherds and shell middens at the ancient village site.

Since people are living at the ancient village site, which has been preserved by the Fiji Museum, the area has been disturbed because of agricultural farming practices.

"The assessed area is of great cultural significance as they contain tangible evidences and historical accounts of the Yavusa Saru whose descendants now reside in the village of Saru, Vitogo, Ba," the assessment report said.

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

"The site has undergone great disturbances that have permanently removed cultural features that may have existed on the site.

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

In its report, the Fiji Museum's archaeological team recommended that the yavusa members refer to other government departments for the confirmation of land ownership.

While the land ownership issue has not been confirmed yet, Mr Vuda said they had maps and other documents to prove that they owned most of the land in Lautoka, something they inherited from their ancestors.

* NEXT WEEK: The vatu ni veibuli.

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