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Sanctioning of wars and rites

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, April 22, 2014

IT was a part of life in ancient times and each war is said to have avenged an earlier one in a vicious cycle. But the wars were said to have been sanctioned by the war gods, who demanded war and human sacrifice for religious purposes.

For example, when the posts for a war god's temple or bure kalou were cut and ready for hauling to the town, human sacrifices called yara ni duru or dragging of the posts were required for the gods.

There were other sacrifices too relating to the wars, according to Fergus Clunie in his book Fijian Weapons and Warfare, which is a Fiji Museum bulletin published by Fiji Times & Herald in 1977.

Mr Clunie is said to have lived in Fiji since his birth until 1987 when the first coup happened. He was a director of the Fiji Museum.

Museum registrar Sela Rayawa said the best description about Fiji's historical past had been documented by Mr Clunie and he referred The Fiji Times to the book.

However, Mr Clunie has documented that the erection of a temple was not the only occasion at which the gods cried out for blood.

"Similar sacrifices were called for when building the huge double canoes or drua which were waqa tabu or sacred craft," he wrote.

"Religion demanded that human bodies should be used for rollers at the launching, the decks to be washed in blood, and men sacrificed at the lowering of the mast after the maiden voyage.

"In all these cases, the bodies were offered to the gods then eaten on their behalf."

Many other religious rites are said to have involved the sacrifice and eating of human beings, and these were responsible for countless murders, raids and ambushes.

Outright cannibalism is also documented to have been a cause of small wars, with raids being organised exclusively to obtain bodies with which to entertain high chiefs at feasts.

During the 19th century, religion is said to have caused still further bloodshed through the numerous civil wars and skirmishes between newly-converted Christian Fijians and the faithful followers of the old religion.

Mr Clunie wrote that before engaging in a war or raid, the Fijians conducted religious ceremonies and consulted the gods in an attempt to ensure success in the campaign, and in some cases to render the warriors invulnerable to the weapons of their enemies.

"These ceremonies are of particular interest to us as some of them directly involved the weapons of the warriors," he wrote.

Furthermore, he wrote that there was a myriad of gods in Fiji, with each district and tribe having its own local deities.

Mr Clunie wrote that the temple or bure kalou of the war gods which were often allowed to fall into disrepair in peace time were rebuilt or repaired and offerings of food and property made to the gods.

The interiors of old and prestigious temples are said to have often resembled armouries, with rows and bundles of spears stacked in the rafters. Muskets, bows and arrows, throwing clubs and clubs hung on the walls.

According to Mr Clunie's book, these weapons had either been presented as offerings or i sigani to the gods when consulting them through the medium of the priests on minor and major matters in both peace and war.

The weapons stored in temples were generally regarded as sacred things which ordinary folk were unable to handle.

Some of the clubs kept in temples were those of past heroes of the tribes and carefully oiled and shrouded in bark clothes, serving as their memorials.

Mr Clunie wrote that some of these were the shrines of gods and defied ancestral figures and used in religious divination rites prior to war.

"In one version of these divination ceremonies, a sacred throwing club or i ula was placed between the extended legs of a seated priest and if his right leg trembled, the omen was for a successful expedition but if the left leg trembled, the enterprise was doomed to failure and was abandoned."

One of the commonest methods of divination prior to battle is documented to have been conducted in the open air before the warriors assembled to boast or bole bole to boost morale than provide a serious preview of the coming fight.

Also, it is documented that the priests had the courage of their convictions and when not too old, they often accompanied the war parties in a fighting role.

Mr Clunie wrote that many war parties inevitably set out with promises of glory from the gods, only to return sullenly home with heavy casualties in utter defeat.

He also wrote that for at lease several days before a fight, the warriors usually abstained from sexual relations in an attempt to ensure the success of the expedition.

Religious ceremonies were said to have been conducted under the direction of a priest to make the warriors vodi or invulnerable, these sometimes being repeated at the moment before going to battle.

Mr Clunie wrote that to render themselves more certain proof against the weapons of the foe, chosen warriors enrolled under a priest for prolonged rites lasting months or even a year or more.

"During this time they were subject to many restrictions or tabu, avoiding all sexual relationships and even the light of the day.

"Being tabu siga , literally 'forbidden sunlight', they had to remain confined to their special barracks during daylight hours.

"The fanatics produced by such rituals were the crack warriors of an army, spearheading each attack.

"The long, drawn-out ritual with all its prolonged social restrictions left many temptations and opportunities to break the rules so that when one of these supposedly invulnerable fanatics was killed, it was usually accepted that he had broken one of the tabu and lost the protection of the god."

Mr Clunie wrote that the belief in invulnerability through the protection of the gods or spirits was not limited to warfare, being widely practised in the kalou rere or domidomi ceremonies, which were a form of religious entertainment performed by a secret society of youths and young men.

"They were not connected with war but are of some interest to us in that they were so intimately involved with Fijian weapons.

"In the kalou rere rites, the protection of the little luveniwai spirit folk was sought and gained, rendering the participants invulnerable.

"A group of youths under the leadership of a priest titled the vuniduvu built a small house in the bush and lived there in seclusion for weeks or months, practising the rights and luring the timid luveniwai into their compound by continuous religious ceremonies."

Furthermore, it is documented that when the spirits were thought to have befriended the youths and protected them, they were supposed to be invulnerable to weapons and other harmful media, this being proved at a solevu or festival which the entire community attended.

The vuniduvu as master of ceremonies called forth the individual youths and attacked them with a weapon, either throwing a spear at them or striking them with a battle axe.

It is documented that the weapon glanced off the youth if he was protected by the spirits but it killed or injured him if he was not.

Other miracles and feats were said to have been performed to prove the spirits had entered into the youths, coconuts being husked with the teeth and broken across the knee, and arrows shot into the very eyes of coconuts.

Mr Clunie wrote that sleight of hand or conjuring skill was needed by the vuniduvu and his targets to perform the rituals safely, and youths were injured or even killed on occasion.

NEXT WEEK: The outbreak

of war and mobilisation.

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