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Left behind far from home

Ilaitia Turagabeci
Monday, August 25, 2014

148 years after Christianity arrived in Bureloa the stronghold of the Tokaimalo people in Ra the torch that signified the return of light to a dark part of the province's history sheds light on an ancient conspiracy that led to an attempt to annihilate the rulers of the once impenetrable domain. In Part 3 of this series ILAITIA TURAGABECI tells their story.

THE rocky shoreline of Somosomo was a far cry from what Rodroni was used to waking up to in the hills of Bureloa in Ra.

Now settled as a guest at the boto ni yala, on the bank of the river mouth opposite the chiefly village on Taveuni, the man who led the Nakorotubu warriors to the aid of the Tui Cakau's war against a rebellion in Natewa on Vanua Levu could only stare out across the sea to the snake-filled Korolevu Island, and the mountains of Vanua Levu that rose behind it in the distance.

It was a painful reminder of home on Viti Levu for this strong, humble leader from the bush.

Beyond that blue-peaked mountain was the Natewa Bay where he and his men had fought for five years.

Since leaving Bureloa in 1846, via a request from Bau through Verata, which the people of Nakorotubu had traditional links with, Radroni longed for home.

He thought he'd sail home after the war ended in Natewa in January 1851.

Tokaimalo and Bureloa historian Ilaitia Galu Bale believes that after the Natewa battle, the war party stayed on in Vanua Levu.

It had been a long and difficult battle, especially when their target seemed to disappear into the bush at every encounter.

Finally, after the death of 100 people in a final battle, including that of Ratu Rakesa from the chiefly family in Natewa, his heart eaten by the then Tui Cakau, Tuikilakila, Radroni was ready to join his younger and hunchbacked brother Waqabuli in Bureloa.

The story of the Natewa battle passed down by Radroni's grandson Akuila Turagabeci is verified by an account written by Reverend Thomas Williams, an Englishman who joined the mission of Reverend James Calvert, the man who would eventually break into the domain of the yavusa Tokaimalo in 1865 and enlighten the people of Bureloa.

Tokaimalo and Bureloa historian Ilaitia Galu Bale believes that after the Natewa battle, the war party stayed on in Vanua Levu.

Their return home was deferred further because Cakobau was called upon to help the Tui Lakeba quell a rebellion at Kedekede.

Five months after the Natewa battle ended, they were once again on Cakobau's drua fleet headed further from home. It was July.

When the army disembarked on the beach at Lakeba to move up to the rebellion fort at Kedekede, situated on the island's highest point, a woman stumbled on them.

She was warned not to raise the alarm.

She later told her people that she thought she saw black pigs because of the warriors' blackened faces.

Thus was born the tag the Nakorotubu warriors became known for - the Puaka Loa.

After subduing the people there, the Tui Lakeba offered the fearsome warriors his offering of gratitude, a qusi ni loaloa, of Lakeba women.

On their return home, a message was relayed to the warriors and Radroni was summoned to Somosomo.

He was told the Tui Cakau, Tuikilakila, wanted to give his qusi ni loaloa for the Natewa victory.

The fleet sailed to Taveuni and dropped off Radroni and his inner circle of warriors from Dreketi, on the other side of the Uluinakorolevu mountain overlooking Bureloa, at the pebble-covered shore.

The rest of the party sailed on to Viti Levu with their prize from Lakeba.

Radroni, whose domain in Ra was impenetrable by Bau's forces, the colonial administration and Wesleyan missionaries, suddenly found himself a hero of the Tui Cakau but felt like a scapegoat.

He realised he had been left behind, tala biu.

He had no choice but to stay on in Taveuni on the land that the Tui Cakau had thanked him and his men with.

They named the village Dreketi in memory of the warriors' loved ones left behind in Nakorotubu.

So was born the village beside the stone-bed river that flowed from Uluiqalau and separated them from Somosomo.

They were only a handful, had their own dialect and hierarchy and given a new doorway in this new land, through that of the Tui Cakau.

By then, the Bureloa warrior realised a strategy had been smoothly played out. The leaders of Bureloa had been "smartly exiled".

Radroni, whose descendants believe was only a young man when he left Ra in 1846, was "discouraged."

"He was alone and felt betrayed. Why did Cakobau's canoes just drop him and his men off on Taveuni? Why didn't they wait for them? These questions raised his suspicion and belief that a plot had been played out," said Mr Bale.

Three months after Tuikilakila received the men of Ra in his domain, he was brutally murdered.

An unknown killer ended his life with an axe.

The reign of his father, Ratu Yavala, as the Tui Cakau, had also ended in a similar manner. He was buried alive.

According to Reverend Williams' account, the older man was still alive when he was found in his ground but Tuikilakila insisted he was dead and that he be covered with soil.

With Tuikilakila now gone, the Nakorotubu warriors felt more alone.

Even though they had established a relationship with the chiefly mataqali of Valelevu, a part of them longed to return.

Radroni missed his family, especially his brother who was left in charge at Bureloa.

When his eldest son was born, his feelings were expressed in his name.

Timoci Galu, galu referring to a chief without a voice, grew up in Dreketi in a home that was closest to the boto ni yala, where seawater mixed with the freshwater was flowing from the volcanic mountain above them.

His mother, Adi Vika Mainatubalevu, was from the mataqali Welitoa, people of Tongan descent who had become the gonedau or fishermen of the Tui Cakau.

She was a daughter with chiefly links to the Ai Sokula but was raised by the Welitoa people.

Adi Vika became a big influence on Galu's life, teaching her son the Cakaudrove gato dialect, while Radroni tried to teach his.

She bore him another three children - Simione Samate, Solomone Tulevu and Meresiana Maravu.

Like his father, that sawana in front of his home became Galu's refuge. It was his and his siblings point of connection with their forefathers.

Here was where their father disembarked and watched his army sail away.

Years later, after Radroni died and was buried close to the track on the way to his sawana refuge, Galu tried hard to keep his heritage alive.

The warriors of Bureloa had been cut off from their domain and were dying a slow death.

They were buried on the left side of the track at Vueti Viti, a place named after the Carpenters trading group, a rival of Morris Hedstrom which it later merged with.

Radroni's grave and its surroundings were later turned into a sautabu for the Lewenilovo clan of Somosomo, who are of chiefly rank and have blood ties to the Tui Cakau.

Was the slow demise of the Bureloa people on Taveuni meant to be?

Mr Bale believes it was.

Their existence at Dreketi had reduced their numbers at Bureloa and rendered the domain powerless to "outside forces".

"Galu himself felt down like his father. Even though he had never set foot on his land, he held on dearly to the stories his father wanted him to keep alive," Mr Bale said.

"The pilgrimage of the torch in Ra early this month is a fresh start for our people and one that is according to God's time.

"It is time to let the truth be known, to do justice to our forefathers and thus let their souls rest in peace."

As a young man growing up at Dreketi, he took a fancy to the eldest daughter of the then Tui Yacata, Adi Akesa Lewamotu, during her visit to Vuna, on the southern tip of Taveuni, which Yacata shares a special bond with.

Adi Akesa was rushed back to Yacata when it was discovered she was pregnant.

When her son was born 1910, she agreed to give him the name Galu wanted - Akuila Turagabeci - Turagabeci meaning a chief (in his domain in Ra) but looked down upon in his new home.

This boy would eventually rise up to defy the aims of the plotters against the Bureloa people and their chief.

Galu died and was buried further down on the opposite side of the track where his father lay.

His brother Solomone married and had children. Simione and Meresiana were not as fortunate.

Simione married Adi Lusiana Qolikoro from the Lewenilovo family and they adopted a child. He was the son of Adi Lusiana's sister, Adi Ciba.

The boy was called Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu and would become Fiji's President in his later years.

When he was baptised in the Somosomo Methodist Church, Radroni's son added his surname to that of his adopted son.

He wanted his story to continue. His name - Samate - meaning "it's dead" referred to the end of Radroni's bloodline on Taveuni.

Back in Bureloa, Radroni's brother, Luke, who accepted Christianty through the work of two Tokaimalo women married to Nayavutoka on the coast in 1865, had passed on.

His son, Isikeli Niuvou, was in power in the bush.

Mr Bale believes the people who plotted to separate the people of Bureloa were not satisfied.

They wanted to erase those left behind in Bureloa and in Taveuni off the map.

Bigger trouble awaited them.

And it would surprisingly come through the respected Fijian leaders in the then colonial administration.

The vere vaka Bau had been put into effect against them for something they had done generations before.

The past had come back to haunt them.

NEXT WEEK: Vere vaka Bau and the second separation.

* The author has maternal links to the yavusa Tokaimalo from Bureloa

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