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Mysteries of the floating island

Luke Rawalai
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

TO the ordinary person, the story of the Waqa Qele or the earth boats in Nubu, Wainikoro, could be expelled as a mere myth or legend.

Stories about the floating islands have been passed down the generations.

Personally, I found this strange because there are people who have lived in the area who recount having taken a ride on the remaining floating islet after two beached in the late 1990s.

These are people who have experienced strange happenings associated with the lake and its last remaining floating island.

Here are their accounts.

Hari Chand

Having lived a few metres from the home of the floating island for the past 50 years, Mr Chand has seen and witnessed strange incidents associated with the clump of floating earth thought to have supernatural powers.

The 83-year-old resident of Nakelikoso remembers the many rides he used to take on board the island, known as Vanalato.

He said the general rule on the island was no unnecessary noise and only the Nubu dialect could be spoken by people once they were on board the island.

"Once a young man died on the island after he tried to dive into the water while the island was moving and I remember the incident because the boy and a few children from Nubu passed by our house on that fateful day to visit the floating island," he said.

"His body was recovered two days later by divers, tangled among roots of plants on the island which had extended to its base into the water and this was only successful after the landowners were consulted through traditional rites.

"In another similar incident, a man chained a Lato tree on Vanalato to another tree beside the lake in an attempt to stop the island from drifting, as it would do on its own volition from time to time.

"Upon returning to his house on the same day the man, who had been carrying his son on his back, collapsed right in front of his home and died."

Mr Chand remembers his grandfather, Parsa an indentured labourer, who told him that Europeans tried to measure the depth of the lake, but ran out of chains which could not reach the bottom of the lake.

"He even told us that when indentured labourers tried to dig ditches in the area it would return to its natural state the next morning," he said.

"During my grandfather's time the three islands were still floating and sailing around the lake.

"And during my late father's time two of the islands had been grounded after the lake shrunk.

"When I was born and ever since my childhood days I was aware that only one island was still floating in the lake."

Mr Chand says the place has an aura of mystery that is deeply respected by people in the area.

"People from around the country and the world travel to Nakelikoso to see the marvellous site and see the floating island transporting people across the lake," he said.

Shalend Prasad

When he was 16 years old, Fiji Times Ltd's Labasa branch driver Shalend Prasad used to cut cane for a man named Suresh Prasad.

Mr Prasad remembers growing up in the area around the floating island known as Vanalato.

The 43-year-old said back then the lake was still wide compared with the swamp it had shrunk to today, adding they would take slow rides across the lake with the approval of the priest or bete.

"We were afraid to disobey the rules laid by the priests," he said.

"Hindu believers would worship at the lake and have their wishes and prayers granted with many believing that it had supernatural powers, considering that it is a gift from God.

"Even to this day worshippers would go and pray at the lake, blessing it with offerings."

Bhagwan Dhay and

Pushpa Chand

Housewife Bhagwan Dhay remembers enjoyable rides on the floating island during her childhood.

Her mother-in-law Pushpa said the rides on the island were one of the exciting experiences, adding that it was like riding a normal slow cruising boat but instead it had the earth as its floors with trees in the boat.

Ms Pushpa said she prayed at the lake.

Personal experience

Having stood on Vanalato, I could only imagine what it would have been like in the days when the lake was still in its original size, feeling the breeze among the Lato trees as it cruised along the lake.

As I set a foot on the sitting room sized island, I felt this wobbling sensation as one does when boarding any small boat berthed out at sea.

The soil was really mushy at places on the island and without proper caution one could slip right through the island, feeling the damp waters of the swamp.

The borders of Vanalato could be clearly demarcated at the edge of the swamp, setting it apart from its bank.

One will notice the strong sulphuric smell of the swampy area, which is often associated with the smell of marshes in coastal areas.

Whatever kept the islands afloat must have really baffled the people back then, even weaving a sense of power in its owners, the people of Nubu.

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