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History of the Steiners

Serafina Silaitoga
Sunday, February 25, 2018

SHELTERED among thick forests along the coastal area of Caumatalevu, estates of Fijian families who are descendants of early European settlers line the jungle corridor of Naduri Rd, surrounded by rugged terrain of freehold land.

And over the hedges of wild scrubs, enormous colonial styled houses subtly exclaim the demeanour of its matchlessness.

Like the standard building structures of the colonial era and its white paintings, most of these houses were also painted white.

Rays of the evening sunset tints the white Oregon hardwood walls with orange shades as the silvery rooves of these aged buildings glimmers a fading auburn.

These houses that stand in the estates belong to different families but their origin started is a German man who sailed to Fiji in the mid-1800s.

Known as Jacob Steiner, his friendship with a Macuata paramount chief shortly after he arrived has rewarded his descendants with vast tracts of land and an island on which Nukubati Private Island Resort now sits on.

The descendants of this German lad are closely linked to the Hewson, Johnson, Reade, Lastros, Dyer, Fosters, Fox and Mills families.

Mr Steiner's great great-grandson and namesake Jacob Steiner now lives on the island of Nukubati, a 10-minute boat ride from the mainland.

"He came from Germany and lived in Holland. It was during the civil war in those days so he travelled to Fiji on a whaling ship and got off at Kioa Island in Cakaudrove," Mr Steiner said.

"He stayed there for a while and the chief in Macuata-i-Wai at that time, Ratu Ritova, heard about a white man living on Kioa Island.

"The chief was told of how this white man from Germany was living on Kioa Island and could do a lot of things including boatbuilding.

"So the chief left Macuata and travelled to Kioa to bring the German man over to Macuata and gave him Mavuva Island to live on."

Mr Steiner said his great great-grandfather lived on the island alone for a few years and was told by Ratu Ritova not to be seen on the mainland but to stay on the island.

"He continued with boatbuilding and other carpentry work and even planted coconut trees ad raised animals on the island," he said.

"But every now and then, the old man would visit Macuata-i-Wai Island where the chief lived with his people as cannibalism was rife at that time.

"He would see the chiefs eating people and he used to tell Ratu Ritova not to do that because it was wrong. By the time my great great-grandad came to Fiji, he was a Christian so he knew eating people was very wrong.

"So, one day he asked the chief to find him a wife because he wanted to settle down and have a family. The chief then found him a wife and took her to Mavuva and told the old man to start a family and live on the island, not to cross to the mainland.

"The woman was working at the chief's place and was related to the chief too so it was easy for him to give her away to the old German man as a wife."

This woman was originally from Lomaloma and her name was Asena Vuladra.

"Together, they had three children — one girl and two boys and they were Mary, Tom and William, and they all lived on Mavuva," Mr Steiner said.

"As time passed by, the children grew and wanted some place of their own so my great great-granddad asked Ratu Ritova if he could move to the mainland.

"Ratu Ritova then gave him a place at Vunirara to live on but he gave his son William the island of Mavuva to live on and he moved to mainland with the rest of his family.

"Then Ratu Ritova gave him Nukubati Island and my great great-grandad moved his son Tom to Nukubati and Tom is my great-granddad. His (old Jacob Steiner's) daughter, Mary married into the Fox family in Dreketi and she moved there."

During this period, Mr Steiner said his great great-grandad lost his good friend — Ratu Ritova.

"It was during that time when Ratu Ritova was taken to Levuka to forcefully sign the Deed of Cession and my great great-grandad never saw him again."

While at Vunirara, the old man used to write a lot of journals for his own reference using the ink from the oki trees.

"I don't know how he extracted ink from the tree but he used to write letters using the ink from the oki trees which the women in this coast now use to cook with the voivoi (pandanus leaves) to make it black," Mr Steiner said.

"And he used chicken feathers as his pen. We were told he loved writing, it was his hobby.

"But while at Vunirara, the old man's wife Asena died so he remarried Lusiana Voliuto from Korotubu Village also in Macuata and they had five daughters — Ema, Josephine, Grace, Jacobina and Serah.

"Ema and Josephine married two brothers from the Hewson family, Jacobina married into the Foster family, Grace married into the Mills family from Wainunu in Bua and Serah was a spinster."

Mr Steiner has always been in touch with his family in Lomaloma Village but hopes to rekindle the connection with the Steiner family in America.

"One time, one family member from the Steiners came from America and brought a picture of my great great-grandad with this family," he said.

"At that time he was only 10 years old and that was also the last time we saw that relative from the Steiner family in America.

"We still have Nukubati Island as part of our family heritage and Mavuva has been sold.

"We will have our reunion this December in Labasa and to all our families out there, if you know you have the Steiner blood in you, please do join us in this reunion."

Tomorrow's Point of Origin: The Johnson's family and their origin.

* NEXT WEEK: Mr Steiner's descendants and their shift from Vunirara to where they are now.

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