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The origins of the Nasukamai people

Kalesi Mele
Monday, February 26, 2018

THE rich heritage, culture and traditions of the iTaukei people are slowly being lost over time.

As Fiji races to embrace Western values and children are indoctrinated with the history of other cultures and countries, the different roles that iTaukei families and collective groupings of people used to play are growing hazy in the minds of those who once knew them well.

Manasa Konataci, the oldest surviving member of the Nakoro clan in Nasukamai Village, Ra, said the origins of the Nasukamai people and how they came to settle in Ra were slowly being eroded from village conversations.

In his youth, Mr Konataci used to have the run of the land.

Nowadays, he is walking barefoot with only his walking stick for support.

Time has also withered his once youthful looks. The children gushed in excitement as they whizzed past him to head to a nearby stream for a swim. He smiled knowingly as he recalled how he was once a skilful warrior, running gleefully across the terrain to reach the river.

When we visited last December, the wet weather had turned the ground soggy. We watched as he lost his footing and younger family members rushed to support him down a slippery slope.

He smiled when he reached a house named Papiloni (Babylon), the home of his nephew where fervent discussions on the installation of the turaga ni mataqali o Nakoro of Nasukamai village were set to begin.

As the oldest surviving member of the Nakoro clan, Mr Konataci was the only person allowed to speak on the history of his family and the founding of the village.

No one dares to speak on behalf of the family as tradition demands respect for the elders.

They reason that as the eldest, he would have a better grasp of the family's history than those who are younger.

Mr Konataci said there were many tales of how they first arrived in Nasukamai.

"The trouble with tradition is our history is passed down through stories and folklore and there is no official record," he said.

"So you could have different versions of the truth from several different families.

"As for the Konataci family, I can only go back one generation.

"The Konataci family now are descendants of two brothers — Ilimotamo Naseu and Samuela Roqorua.

"Ilimotamo Naseu, who was conferred the title of turaga ni mataqali o Nakoro, is a name that has been passed down over three generations.

"There are stories of how the Yavusa Naiova were traditional warlords and protectors of the old chief of Nalawa.

"There are three different types of warlords, Bati Balavu, Bati Leka and Bati Kadi and we were one of them.

"The warlords were distinguished by where they were placed and by the weapons they held.

"From my knowledge the Bati Balavu held a moto or a spear and they could be placed a further distance from the home.

"The Bati Leka would hold an i-wau or a war club and they would be situated just outside the chiefly home and then you had the bati that stood guard within the chiefly residence.

"Like I said there are so many different versions of what our roles entail or that of our Yavusa.

"It would be inappropriate for me to explain something no living person in our family has a firm grasp of."

He added there were also stories he had heard that suggested that the original settlers of Nasukamai were from Naitasiri.

"The tales I heard when I was a kid varied. The only way I can verify this is there is a Yavu (plot of land) in the village that is named Tilivasewa.

"It is believed the term is from Naitasiri and because settlers were from there, they labelled it so."

Turaga na Tui Nasau Ratu Isoa Nayasikalou said he too had heard of tales of the Naitasiri people being the first settlers of Nasukamai.

"The villagers of Nasukamai are traditional warriors and there are tales that they are originally from Nasoqo in Naitasiri," he said.

"Most of the villages here in Nasau tikina are originally from Naitasiri and some from other areas of Fiji."

Ratu Isoa shared similar sentiments as Mr Konataci about the origins of the Nasukamai and Nasau people.

He said there were many tales of how the first settlers came to Ra and it would be expedient that these tales be explored through an in-depth study and collection of the different stories being told.

"The Mataqali Nakoro is one of two founding clans of Nasukamai and they used to be revered because they are the warriors for the whole of Nasau district."

Mr Konataci added that one of the biggest challenges the iTaukei people continued to face was the loss of tradition and culture and the historical links between the different parts of Fiji and how each village came to be settled.

"I may not live in the village any more but my children do," he said.

"I can tell you there are things that I used to do in my time that they can't do now.

"Maybe the times are changing but that is no excuse because our forefathers taught us invaluable skills and passed on traditional knowledge as best as they could.

"I used to have a massive yaqona and dalo plantation that I would plant on my own. I look around nowadays and can't see our children taking the same initiative.

"And when it comes to our culture, as the eldest I cannot speak for others on the origins of our vanua but I can ask that they keep the traditions we know alive.

"The loss of tradition only occurs in our inability to practise them on a regular basis.

"The traditional installation of the turaga ni mataqali was one way of reasserting that particular tradition back in our family or clan and it is something we invite others to learn of and practice.

"Our tradition is what sets us apart from others. It is what makes us who we are."

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