Act of forgiveness

ALMOST 127 years after giving prime land to mountain warriors from across the seas for fighting their war, the gratitude of the chiefly clan faded.

The resettled people from Bureloa in Ra on the coast of Somosomo, Taveuni, watched as land given to their forefathers in 1853 by the then Tui Cakau, Tuikilakila, was reclaimed by his descendants.

It was 1980. The qusi ni loaloa Tuikilakila had offered the warrior leader Radroni, for their effort in quelling a rebellion against him in Natewa, had been marked for development without any discussion with his people.

The unfinished business of 1924 — when Ratu Epeli Ganilau led a butu vanua and reclaimed part of that qusi ni loaloa, only to be stopped by the then Tui Cakau, Ratu Atonio Rabici, on his return from England with Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna — returned to haunt the Tokaimalo people who now lived close to the boto ni yala in a village they had named Dreketi.

They had lost the bottom half of their village in 1924 to the same people who they had received it from. Now they faced the same with the top half of the village.

Koroqele, situated on table land beside a vertical stone cliff that rose from the rocky banks of the Somosomo River, was the next target.

The cliff, called Burenioni after the hives that had become home to bees on this side of the volcanic island, acted as a retaining wall for the prime land that sat above.

The directive of former President and Tui Cakau, Ratu Penaia Ganilau, to reclaim the gift of the chiefly mataqali of Valelevu, further marginalised the Tokaimalo people who had been left close to the rivermouth.

By then, Radroni’s grandson, Akuila Turagabeci, who earlier gave up the title of Tui Yacata his mother bestowed on him, had decided he would quit being a kai Cakaudrove and sail to Viti Levu and find the home Radroni had left behind in 1846 when the Nakorotubu army agreed to a request by Bau, via Verata, to fight Tui Cakau’s war.

The warriors were on their way back to Viti in 1853 when Radroni was told Tuikilakila wanted to thank him.

Once he had disembarked with his inner circle, warriors from Dreketi, on the other side of the Uluikorolevu mountain in Bureloa, the Bau canoes that they came on turned and sailed off.

Tokaimalo and Bureloa historian Ilaitia Galu Bale said the Tokaimalo people had faced a lot of injustice.

First, the elder Radroni was smartly removed from Bureloa by a long, “suspicious” war that Nakorotubu had been called to.

Then the children of his brother Luke Waqabuli, who accepted Christianity in Bureloa in 1865, were removed from the bush by the colonial administration through Ratu Sir Lala and taken close to the approaching Kings Rd.

While they struggled to keep their identity in Ra close to civilisation following the construction of the road, those left behind in Taveuni faced a similar dilemma in 1924.

Mr Bale said the people were further hurt by the development of 1980.

They felt they had been left by the wayside by the bloodline of those they had protected.

They felt betrayed.

When Turagabeci finally reached Bureloa in 1981, he set up home on a hill overlooking the old village and waited for his end.

Before his last breath, he made a prophecy about a light that would come one day to this forgotten region of Ra, once the centre of Nakorotubu.

He said the rarama would bring blessings on the vanua and the people who had survived to keep their identity.

Born and bred in Cakaudrove, his children were more comfortable in the luxurious life of Taveuni than in the hard-to-reach bush.

Back in Somosomo, trouble began at Koroqele over the years.

The stone cliff crumbled and soil eroded into the valley below, placing the school Ratu Penaia and his committee had authorised on the land, in danger.

This was followed by the unexplained deaths of those involved in the removal of the qusi ni loaloa.

Then a student from the tokatoka Valelevu was accidentally killed at the school.

Over time, the story of the Ra people who came to save and protect this chiefdom faded.

The sacrifice of Radroni and his warriors, who never saw their home again and died sad men, buried along the track to the sawana, was forgotten.

The events on Taveuni raised the concern of Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu when he took over the seat of the Tui Cakau.

After some research and soul-searching, Ratu Naiqama called the descendants of Radroni who had dispersed to different parts of Viti Levu to a meeting on Taveuni.

He had to act for the sake of his people. When Radroni’s great-grandchildren and their children arrived, he called a meeting of his mataqali and explained his intention.

Not all took kindly to it.

They had grown up and walked on the qusi ni loaloa with the belief it was always theirs.

They knew nothing of what transpired in the past or of these so-called Tokaimalo people.

On October 15th, 2011, inside the vale ni bose at Somosomo, the Tui Cakau went on his knees.

In front of his Valelevu people, government officers, provincial representatives and church ministers, he summoned the courage and told his people about the great injustice that they had done.

And he warned of the bad omen that their actions had brought to the vanua and the chiefly clan.

Presenting a matanigasau on their behalf, he asked Radroni’s bloodline for forgiveness.

“Na vanua e vakamatana, vakadaligana, e dau tagi talega.”

(The land has eyes, has ears and it also cries, he said in his presentation.)

Mr Bale said the matanigasau brought back some semblance of dignity to his ancestors and they were thankful they had not been forgotten.

And that they had still had a place away from home in the bush on Viti Levu, a place that they had forged blood ties with and a place that had kept their story, that an ancient conspiracy had tried to erase, alive.

Radroni’s cries from his grave near the boto ni yala had been heard.

Their struggle to keep their identity alive was given an encouragement.

The determination of the Tokaimalo people grew.

The light that Radroni’s grandson had prophesied was what they wanted to understand.

When the torch pilgrimage to Ra last month reached Bureloa, the answer became evident.

The light was the torch that the people of Ra had followed around for three months.

When it reached Radroni’s home under the dark forest canopy that had kept it out of sight, the torch did more than just follow the route of Christianity in the area.

It shed light on the truth of these once forgotten people.

* NEXT WEEK: Ratu Sukuna and what connected him to Radroni.

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