Cakaudrove Wars Part 1

STANDING at the Wairiki Holy Cross Church during a recent trip, my eyes caught an artist’s impression of the Cakaudrove Catholic war against the Tongans which hung on a wall.

Seeing the number of unfurled canoe sails that stood out in the waters like the Spanish Armada, I could almost hear the sound they made simultaneously as they beat against the wind.

Followed by the cries of the warrior braves as they brandished their clubs and muskets thirsty for blood, the site would have made anyone’s blood curdle including the French priest who stood at the stern of a ship ready to bless the wild force before him.

However first things first, since the late 1800s, the Catholic Church has always presented a peaceful scene of the Holy Cross which now sits at Wairiki.

However, its presence is related to an exciting story, dramatic circumstances that brought it to its current home.

The Catholic Church began on Taveuni after failed attempts to establish itself in the Lau Group since 1844.

Father Jean-Baptiste Breheret and Brother Sorlin made their way to Taveuni, attempting to establish on Somosomo a Catholic mission which they hoped would become a success compared with the Lauan mission.

In his writings of the church’s history, Father John Crispin, a long-time parish at Holy Cross Parish on Taveuni, noted the two brave men were inseparable missionaries for 47 years in Fiji.

When the missionaries arrived at Somosomo, five miles away from Wairiki, the present main mission site of the district, the people of the large province of Cakaudrove including neighbouring Vanua Levu were still savages.

This meant that they were frequently at war, tribe against tribe, and they practised cannibalism on a large scale where mostly prisoners of war were roasted in native pit ovens and then eaten.

Father Crispin notes the then Tui Cakau and his subordinate chiefs were on the whole kind to the missionaries giving them some assistance.

However, Father Crispin also noted from earlier church writers that their tolerance of the presence of the missionaries, would at any moment take a bad turn.

“In fact, on a certain occasion, in the king’s own house, when, as in Fijian manner, he was about to drink a bowl of kava and express a wish, he exclaimed: “Oh! For someone to bring me from the oven a white bokola (a roasted white fellow),” he notes.

“This may have been a coarse native joke to alarm the priest. If so, it was an ill-timed, very dangerous, suggestive joke, which might well have had fatal consequences.

“Some days later, when the priest asked the king what he had meant by expressing publicly such a desire, he replied: “Oh, it was just for fun.”


However beneath all these hopelessness the Tui Cakau’s two sons, Ratu Golea and Ratu Matakitoga, were interested in the missionary’s teachings.

They even expressed their desire to become Christians and the two chiefs’ interest thus spun a relationship between them and the missionaries so that when the latter returned to Levuka after a year they were ordered by Ratu Golea, when he became Tui Cakau, to take up permanent residence at Wairiki.

However, Ratu Golea himself lacked the moral courage to abandon some of his pagan customs and because his death, supervised in a rather mysterious way, he died before receiving baptism.

According to the writings of the early missionaries his brother Matakitoga, was baptised and died a good death at Somosomo and by a strange coincidence, dying on the very same day as Father Breheret.

In his writings Father Crispin notes that to all appearances the first attempt to convert the natives of Taveuni was ineffective leaving no hopes for the missionaries.

“In the early 1860s, a certain Ratu Kubu returned from Lakeba where he had, years before, been instructed by the missionaries and had become a Catholic,” noted Father Crispin. “He had great zeal for the faith and he made some converts in the north of Taveuni, in the village of Waisasa.

“Father Favre, stationed at that time at Solevu, Vanua Levu, paid a visit to Taveuni and would have probably paid more than one visit and that, in that same year, he travelled all around Vanua Levu, no easy matter in those days and by no means a safe journey.

“But it seems he was unaware that converts had been made by Ratu Tavite Kubu at the northern end of the island mainly because tribal wars and lack of transportation means affected the spread of news.”

War in Macuata and Bua

In the month of October 1861, Tui Bua declared war on the then Tui Macuata Ratu Ritova.

The Tongan prince, Ma’afu who had been warring and claiming victory in areas within the North together with his Tongan warriors, joined the Tui Bua and his camp marching into Naduri where the battle was to be fought.

It was then that Bete, another warrior and his party came to the side of Bua and the Tongans.

Seeing that he had to fight against three armies, Ratu Ritova knew he did not have the strength to be able to resist his enemies for long.

Besides Ratu Ritova had not gathered together a large number of his warriors, believing that he only had to fight against Bua, which was a small district compared with Macuata.

The early church writings note that the Macuata high chief then sent a messenger to the chief of Dogotuki, a district under his leadership begging for their aid.

A close ally of the Tui Macuata the Dogotuki chief, Ratu Koliloa, was instructed by Ratu Ritova to send warriors from all parts of Macuata, but above all to leave immediately for Somosomo, and to ask Ratu Golea to come as quickly as possible to his help, or else he would lose the battle.

During this time there were some fights between the party of Bua and the party of Ratu Ritova where the Macuata high chief had always lost.

According to the people of Naduri, Ratu Koliloa then sent messengers to all the neighbouring tribes, and a good number of warriors led by his brother Ratu Bativuaka flew to the rescue of Ritova, their chief.

As for Koliloa, he left the same night he left for Taveuni, and the next morning he was in Somosomo, where he talked with Ratu Golea, the most famous warrior in Fiji.

  •  Next Week: Ratu Golea gathers an army to rescue Ratu Ritova.

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