Sukuna and Bureloa

UNDER the towering backdrop of Uluiqalau, from where water and mana from the unique Lake Tagimoucia flowed, the paramount chief of Cakaudrove did what some of his people found hard to digest.

His profound apology to the people of Tokaimalo for the greed and ignorance that led to the event of October 15, 2011, moved these people from Ra.

Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu’s matanigasau on behalf of the chiefly clan to the descendants of the Ra warriors — who left their homes in 1846 to protect his forefather, Tuikilakila, and quell a rebellion in Natewa against him — gave them some semblance of who they were.

For these people, most of who could only speak in the Cakaudrove gato dialect, having being raised in Dreketi, Yacata and elsewhere in Cakaudrove, the Tui Cakau’s gesture seeking forgiveness for the wrongs done against them meant the world to them.

After detouring to Somosomo on the way to Viti Levu from Lakeba in 1853, Radroni, the leader of the Nakorotubu warriors, was left behind there, tala biu, by Bau’s war canoes.

The Bureloa chief and his inner circle were taken there for a qusi ni loaloa but found themselves stuck on it, minus the privileges of their vanua of Tokaimalo in Bureloa in Ra.

That gift of land was reduced during a butu vanua led by Ratu Epeli Ganilau and Ratu Lewenilovo in 1924 and again in 1980, through a decision by Ratu Penaia Ganilau to take back more of their qusi ni loaloa.

After bad luck fell on the chiefly clan in the years that followed, Ratu Naiqama realised they had to rectify the situation.

To save his people from the bad omen that followed them, he went on his knees and offered a tabua to Radroni’s bloodline.

Tokaimalo and Bureloa historian Ilaitia Galu Bale said that matanigasau was a historical and momentous occasion for the mataqali Valelevu and the people of Tokaimalo.

People of Somosomo were now enlightened about the truth of the origins of these people who once occupied Dreketi, established by Radroni on the other bank of the Somosomo River.

“A chief who recognises the people around him and is humble enough to acknowledge the wrongs done to some of them by his own is indeed a great chief,” Mr Bale said.

“The understanding between Tuikilakila and Radroni had been breached over the years and Ratu Naiqama’s action somewhat restored the identity of our Tokaimalo people.”

Ratu Naiqama offered Koroqele — land that was taken in 1980 — back to Radroni’s bloodline, saying that piece of land was supposed to have been titled freehold.

When Radroni’s descendants returned to Suva the following week, they met the other members of the Tokaimalo clan, descendents of those who stayed behind in Ra when Radroni and the Nakorotubu army went to war.

During a thanksgiving service, they decided to pray for the Tui Cakau, the vanua of Lalagavesi, the school at Koroqele, where many unexplained events had taken place, the students and the teachers.

They wanted all the bad omen that had befallen the chiefly family and the land at Somosomo to end.

In an emotional reunion of the Tokaimalo families, who were shown the tabua the Tui Cakau had offered as his matanigasau, the future that Radroni had once thought he had lost, was restored.

Rain began to fall when the prayers started and immediately after it ended, the rain stopped.

It seemed the heavens had acknowledged the cries of the people of Tokaimalo.

The picture was clearer.

While there was no proper road to Bureloa — where Radroni’s grandson, Akuila Turagabeci, who was raised on Yacata and Taveuni and finally stepped foot in Ra in 1980 and died there a year later — the will to journey home was strengthened.

What Turagabeci did in 1980 was open the door back home.

The land where he lay, on a small hill he named Vunibua overlooking the old village site of Bureloa, had a lot of meaning not only to him and his kind, but also to the man who was among those who removed the rest of the Tokaimalo people in the 1930s.

Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna had walked these sacred lands and talked the people out of the bush and moved them closer to the Kings Rd that was being built.

Once the people, descendants of Radroni’s younger brother, Luke Waqabuli, the hunchbacked chief who accepted Christianity in 1856, were removed, the jungle enveloped the villages of Laba, Draunaleka and Bureloa, the vanua of Tokaimalo.

Ratu Sukuna’s connection with Radroni went all the way before him. His ancestor, Ratu Seru Cakobau, had tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate the bush of Bureloa to extend his power base.

Bureloa was the one place Cakobau couldn’t penetrate.

He came up with another plan. When the Tui Cakau was encountering “problems” at Natewa, he asked Verata, which had tradional links with Nakorotubu, to seek the help of that mighty army.

Radroni and Co agreed to Verata’s request and left the bush to board Bau’s canoes for Cakaudrove.

The chief of Bureloa had been smartly removed.

Ratu Sukuna, who was born on Bau in 1888, had become the leading and most influential indigenous statesman.

It was here in Bureloa that he came to spend some time alone before making his exit through Saioko, on the Ra coast.

The people of Saioko, regarded the centre of the bay, the boto ni toba, watched the Fijian chief come through and go on his way.

That was the last Ratu Sukuna saw the land of the Tokaimalo people.

He left Fiji for India on the Arcadia and died in the Indian Ocean before he could reach there.

What he went to do in Bureloa remains a mystery.

The old folks in 1980, when Turagabeci first arrived there, spoke of a pond, named tobu ni Salau, close to Bureloa which Ratu Sukuna spent time at.

Known for its huge freshwater fish, the vo, the pond was named after a woman who was spirit guardian of the Dewala River.

Mr Bale said no one would ever know what Ratu Sukuna’s motives were at that time.

“Was he there to see the land that he had emptied of its people? Was he there because of some ulterior motive? Or was he there because of guilt? The guilt of having a hand in the continuous removal of the Tokaimalo people from the land,” said Mr Bale.

“We will never know the truth of his visit to Bureloa.”

What is known, a realisation that came years later, is that Ratu Sukuna was only part of a bigger plot hatched well before his time.

He was an instrument used to try and complete it. That mission failed in the end.

Ratu Sukuna himself left some evidence behind. Whether it was deliberate or an oversight, that is not known.

A coincidence and ironical it may be, but in death Ratu Sukuna finally met Radroni.

It happened at the boto ni yala in Somosomo, the same place Radroni stepped off the Bauan war canoe that took him there.

The vanua that had a connection with both men for different reasons would bring them together.

* NEXT WEEK: Ratu Sukuna in Radroni’s house.

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

148 years after Christianity arrived in Bureloa, the stronghold of the Tokaimalo people in Ra, the torch pilgrimage last month that signified the return of light to a dark part of the province’s history sheds light on an ancient conspiracy that led to an attempt to annihilate the rulers of the once impenetrable domain. In Part 8 of this series, ILAITIA TURAGABECI tells their story.