The seven spies

Villagers from Naivuruvuru and Viwa at the spot where the missionaries arrived 174 years aga at Naivuruvuru Village. Picture: VILIAME ODRO

“Since real spies are so good, you never really know what actual spying is. But I do think spying is a lot more dangerous than we are led to believe.” – Richard C Armitage – (English film and television voice actor)

The late Eli Cohen was well known for his espionage work. Before the Israeli spy was captured, his intelligence work was an important factor and vital in the success of Israel in the famous Six Day War of 1967.

His amazing story on how he infiltrated the Syrian regime is detailed in the book Our Man In Damascus and the movie The Impossible Spy.

In his final letter written to his wife before his public hanging as per Syrian law for being found guilty of espionage, Cohen wrote on 15 May, 1965.

“I am begging you my dear Nadia not to spend your time in weeping about something already passed. Concentrate on yourself, looking forward for a better future!”

Just like Eli Cohen there are many others that have gone undercover in the search for providing vital information for life and survival. These great men and women who have gone before us risk their lives for the goodness of all.

They camouflage their way, to avoid being detected, one wrong move, mispronunciation of a word, complacent attitude and their cover is blown and they could be at the mercy end of torture or death.

Hundred and seventy eight years ago, seven men from Tailevu went undercover in their search for life. Initially, they had no knowledge what they were getting themselves into, until later on when it was discovered they were bringing light and life.

They were bringing something far greater than everyone, a special message which came with a new way of life that would in time have a profound influence on the lives of the people in Verata, Tailevu.

The general secretary for the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, the Rev Ili Vunisuwai, while sharing the accounts of the seven men from Naivuruvuru said these men played a crucial role in the arrival of Christianity at Verata and bringing light to a land at a time known for heathenism and cannibalism.

Home to about 280 villagers, Naivuruvuru Village in the district of Verata in Tailevu is located about 22 miles (or 35 km) north-east of Suva.

Accessible via the Kings Rd it takes about one and a half hours when driving from Suva heading towards Korovou, before following the dirt road that leads to villages in Verata on the seaward side.

Tucked away in such pristine environment, Naivuruvuru Village neighbours the chiefly village of Ucunivanua, Kumi and Naloto. Naivuruvuru Village is made up of six mataqali (landowning unit or clans); Nabouwaqa, Varovaro, Naiviloa, Tabakau, Batilekaleka and Solevu Last month, marked a very special occasion for the village, as a special delegation travelled to Viwa Island to bring the torch from the church, a symbol of light and the dawn of a new day for Methodism.

History reveals that it was through Viwa that Christianity finally arrived in the vanua vakaturaga o Naisanokonoko in Verata.

It is the amazing story of seven men who defied all odds and snuck their way into Viwa and returned to the village with no one in either Naivuruvuru or Viwa knowing what they were doing , not until when the famous missionary the Rev John Hunt discovered what had been happening.

The Rev Vunisuwai, while delivering his sermon to the congregation at the Naivuruvuru Methodist Church, said those men knew the risks they were taking could lead to their deaths.

However, something far more powerful had inspired them to take the risk and secretly make the three-mile boat trip.

At a time when Verata was still at war with Bau and Viwa a strong ally of self-proclaimed Tui Viti Ratu Cakobau, the seven men whose names are not known risked their own lives for the good of all.

“Na nodratou gole tiko na qase oqo, e se kaukauwa sara tu ga kina na vakatevoro kei na veikanikani e na gauna ni valu. (At this time cannibalism and paganism were rife.)

“E ratou lako vunivuni yani e na yakavi ka ratou lako vunivuni tale mai e na mataka lailai. (They chose a secret pathway, arriving secretly
in the late afternoon and then leaving before the break of dawn.)

The Rev Vunisuwai said the seven men, when on Viwa would hide in the dark so that no one would see them. They would camouflage themselves in the bushes to avoid any detection.

If either Ratu Cakobau or the Ratu from Verata knew what they were doing they were bound to be clubbed.

They would paddle across secretly without anyone knowing and would stand at a distance just to listen to Hunt deliver his sermon.

“E da raica e kea ni sa qai yavavala na kaukauwa ni Kalou e lomadratou, ka vakavuna na nona cabeta mai na nomudou matasawa o Talatala John Hunt (Jone Oniti), me vaka-raramataka na vanua o Verata, ka dewa sara yani vei keimami mai na yasayasa vaka-Ra,” (Here we see the power of God move and saw the arrival of Reverend John Hunt bringing light and the gospel to the vanua o Verata, before native missionaries from here further preached the gospel towards the western side,” said The Rev Vunisuwai.)

While the names of the seven men are not recorded, Verata church steward Samisoni Veivosayaki said their deeds had gone down in the annals of
history. Their determination not only brought light to the people of Naivuruvuru but also saw the acceptance of Christianity and the new religion by the Ratu from Verata.

Last month was very important for the villagers of Naivuruvuru as it was only the second time since 1840 for them to traditionally request for the torch of the church to be brought from Viwa.

A special delegation made up of clan leaders journeyed across the sea to Viwa for the special request.

On the early morning of Friday, June 15, a special church service was held at Naivuruvuru.

The village was a sea of white and as the rays of the sun peered through clouds of what was to be a beautiful day, songs of praise echoed from the
church through the village green, in what was an emotional and sombre occasion.

All Nations Christian Fellowship head Reverend Epeli Ratabacaca said the day was as important as it was 178 years because it signified a new beginning and a new way of life, coupled with a new religion and new belief that there could be indeed life after death.

Mr Ratabacaca presented a tabua (whalestooth) as a request to the Roko Tui Viwa and the church to have the torch travel with them back to Naivuruvuru.

The Roko Tui Viwa is a direct descendant of Ratu Namosimalua, the former Roko Tui Viwa who had accepted Christianity and accommodated Hunt when Ratu Cakobau did not want to.

Upon the return with the torch to Naivuruvuru, another church service was held and the unveiling of a memorial stone to mark the solemn occasion.

According to the accounts of the Rev William Cross, in June of 1840, he visited the church at Naivuruvuru.

According to Mr Veivosayaki, the first Christian wedding in the village happened in the same year where their chief exchanged vows with
his wife.

“Dina ni a qai kabai Verata mai ko Bau, ia, e sa tudei tu ko Naivuruvuru e na nodratou sega ni via vakaitavi e na i valu, ka ni ratou sa ciqoma oti na rarama.” (While Bau later waged war on Verata, Naivuruvuru refused to go to war because it had already accepted Christianity.)

Hunt, during the church meeting in Viwa in 1840 said: “The Naivuruvuru Congregation was growing).

Mr Veivosayaki added it was also through their acceptance of Christianity that native missionaries were appointed and later spread the gospel to New
Britain and New Guinea in Papua New Guinea.

It all started with the seven spies who secretly travelled from Naivuruvuru to Viwa.

History being the subject it is, a group’s version of events may not be the same as that held by another group. When publishing one account, it is not our intention to cause division or to disrespect other oral traditions.Those with a different version can contact us so we can publish their account of history too.

Next week, read about the native missionary who was killed and roasted in Ba back in 1843, before the death of the Rev Thomas Baker. It all began with a Ba chief sneaking on to the island of Bau

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