Traditional turtle callers of Nacamaki

There are two places known in Fiji for having the ability to call on turtles and these marine creatures, no matter where they are, will move closer to the shore and rise to the surface. The people of Namuana on Kadavu and Nacamaki on Koro Island are known for having the supernatural gift and ability to call on turtles.

Growing up, I did not know of people being able to call on turtles. On a trip to Kadavu in early February this year, I was told that the people of Namuana had the special gift but did not witness them exercising this gift.

Two days after Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston hit the Fiji Group, I was on Koro Island with photographer Jovesa Naisua. We spent two weeks on the cyclone-ravaged island and there I was informed the people of Nacamaki also had the special gift to call on turtles.

However, because of poor road conditions and the chaos caused by the category five monstrous cyclone, we did not visit Nacamaki.

On October 17 we were bound for Koro again. This time, the inclusion to our team was Joseva Vilikena aka Tuks the driver. We were there to provide coverage on the island and see the progress, eight months after the cyclone ripped through Fiji.

That was our mission but I also had another mission — to visit Nacamaki Village and see for myself the traditional summoning of the turtles from the deep.

What should have been a one-week trip turned out to be three weeks. In that time, we travelled around the island more than 10 times visiting all 14 villages. Tuks even jokingly said : “If somebody asks me about Koro, I can tell him the number of potholes and the number of bends in the road on that island.”

During the first week, we planned to have a picnic at Kabe beach just past Tuatua Village (a five-minute drive from the Nasau government station). We had plans to have smoked fish and just enjoy the Saturday sun on our already charcoal skin.

The day before the scheduled picnic, we travelled to Tuatua for work before making the trip to Nacamaki.

Home to more than two hundred people, the inhabitants of Nacamaki Village are now slowly relocating to high ground because of the effects of climate change.

We were not only there to provide coverage of life in the village but also hopefully fulfil a dream of witnessing the unique traditional calling of the turtles.

At the village, we saw the children running around enjoying themselves, women doing their laundry and village men helped with rebuilding of homes.

After interviewing the village headman, we then proceeded to present our sevusevu to Savenaca Vueti of the mataqali Manukaira. We had been informed Mr Vueti was the best person who could relate the story. He and his landowning unit have the traditional gift to perform the call apart from the priest (bete).

After the sevusevu had been presented and accepted, Jovesa then proceeded to take pictures, while I sat with Mr Vueti beside the tanoa and listened to his story.

He shared the story of how their ancestor, Tui Naikasi, left Davetalevu (Moturiki) and journeyed to Lovoni and Tokou on Ovalau before travelling to Gau and then finally to Koro. Of all places he visited, Tui Naikasi was not satisfied until he arrived at Nacamaki, the place he fell in love with.

Tui Naikasi was a demigod and had supernatural powers. He was, according to legend, one of the source of strength in the rise to fame of the warlord Vueti and had the ability to turn himself into a turtle whenever he went down to sea.

Mr Vueti said how they were given the gift to be able to call the turtles to surface was not clear. What he understands is that they are the direct descendants of Tui Naikasi and that is their traditional gift.

According to Mr Vueti no special ritual or initiation has to be followed before the turtle is called.

He said as is the norm when visitors visited the village yaqona is presented as the sevusevu and request to witness the turtle calling. He said the traditional priest would then be called and if no one from that mataqali was present, then someone from the Manukaira landowning unit would accompany the visitors.

He said there were a few taboos when witnessing the ancient ritual — that no pictures will be taken. Neither is it allowed to point at the turtles when they surface, as this will cause them to disappear.

Mr Vueti said every attempt by visitors to take a picture of the turtle had failed.

There is another reason for the turtles not surfacing. That is if someone from Nabukelevu in Kadavu is among the visitors and does not reveal his or her origins.

“At one time there was a group of youths from Kadavu who came to the village for the church camp, so we accommodated them. Then they wanted to go and see the turtle calling so we agreed and off they went.

“But when the priest was calling out the chant no turtle surfaced, it was not until one young woman revealed that she had maternal links to Kadavu that they knew the turtle was not going to surface.

“I could see by the looks on their faces when they returned they were disappointed, so because it is our gift I called the turtle and they surfaced just at the beach near the village,” he said while pointing to the Nacamaki beach.

Hearing that, I knew this was my one-off opportunity to witness for myself this traditional gift. So I asked and he said the track up to the cliff where the turtles are usually summoned had not been cleared since Winston hit the village.

I asked if there was any other place where this could be done, Mr Vueti said it could also be done near Tui Naikasi’s cave at the far end of the beach. By then Jovesa had returned from his walk on the beach and taking pictures and he convinced us that our picnic should be held at Nacamaki beach.

We all agreed that we were not going to Kabe but rather we were coming to Nacamaki. One of the villagers agreed to take us to the cave of Tui Naikasi and Mr Vueti gave his approval for the turtle calling to be done there.

I could not wait for the next day. If it was solely up to me, I would said “skip Friday night let’s go straight to Saturday”.

Next week, we bring to you our day out at Nacamaki beach and the story of why the turtle will never surface if someone from Nabukelevu, Kadavu is present.

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