Vukavu’s first chief

GROWING up, The Fiji Times photographer Atu Rasea was keen to know his history. As he shared he was fond of sitting next to his father and asking questions about his traditional identity.

Originally from Vutuna Village on Nairai in the Lomaiviti Group, the veteran photographer moved to Suva at a very young age.

Story of a god

He was was still an eight-year-old when he heard a story. It was a legend about their god — Ravuravu, the great warlord.

” I remember my father telling me that Ravuravu was a fierce warrior and had the ability to settle and solve differences and conflicts,” Atu said.

“Everywhere he went he made friends and allies, he led armies to victory and was respected by his kinsmen and other tribes.

“My father also told me that he was buried somewhere in Kadavu, but the particular place was not known.”

For a long time Atu wondered where Ravuravu was buried, it was not until four decades later, when on a trip to Kadavu, that his mystery was solved.

“To find out where he was buried is an achievement in itself because here is our traditional tie.”

We were on an assignment on the island collating stories and Vukavu Village in the district of Naceva was one of the villages we visited.

Located atop a steep hill, Vukavu Village is only accessible by boat. The village is a 30-minute boat ride from Naluvea (a five minutes’ drive from Vunisea, the main centre).

According to villagers the last time a tractor was in the village, was in the 1970s during the time of Ratu Mara’s Alliance government. The tractor was on a road construction project.

Today, the road that runs from Vunisea only reaches Vunisei District School. For the villages of Muanisolo, Dravuwalu, Mataso, Soso, Yavitu, Kadavu, Jioma, Nacomoto and beyond, they have to rely on fibreglass boats for transportation.

With us was Sireli Tagicaki, the village headman of Dravuwalu (who had agreed to be our tour guide while we were on the island.)

We were scheduled to visit two villages but, because of the steep climb, agreed we would just visit Vukavu and then return to Dravuwalu where we were accommodated.

Along the way, our guide had mentioned that one man had already died when going uphill. It is believed he suffered a heart attack.

This is the same route which villagers take to sell their produce (yaqona is their main source of income), in other words this is one of only two accesses to the outside world.

“For us the women it has been very difficult especially when we are pregnant and we have to go downhill when trying to reach Vunisea,” said mother of two Laisa Ratudina (the Methodist steward’s wife.)

“For others, they are used to it but we hope one day Government will come to our aid and construct a road,” said 78-year-old Tarisi Daku.

“If a tractor could reach us in the 1970s, I do not know what’s stopping other governments from reaching us,” said village headman Inoke Rauga.

Kadavu Provincial Council assistant roko Soroveveli Vura said road construction on Kadavu would be done for those places that already had vehicles. He said while government had constructed new roads on Kadavu, those on this side of the island would have to wait a while longer.

“We don’t want to construct any road and there are no vehicles there. So what needs to happen is these villagers, when they come up with their development proposal, they will need to include that the need for construction of the road will allow them to purchase vehicles to service these areas.”

Vukavu

Prior arrangements had been made with the village headman. After a few stops, we reached the top. The village sits on a ridge. What a sight to see that despite the remoteness of the place and the struggles they go through every day. Beautiful and well-constructed are the homes of these villagers.

A huge concrete church is in the middle of the village green. To the side are 46 houses occupied by 145 villagers, 42 of whom are children.

On the far end of the church is a huge generator which villagers say “everything you see here, we carried uphill”.

The school children travel daily downhill to attend Soso District School and return in the afternoon. For many of them, they prefer to wear their uniforms when they reach school (because travelling downhill can sometimes be treacherous).

In the old village hall, two seated men cut their yaqona to prepare for the market while on the village green, children were playing and greeted us with the most beautiful of all smiles.

Touched by the genuineness of their wlecome, unnoticed by my companions, I looked away to wipe a tear or two.

A few men gathered at the village hall, and after our sevusevu was presented and acknowledged, Josaia Votonimalu, the Takala-i-Naceva (chief of the village) agreed to give the untold story of the vanua of Naisogoceva.

He cited an undated account of one Joseva Senikau recorded by the Native Lands Commission. According to that record Lepani Ratu Salele was holding the then Tui Vukavu title, while Filipe Tuilawalawa was the Takala-i-naceva.

Mr Votonimalu said they were part of the migration from Nakauvadra which was led by Taveta.

This account coincides with the historical account shared by Jesoni Balemaisolomone of the yavusa of Kese which we published last week.

According to Mr Baleisolomone their migration from Nakauvadra was led by Wasabalavu. He said Taveta joined Wasabalavu and they looked for somewhere to settle. He said they stopped for a while at Naiqoro before proceeding to Soso.

Mr Votonimalu added it was at Naiqoro that they separated and Taveta led his people to Vukavu.

“E dua ga na yavusa, na yavusa ko Matai kena mataqali o Matai, e nona tokatoka o Matai, na mataqali o Matainabala e nona tokatoka o Matainabala.” (There was only one yavusa — Matai, the clan Matai had the, household (tokatoka) Matai, while the clan Matainabala had the Matainabala household (tokatoka).)

Split in the vanua

The Takala-i-Naceva said upon the death of Taveta, the vanua was split in two because his two sons Butunasa and Tokasara could not agree as to who was to hold the chiefly title.

He said the Matai clan wanted Butunasa to lead while members of the Matainabala clan wanted Tokasara.

“E ra sa mani buli Butunasa sara ko Matai, ka vakatoka me yacana buli na Tui Matai, na i wase ko Matainabala era sa mani vakaliuci Tokasara ga ka sega ni buli koya vakavanua.” (So the Matai clan installed Butunasa as Tui Matai, while Matainabala stated they would look up to Tokasara but he was not be installed.)

He said during this time of dispute, Tokasara heard the reputation of Ravuravu and how he had been waging war around Kadavu. Ravuravu was then called to the village and was installed as the first Tui Vukavu.

Ravuravu had journeyed from Matanuku and resided at Naqaqa before being installed at Vukavu.

Mr Votonimalu said, Ravuravu knew his traditional ties because he belonged to the yavusa of Nauluvatu. Ravuravu agreed and as traditional norm presented his sevusevu to the kai Nauluvatu at Vukavu and Soso.

“Ni vaka tu oqo na ca ni neimami tikotiko ka sega ni dede sa qai yaco mai o Ratu Ravuravu. E liga kaukauwa sara na turaga oqo ena veika e baleta keimami. Ena gugumatua ni turaga oqo sa kena irairai ena vauci ira taucoko na iwase ruarua. Sa mani lewa ko Butunasau, na Tui Matai me ratou sa lakova na nodratou e dua na turaga ki Soso.” (He was a strong chief and protected his people. Everyone respected and feared him. Fearing that he will unite both the clans, the Tui Matai Bitunasau summoned for a chief in Soso, to lead them.”

Just when the Takala-i-naceva, paused to catch a breath before continuing with his explanation, Atu shared that for a long time, he had been searching for such an explanation linking him to Kadavu. Little did he know that Vukavu Village was where their god and warrior Ravuravu was installed as chief and is also buried.

One of the village man then escorted Atu to the burial site of Ravuravu.

God surely works in mysterious ways.

Today Atu can say his traditional ties stretch to as far as Vukavu on Kadavu; Vadrai at Nakelo in Tailevu; Lomaloma on Vanuabalavu and to the village of Salia on Nayau in the Lau Group.

* Next week is the story about the arrival of the chief from Soso to Vukavu. The questions that lingers, is this the same chief who had united a great army not through wars or treachery but through his good heart and wisdom.

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