Yanuya Island, tourism prophecy fulfilled

NO one in Yanuya Village knows the exact date, but according to a stories shared with them by their elders the charismatic Fijian leader Apolosi Nawai prophesied that the village and the island would be richly blessed if they did just two things.

They were to ensure that they will put God first at all times and second to toil their land.

That prophecy is now being fulfilled.

Born in 1846 Apolosi Nawai or Ranawai, also known as Navosavakadua, died in 1946. He was well known to having challenged British colonial rule. For such efforts, he was exiled and according to reports, a lot of his prophesies have been fulfilled.

This was to be my third trip to the Malolo Group, commonly known as the Mamanuca Group of islands. However this was the my first trip to Yanuya Island.

I had accompanied National Trust of Fiji project officer Jone Niukula who was there for consultation with village elders about Monuriki Island – home to the endemic western banded crested iguana.

The people of Yanuya are traditional owners of the island, including Tokoriki and Matamanoa.

Little did I know that I was travelling to the birthplace of tourism in the Malolo Group — Yanuya Island.

Yanuya village is located on the island of Yanuya in the Malolo Group and they belong to the province of Nadroga.

The group of islands is famous for having some of the world’s best tourist destinations.

Surrounded by the magnificent deep blue ocean, with crystal clear waters are islands garlanded by white sandy beaches. Not once will the group of islands fail to impress you.

Yanuya Island is about a 30-minute boat ride from Port Denarau.

The island is home to more than 600 people who make up the yavusa o Yanuya. There are four mataqali or landowning units; Vunaivi, Navucunisai, Vunativi and Namatua. These make up the yavusa o Yanuya.

According to Semisi Naceva leader of the tokatoka o Vunaivi-ira of the matatqali Vunaivi, they are originally from Viseisei in Vuda.

Oral history has it that their ancestors had travelled from Viseisei in search for land. They first landed at Solevu Village on Malolo Island before moving to Monu Island.

It was at Monu, which is approximately a five-minute boat ride from Yanuya, that Christianity was accepted. Still on the island of Monu is the foundation of the church.

He added that their ancestors later moved and finally settled on Yanuya.

“Na gauna au kilai yaloqu kina, na koro oqo, e dua na koro rairai totoka baleta se sega na kena vale block se tu ga na vale vaka Viti.” (My earliest recollections are that this was a beautiful village as there were no concrete houses, all houses were the traditional bure.)

On one side of the village is Natuvalo one of their source for drinking water. He said since the first day their ancestors set foot on the island, the source has never dried up. Water levels drop when it is low tide and then rises when the tide is high.

Birth of tourism

In 1964, the late Dick Smith pioneered tourism in the now globally renowned tourist destination.

At a time where no resort was established in the Malolo Group, according to Mr Naceva, Smith would bring tourists over on a yacht to visit Yanuya. This was the birth of tourism on the island.

“Na vanua oqo na vanua e tekivu kina na sara vanua, baleta dua na turaga ni valagi o Dick Smith e mai tekivuna na sara vanua e na neitou vanua. A kauta voli mai dua na waqa na yacana na Stardust dau nona cakacaka na kauti ira mai na vulagi sara vanua, a dau mai moce tu ga na waqa e wai.

“Yakavi dau mai caka na kabu – koya na vakalasalasa vei ira na kai valagi.”

(This place is where tourism started. It was by an Australian, Dick Smith. He would bring tourists on his yacht, the Stardust. It would be anchored out at sea and at night the he would accompany the visitors to the village where we would provide entertainment known as kabu.)

“Vanua oya ko tekivu kina na vurevure ni lavo ni sara vanua. Dau $50 dua na bogi ni veivakamarautaki ya sega ni se dua na otela qo ena yatu Malolo. (That was the beginning of tourism, before there were any resorts here in the Malolo Group, we would provide entertainment to the visitors and were paid $50 a night.

Mr Smith later went on to establish the Musket Cove Resort and Castaway Island Resort.

Mr Naceva said from $50 it rose to $350 and all proceeds were kept in an account. He said with money raised they were able build 40 homes, the church, village hall and reverend’s residence.

Yanuya’s entertainment group have gained recognition having performed in all hotels and resorts in the Malolo Group, even to the extent of travelling to Japan to perform.

According to Mr Naceva, legend has it that one of the elders by the name of Akuila Rari was asleep one night when he heard the sweet sounds of the beating of the lali (Fijian drum). Mr Naceva said Akuila’s soul was then taken to Cakauyawa, where before him the most beautiful women swayed to the beat of a lali in a traditional dance — the vakamalolo.

“Sa qai taro mai e dua e tu ekea, e cava o qase ni vei.

“O au sara mai Yanuya.

“Oi o ni taleitaka na meke oqo?

“Io, au sa rui mateca.

“Sa na soli vei iko na matana kei na qaqana mo sa qai kauta lesu ka mai buli kina na meke qo na vakamalolo.”

Mr Naceva said Akuila was then asked why he was staring. His reply was that the traditional dance being performed and the beating of the lali had him so mesmerised, they were things he would die for.

He was then asked whether he liked and wanted the dance. He just nodded his reply. He was given the gift thus the origins of the word malolo taken from the traditional dance vakamalolo.

Mr Naceva proudly says this is why they are one of the best

Yanuya Island is home to the most friendliest people, they are traditional owners to three island resorts and proud protector of the endemic western banded crested iguana.

For $50 from Port Denarau to the island, it sure is the total package. The white sandy beach that runs around the island, the beaming ocean that glitters like a sea of diamonds, the reports, the legends, the island is a must-go-to-place.

More Stories