The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Custom
Chapter II — the age of myth
the age of myth
Of all inhabited countries in the world Fiji is probably the poorest in history. No European, who left a record behind him, had intercourse with the natives until 1810, and the historical traditions of the natives themselves scarcely carry back their history beyond the middle of the eighteenth century. While the chiefs of the Marquesas and Hawaii are said to recall the names of their ancestors for seventythree generations,1 the chiefs of Mbau cannot give the name of any of their predecessors before Nailatikau, who reigned during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and the earliest name recalled by other tribes of longer memory is only the sixth generation from the reigning chief. It is not that the Fijians were less prone than other islanders to embody their tribal history in traditional poetry, but that the political morcellement of the tribal units left the poets nothing to record. A century ago Mbau was nothing but a petty fortified village in the interior, governed by chiefs whose names were unknown three miles from its public square. The chiefs of Rewa were equally obscure, and the songs which celebrated their petty achievements died with the generation that sang them. When the great wave of unrest in the interior of Vitilevu sent them forth to fight their way to a new home on the coast, and to found confederations of the tribes they had subdued, their history was born; and at its birth died the old traditions of the tribes they conquered, for vassals in Fiji have nothing to do with memories of departed greatness.
1 The Polynesian Race, by A. Fornander, Vol. i, p. 193.
Besides the historical meke there remain a few mythological sagas which refer to a far older period. With ancestor-worshippers like the Fijians the founders of their race attain immortality denied to their descendants, who at the most become demi-gods enjoying a place in mythology only as long as their deeds on earth are remembered. The founders of the Fijian race are known as Kalou-Vu—Gods of Origin—and the sagas that relate their exploits, overlaid as they are with glosses by the poets, undoubtedly contain the germ of traditional history of a vary ancient date. The historical outline of the Nakauvandra sagas is supported by another class of evidance, namely the tauvu.
The word tauvu means literally "Sprung from the same root," or "of common origin." It is applied to two or more tribes, who may live in different island, speak different dialects, and have, in short, nothing in common but their god. They do not necessarily intermarry; they may have held no intercourse for generations; yet though each may have forgotten the names of its chiefs three generations back, the site of its ancient home, and the traditions of its migrations, it never forgets the tribe with which it is tauvu. Members of that tribe may run riot in its village, slaughter its animals, and ravage its plantations, while it sits smiling by; for the spoilers are its brothers, worshippers of its common ancestor, and are entitled in the fullest sense to the "freedom of the city." In several instances I have traced back the bond of tauvu to its origin, the marriage of the sister of some high chief with the head of a distant clan. Her rank was so transcendent that she brought into her husband's family a measure of the godhead of her ancestors, and her descendants have thenceforth reverenced her forefathers in preference to those of her husband. But in the majority of cases—and it is the exception to find a clan which is not tauvu to some other—the bond is too remote for tradition to have preserved its origin, and in these the two clans were probably offshoots from the same stock. Perhaps there was a quarrel between brothers, and one of them was driven out with his family to find another home; or a young swarm from an overcrowded page 6hive may have crossed the water to seek wider planting lands for their support, as the first Aryan emigrants burst through the barriers of their cradle-land and overran Europe. Had the Aryans been ancestor-worshippers Rome would have been tauvu with Athens, and the descendants of the youths driven forth in the Ver Sacrum tauvu with Rome.
The general tendency of the bonds of tauvu in the western portion of the group is to confirm the sagas of Nakauvandra in suggesting that the cradle-land of the Fijians was the north-western corner of Vitilevu, whence the tide of emigration set northward to Mbua, eastward along the Tailevu coast, and south-eastward down the Wainimbuka branch of the Rewa river. Besides the saga of Turukawa, printed in another chapter, there are fragments of a still earlier poem relating the first arrival of the Kalou-Vu in a great canoe, the Kaunitoni, tempest-driven from a land in the far West. The fragmentary saga of the Kaunitoni must be accepted with caution, since it was committed to writing so late as 1891, when educated Fijians were already aware that Europeans were seeking evidence of their arrival in the group.
But there is proof enough of the western origin of the Fijians in the fact that they are the eastern outpost of the Melanesian race and language, that their blest abode of spirits lies beyond the. setting sun, and that the Thombo-thombo, or Jumping-off-places of the Fijian shades, all point westward; there is proof enough of the Nakauvandra range being their cradle-land in the belief that the shades of the people of the Rewa delta must repair to Nakauvandra as the first stage in their last sad journey.
"Long ago in a land in the far West there were three great chiefs, Lutu-na-sombasomba, Ndengei, and Wai-thala-na-vanua; of these Lutuna-sombasomba was the greatest. And they took counsel together to build a vessel in which they might set sail with their wives, their children, their servants, and their dependants, to seek some distant land where haply they might find a good country where they might abide. So they page 7sent a messenger to a chief named Rokola bidding him build them a vessel. And Rokola told his clan, who were the carpenter clan, the orders of the chiefs, and the carpenters built a vessel and called it the Kauniloni. And when the vessel was made ready, they prepared their provisions and their freight, and went on board. Now there were many other families that made ready their vessels to accompany them. In the Kaunitoni went Lutu-na-sombasomba and his wife and five children, together with his chest of stone in which were stored many things—his patterns of work (Vola-sui-ni-thakathaka) and his inscribed words, and many other inscriptions.1 And with them went Ndengei and Wai-thala-na-vanua and other families, a great company of men and women. And the chief Rokola went also with his family. After sailing many days they came to a land which seemed pleasant to many of them, and these beached their vessels, and abode there. But the remainder kept on their course. Perhaps this land at which the others stayed was New Guinea. And as they sailed on, lo! another land was sighted, and some of them, being eager to land there, beached their vessels and occupied it. Perhaps this land was New Britain. And they came upon other lands at which some tarried until there was left only the Kaunitoni and a few other vessels. And these launched forth into the boundless ocean where they found no land. And the sky grew dark, so that the vessels parted company, for tempestuous weather was upon them. It was no common storm, but a great cyclone that struck them, for it was the wind called Vuaroro or Ravu-i-ra (west-north west). And the blast struck the Kaunitoni, so that they were sick with terror, and could think of nothing but that they must die.
"In the blackness of the storm the vessels were scattered, and the Kaunitoni drifted ever eastward down the path of the storm. And as the hurricane continued for thirty days, and the vessel ran before the wind without finding any land, Lutu-na-sombasomba's chest of inscriptions fell overboard into the sea. But on the thirtieth night the keel of the vessel struck upon a rock, and she lay fast, and immediately the storm abated. Then they saw land before them, and knew that they were saved. And in the morning they went ashore and built shelters there: therefore the place was called Vunda (Vu-nda—lit. 'Our Origin'), because it was the first village that they built, and they rejoiced that they were saved from the hurricane that had beset them."This is the meke of the cyclone that struck them—
"'Rai thake ko Ndaunivosavosa, "'Lutunasombasomba gazed afar, Na vua ni thagi lamba sa toka, Behind him gathered the scud of the hurricane Na kena ua ma mbutu kosakosa The mighty rollers battered him, And beat upon the Kaunitoni, Na Kaunitoni ka sa vondoka, The mighty rollers burst over him, Na kena ua ma rombalaka toka, Tangi mate ko Lutunasomba-somba, Lutunasombasomba cried a bitter cry, Nonku kawa era na vakaloloma, Alas! Alas! for my descendants, Nonku kato vatu ka mai tasova, My chest of stone is overset, Mai lutu kina na nonkui vola, My inscriptions (vola) have fallen out of it,page 8
1 We detect here a flavour of the commentator's superior education.
Da la' ki moce ki ndaveta ni kamboa.' Let us go and sleep in the har-bour of the Kamboa (a fish).'"And all the time they tarried at Vunda, the chief Lutu-na-sombasomba could not rest for thinking of his inscriptions that had been lost in the sea. And he sent some of his young men to go and seek them,1 for he reflected that his descendants would grow up ignorant if these inscriptions were indeed lost to them. So the young men set out with their sail close hauled, and as they voyaged they were "astonished at the sight of islands right in their course to the westward, and disputed among themselves, some affirming these to be the islands at which some of their company had landed before the hurricane struck them, while others cried, 'Impossible; they were far away.' So they called the islands Yasa yawa2 (Yasawa). Long did they scull the vessel up and down the sea seeking the lost inscriptions, but finding them not. And then he who commanded the Kaunitoni, and was named Wankambalambala (Tree-fern-canoe), spoke, and said that they should return to Vunda and tell their Lord, Lutu-na-sombasomba, that his inscriptions could not be found. For they were wearied with rowing up and down, and the wind had failed them. Then one of them called Mbekanitanganga climbed the mast to look for the ripple of the wind, and saw a puff of wind coming up from the west, and when this reached them Wankambalambala, the sailor, ordered the great sail to be hoisted and they set their course for Vunda. But they knew not where Vunda lay, and they beached the vessel at an island, and landed upon it, wondering at the fertility of the place, and they said 'Let us stay here awhile (tiko manda 1a eke) and presently we will seek the land where Lutu-na-sombasomba is, to tell him that we cannot find the inscriptions we were sent to seek.' But Wankambalambala said that they should go first, and afterwards return to live on the island 'Manda-la-eke.' So they composed a song telling how they found Manda-la-eke, and since the name was too long for the rhythm of a song they shortened it to Malake to suit the rhythm, as they also shortened the name Yasa yawa to Yasawa. This is the song they made—
And they set out from Malake and sculled1 their vessel to the mainland; and there they met Ndengei standing on the shore, having come to explore the country. Him they told of their discovery of a very fair island. And they asked him of Vunda, and were directed towards the west. So Ndengei came on board and they coasted westwards to Vunda. And when they told Lutu-na-sombasomba how his incriptions were lost for ever, he was sore grieved, and from this time his body began to be infirm because his heart was grieved for his lost inscriptions.
"'Rai vosa ko Lutunasobasoba, "'Then Lutunasombasomba spoke, I Ragone, dou vakarau toka, Make ready boys, Na Kaunitoni mo dou tavotha, Haul down the Kaunitoni, Mo nou yara manda nai vola, And go and seek the inscriptions, Nodratou latha ratou thokota, Bend our sail to the yards, Ra tathiri ni lutu ni iloa, They drifted hither and thither till all landmarks were los, Sokosokoni mbongi ma siga vaka, Sa siri ko Natu Yasawa, The Yasawa group is seen on the horizon E ruru na thangi ka thiri na wanka, The breeze dies away; the vessel is becalmed, Mai kamba ko Mbeka ni tayanga Bekanitanganga climbs aloft,page 9
1 A somewhat futile proceeding unless they were of wood.
2 Distant land
Me sa la' ki lewa thangi toka manda, To sit and look for signs of wind. Yau koto na nde ni thangi thawa, The flying wrack of the hurricane is at hand, Mbula koto mai na thangi raya, A breeze from the west is freshening Ninkai vosa ko Wankambalambala, Then speaks Wankambalambala Mai mua ki vanua nonda wanka, Set our course towards the land, Latha levu era vakarewataka, They hoist the great sail, Rai ki liu na nkoluvaka, We shout as we look ahead, Ka kuvu tiko na muai manda, The spray shoots up from our prow, Ucui Malake ka kombuata, We make the cape of Malake Uru ki vanua me ta thambe sara, And lower the sail to go ashore, Yanuyanu ka ra volita manda, They make the circuit of the island, Sa nkai ndua na koro vinaka, This is indeed a pleasant land, Era siro sombu ki matasawa, They go down to the landing-place, Na tokalau ka yau talatala, This wind is in exchange for the south-east wind, Sa thangi tamba na soko ki raya, A wind permitting no westward voyage, Ka ndromu na singa e vakana nawa.' The sun sets in the ocean gulf.
"And when Ndengei saw that Lutu-na-sombasomba grew infirm he commanded that they should abandon Vunda, and remove to a fair land that he had seen, lest the old chief should die and never see it. So he bade the chief Rokola to build other canoes to be tenders to the Kaunitoni in the eastward voyage. And as soon as all these canoes were built they poled them along the coast, and beached them opposite the land they wished for, and their stuff they carried up into the hills, and the first house they built was for Lutu-na-sombasomba. The posts and the beams of this house were all of pandanus trunks. In this house, therefore, abode their chief, and he called the whole land Nakauvandra (Pandanus Tree) to be a memorial of the first house built there which was built of pandanus trunks. And therefore, the country is called Nakauvandra even to this day."
1 Fijian canoes are sculled with long oars worked perpendicularly in a rowlock formed by the cross-ties of the outrigger, or of the two hulls in a twin canoe. With powerful scullers a speed of three miles an hour is attained in a dead calm.
Although, as I have said, this commentary is to be received with caution, there can be no doubt that a few years ago there were still to be found on the north-east coast of Vitilevu fragmentary traditions of a voyage to Fiji undertaken by the personages mentioned in the poem, and the name, Vunda, which is still attached to the north-western corner of Vitilevu certainly indicates that it was the earliest settlement of some party of immigrants. It would, indeed, be strange if the westerly winds, that sometimes blow steadily for days together during the summer months, had not brought castaway canoes to a group of islands which cover five degrees of longitude. Instead of one arrival there must have been several, and whether Ndengei came in the first or a later company is not important. The subsequent superiority of Ndengei as a Kalou-Vu over his chief Lutu-na-sombasomba may be accounted for by his heroic exploits in the great civil war that divided Nakauvandra as related in the epic of Naka-vandra which is given in another chapter.
In attempting to fix a date for the first Melanesian settlement in Fiji the widest field lies open to the lover of speculation, for it is unlikely that when a few years have passed, and the last guardians of tradition have made way for young Fiji, any fresh evidence will come to light. The only monuments of a past age are rude earthworks in the form of moats and house foundations, a few stone enclosures known as nanga, no older than the period covered by tradition, and a stone cairn or two erected by the worshippers of the luve-ni-wai. The Melanesians buried their dead in their own houses if they, were chiefs, leaving the house to fall to ruin over them; in the open if they were commoners, or in limestone caves wherever there were to be found, and there is no trace of tombs or hewn stone such as are found, in Tonga and other islands colonized by Polynesians. Until the stalagmitic floors of the limestone caves have been examined systematically it is not safe to say that Palæolithic Man never inhabited the islands, but it is at least very unlikely. The earliest trace of human occupation page 11yet discovered is a polished hatchet found in alluvial deposit on the bank of the River Mba about twelve feet below the surface, during excavations carried out in the erection of a sugar mill; but in a river subject to heavy annual floods, during which great quantities of soil are brought down from the hills, the depth is no proof of age. In the island of Waya (Yasawa) a cache of polished hatchets was discovered in 1891. Three of these were gouge-shaped for cutting away the wood on the inside of canoes or drums, and of elaborate finish, but there was nothing to show that they were of ancient date.
On the other hand, if the islands were peopled from a single immigration as native traditions seem to show, or even by successive arrivals of castaway canoes, many centuries would be required to raise the population to a total of 200,000. The widespread bond of tauvn between tribes speaking different dialects, and already showing divergence of type as in the cases of Nayau and Notho, and Mbau and Malake, sets back the original immigration many generations. There is nothing in Fijian tradition corresponding to Mr. Fornander's discovery in Hawaiian myth of a culture among the early immigrants superior to their condition when Europeans first came among them. Mr. Fornander believes that the Polynesians were acquainted with metals in their old home and navigated in large vessels built of planks. Their degeneracy was the natural result of their new surroundings, for if we were to take a number of European craftsmen, carpenters, smiths and fitters, and transport them with their families to an island destitute of metals, where they would be cut off from renewing their tools when worn out, we should find them in the second generation with nothing left of their former culture but the tradition, and perhaps the name of the metals their fathers used. This was the case with the Hawaiians. The tradition survived, and they had a name for the iron tools which they saw in the hands of their Europeans visitors. But the Fijians had no name for metal. Their first iron tools were brought to them by the Tongans, and they adopted the Tongan name, with the prefix of Ka, "thing—" Ka-ukamea (Kaukamea), "iron thing," just as their name for Europeans—Vavalangi— page 12was taken from the Tongans from whom they first learned of the existence of the white race.
1 The Polynesian Race, Its Origin and Migrations. London, 1880.
|(1)||That the Polynesians are of pre-Vedic Aryan descent.|
|(2)||That at from A.D. 150-250 they "left, the Asiatic Archipelago and entered the Pacific, establishing themselves in the Fiji Group, and thence spreading to the Samoan, Tonga, and other groups eastward and northward."|
|(3)||That about the fifth century a.d. Hawaii was settled by Polynesians who reached the group by a chain of islands that have since disappeared, and were isolated there for some six centuries.|
|(4)||That in the eleventh century began a period of unrest, during which there was frequent intercourse between the Marquesas, Society, Samoan and Hawaiian peoples for five or six generations.|
I quote the fourth conclusion because I believe that it has a bearing upon the Polynesian strain of blood which we find in the eastern portion of the Fiji islands.
1 The Polynesian Race, Its Origin and Migrations, Vol. i, p. 33.
2 Ibid., Vol. i, p. 167.
3 Ibid., Vol. i, p. 33.
1 See my Diversions of a Prime Minister; p. 308.
2 Mariner's Tonga
3 The Melanesians, Codrington.
These are only a few out of a series of Polynesian immigrations that may be numbered by hundreds, of which a tithe would suffice to account for the Polynesian language and blood to be found in Fiji. A stepping-stone in Fiji was necessary to Fornander's theory of Polynesian migrations, and if he had not been blinded by his desire to find it, he would have seen the obvious import of his declaration that in the eleventh century the Polynesians had a renaissance of navigation. Such a period of unrest, of distant voyages undertaken with no compass but the stars, in clumsy craft, on seas swept continually by a south-east wind, must have resulted in numerous shipwrecks on the eastern shores of islands lying to the westward.
1 Tukuaho, Premier of Tonga, and descendant of the Tui Tonga and Tui Haatakalaua families, was staying with me at Auckland, N.Z., when Ratu Lala, Tui Thakau, of Fiji, arrived in the town. Both chiefs asked me to bring about a meeting on the ground of their relationship. Though each could speak the language of the other their shyness led them to insist that I should interpret the conversation, which was carried on in Fijian and Tongan. After the usual formalities the two chiefs spoke of the adventures of their Tongan princess through whom they were related, and the Tongan and Fijian versions of the tradition were substantially identical.
Fornander's second quotation from folklore is designed to prove no less than a Polynesian reminiscence of the Hebrew legend of the building of Babel, forgotten by the Polynesians, but "stowed away" by them in the memory of their former hosts, the Fijians. Thomas Williams is responsible for this tradition of a vast tower erected on a great mound in Nasavusavu Bay, Vanualevu, which collapsed, scattering the builders to the four winds. No trace of this tradition is now to be found, and one cannot but remember that Williams drew his information from his converts, to whom he was teaching that the Mosaic books related the genesis of their own race, and who knew that a confirmation drawn from their own traditions would be highly comforting to their missionary. But though there was no great mound to point to, and the existence of any such tradition may be doubted, to what, even if true, does it amount? To a coincidence such as is to be found in many primitive religions, or, if you will, to a suggestion that the Fijians are an offshoot of the Semitic stock, but scarcely to evidence that the Polynesians, who have no tradition of the kind, bequeathed it to the Fijians.
1 "Unfortunately we have no well-preserved account of the Flood from the Cushite-Arabian quarter: but I am inclined to consider the Polynesian version as originally representing the early traditions on this subject among the Cushite-pre-Joklanite Arabs."—The Polynesian Race, Its Origin and Migrations. London, 1880, p. 90.
1 The Vunivalu genealogy of Mbau.
Abraham Fornander has done inestimable service to future students of Oceanic ethnology by preserving for their use songs and traditions that would otherwise have passed into oblivion, but he will be used as a storehouse of data rather than as an exponent of history, and I feel that I am best serving his reputation by cutting away the false deductions that would have tainted the sound and wholesome facts which page 20form the larger portion of his work. I cannot leave him without wishing that he had made better use of Bancroft's saying, which he printed as his text on the title-page, "It is now a recognized principle in philosophy that no religious belief, however crude, nor any historical traditions, however absurd, can be held by the majority of a people for any considerable time as true, without having in the beginning some foundation in fact."