The Fiji Times have an interesting article today about Rev Usaia Sotutu, the missionary from Tavea Island, Bua, Vanua Levu, who went to the Solomon Islands. His family had a reunion a few weeks ago to remember him. It's a long story so I have cut out some sections to shorten it. the photo is of Rev Sotutu, his wife Makareta, his daughter-in-law and grandchild Waisake.
Out of the valley of death
by Robert Matau
'YEA though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil for Thou art with me.' The words of the Psalmist rang true in the jungles of Bougainville in 1943 when 600 soldiers of the first Fiji Battalion faced certain death. t like the Biblical proportions of the above verse it would have to take a man of God to utter them and live them to realise utopian and complete proportions. Reverend Usaia Nasoya Sotutu was such a man.
He was of the old school of missionary work stand up and go to the darkest places of earth to lighten them up with the Word of God, fearing no one or fearing no circumstances……Mr Sotutu then a catechist was sent to Bougainville to carry out missionary work. He was told to return to Fiji to find a bride who would help complete the man that was later to become the unsung hero of the Pacific War. That woman was Makereta Keresi Roro Korocawiri of Taci in Noco and they married in 1928 before returning to the Solomons and Bougainville well before the clouds of war were to burst.
The Sotutu family settled in Buka in Bougainville and the missionary later sat for his exams and became a fully fledged talatala. All of the Sotutu children, Inia Nasoya, Eroni Paula Kotosoma Seruvatu (affectionately known as Paula Sotutu), Dorothy Sera, Ilisapeci Buasega and Susana Wesley now Susana Tuisawau were all born in Bougainville.
When the war broke out the Fijian battalions found themselves in the Solomons and Bougainville. One particular date that many Fijian soldiers would never forget in the war was January 1943.
....Fighting with the Japanese continued and during the first five days at Ibu twenty-two Japanese were killed and a number wounded, compared to the loss of one Fijian killed and another wounded. About 300 Japanese troops were looking for the Fijians because of their success in harassing and disrupting their plans. The Japanese had almost surrounded the 1st Battalion on that day.
…In his book A History of Fiji Kim Gravelle states the Fijians almost shot Mr Sotutu when they first met him."They thought I was a devil, a tevoro," he states in the book "I had not cut my hair or beard for two years and the Japanese were hunting me to kill me, I looked frightening." But they realised who he was when he said bula and identified himself.
Mr Sotutu's 20 years as a missionary had gained him intimate knowledge of the countryside and had helped the famous Australian coast-watchers while saving many Australian troops in near life threatening situations.
….He had built up a large following of Solomon islanders who had converted to the Methodist faith. These factors enabled him to operate a network of espionage which provided him valuable information for the Allied forces.
…..Who knows what Mr Sotutu really meant by the 100th track.
Writers of history may have written it another way but his own son Paula aptly writes: "Reverend Sotutu visited the commanding officer and when he was told that all the known tracks were blocked by the enemy soldiers, he said that if the enemy had blocked 99 tracks, his God would open the 100th track and he could lead the entire group of about 600 to safety through that track. Despite attempts by the CO of the Fiji Battallion to stop him he got a Tiger Moth aircraft to drop him on the small airstrip in Ibu.
"By the time the enemy forces from all the known tracks converged on the airstrip they discovered that the 600 people they expected to capture had disappeared."
...."They went through a lot of difficult times though being separated with no telephone or wireless, but the most amazing thing was, they were in touch through the Holy Spirit.
….He returned to Fiji and returned later to his village in Tavea, an island off the Bua coast where he assumed his traditional role as Tui Tavea overlord of a tribe of villagers renowned for their fishing prowess.
…….His family, and his children returned to Suva two weeks ago to remember the man of God and the greatness of family…….