Sunday, September 29, 2013

Old fort and caves in Macuata

from w
There's a story in Sunday's Fiji Times of finding a cave filled with bones up in the Delaikoro mountains. It's good that some Fijians today are exploring local history.

The skull caves of Naisabuli
Luke Rawalai
Sunday, September 29, 2013
LOCATED 40 kilometres from Labasa town, up in the Delaikoro mountain range, lie the villages of Vatuwa, Viriqilai and Nasealevu. The three are separated by rivers. At Vatuwa Village, where I was to begin my adventure, time seemingly stood still. Much of nature remained untainted by men. Naisabuli the fort on the hill.

On my first night, I heard about the caves of bones in the mountains which overlooked the village. I made up my mind to visit the caves.

The next day, some youths and village elders offered to be my tour guides. Half and hour later, huffing and puffing up the mountain, I deeply regretted drinking too much kava the night before. The caves were located on top a fort which is surrounded by ditches. I was told that this was an old war refuge. Vatuwa villager Paulo Navidi said the fort belonged to their ancestors. It was known to them as Naisabuli.

Mr Navidi said according to legends passed down from their ancestors, the fort was impenetrable and difficult to attack during ancient wars. "Rocks and burning objects were rolled from the top, down towards the enemies," he said."Bamboos and sharp wood were planted at the foot of the fort to make it hard for enemies to pierce," Mr Navidi explained.

Now, looking at the overgrown bushes, I could only make out the location of the ditch which left a semi circle mark at the foot of the fort. On the way up to the caves, I found shards of pottery and shells, evidence of early human inhabitants.

The cave of bones
A friend who had visited the place before had described it as an isolated tomb with a window to a terrifying moment in Fiji's medical history. Looking at the human bones, scattered and piled inside a small cave, I couldn't have agreed more. The bones were clearly those of men, women and children, killed by the measles epidemic in the first decade of the 1900s. They were the ancestors of the villagers of Vatuwa and Viriqilai. The area surrounding the cave looked as if death itself had made a home behind the grove of breadfruit trees that guarded the cave.Peering into a small opening at the base of the cliff I saw human skulls and bones.

Mr Navidi said the measles period or 'Misila Levu' as the iTaukei termed it, was a period of sorrow and wailing for his people."People of Naisabuli who were struck by the disease could not be given a decent burial as they were so many, so they were carried up and kept in the caves," he said."Our people perished in numbers as the wave of measles hit the village."

According to an article in the New York Times on July 12, 1875, measles was brought to Fiji by Ratu Seru Cakobau and his entourage who had contracted a mild form of the illness while visiting Sydney where a measles epidemic was raging. The report is quoted: "The result of the visit of his ex-Majesty King Cakobau to New South Wales forms an awful era in the history of Fiji," the article is quoted as reporting. In the native mind, it had dimmed the lustre which surrounded annexation and had filled the people and chiefs with consternation and dismay. Suddenly, within a week afterwards the air resounds with wails and lamentations. All at once, and in every direction, the people are stricken down with a disease, which, up to this time they had never in the slightest degree acquainted with. Measles spread with 'frightful rapidity' through Fiji and by year's end, at least 20,000 people had died. Among those who died, sad to relate, are the principal chiefs, a majority of those that signed the deed of cession," the article stated.

As I sat and pondered over what I had just learnt about the people of Naisabuli, I realised that the bones in the caves were much larger than that of humans today; also the clubs that greeted us at the mouth of the cave. I concluded that the inhabitants of the caves were indeed giants of an age long gone.

Savu Kokiciaga
From the caves to the waterfall of Kokiciaga to cool down after the long trip. Here legend has it that two sisters from the village fell in love with the same man. One day, both were at the top of the falls. The elder sister was braiding the younger sister's hair when she suddenly pushed her sister. Little did she know, her younger sister had tied the ends of their grass skirts together, so both fell from the cliff to their deaths. The story is an eerie reminder of what love and jealousy can do, even to siblings.

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