Fiji stories, Labasa, South Pacific culture, family, migration, Australia/Fiji relationship
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Old fort and caves in Macuata
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.
caves of Naisabuli
Rawalai Sunday, September 29,
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 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
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.
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.
Introducing Peceli and Wendy. Babasiga (pronounced bambasinga) is the dry land of Macuata in northern Fiji - our place in the sun in Fiji. The town is Labasa and our village is Vatuadova and the beach is Nukutatava. We are part of Wailevu Fijian tribe with relatives in Mali Island and Naseakula village. Peceli was born in Labasa and Wendy is an Australian and today live in Geelong, Australia.