Reefs’ names reveal either prominent features or star occupants

In Solo Lighthouse: beams light to ward off mariners from its treacherous rocks; hides secrets from the past,’ I referred to the collective ownership of the Great Astrolabe Reef and Lagoon under the headship of Tui Ono. That is the legal position. Throughout the length of the Great Astrolabe Reef and Lagoon, however, there are the various qoliqoli, traditional fishing grounds freely accessible to specific communities in seven villages on Ono Island, for their subsistence livelihood requirements. For Dravuni Village, sixteen sections of the Great Astrolabe Reef and Lagoon are clearly identified and named for such qoliqoli. Their names reflect either the main physical features of the relevant section of the Reef or the kind of fish/marine life persistently domiciled there in the estimation of the villagers’ ancestors in past generations.

Let’s go on a journey of the imagination. Now if you put on your snorkelling gear and swim to the point of the Great Astrolabe Reef nearest the North Astrolabe Reef or Solo and dive under the clear sea, you are likely to see a cave underwater. This section of the Reef, qoliqoli, is called Naqara, a literal translation of a cave or a hole. Some villagers swear that they have seen two caves down there. You do not have time however to search for the second cave.

You snorkel now towards the direction of Vanuakula Island along the western stretch of the Great Astrolabe Reef. Quickly paddle across the Usborne Passage to avoid drifting or being swept away by the current and link up to the other side of the Reef. You will have arrived at the qoliqoli called Daveta iVanuakula, named after the local name of the passage itself. Captain Usborne obviously came later. The locals only use the name they know.

With an eye on the white sandy beach on Vanuakula, you continue to snorkel along the Reef, this time around in the direction of Yanuyanu iSau, next to Yanuyanu iLoma and the larger Namara Island behind it. But before you snorkel past the sandy beach on Vanuakula, you will notice that you will be snorkelling past a non-navigable gap in the Reef and a myriad of fish roe and thousands of small fish of various sizes. You will quickly realise that you are entering a favourite breeding ground for the fish in the vicinity. This section of the Reef is another qoliqoli and is called Daveta ni Luve, luve being fish roe.


Herald Passage, or if you prefer the local name, Daveta iNamara, now beckons and you quicken you pace to get there. You start your paddling across the passage. On a day when a tourist liner is visiting Dravuni, you are best advised not to cross the path of the liner that uses this passage instead of the Vanuakula Passage to find anchor in the Lagoon between Dravuni and Vanuakula. You don’t have to wait too long. Cross the passage after the liner has passed. You will have arrived at another qoliqoli, aptly called Daveta iNamara. But do not get distracted by the tourists having a picnic on Namara Island.

Qasibale Island is not far past Namara Island and there is another passage to cross. This is the Alacrity Passage. I am note sure whether it is named after a Captain Alacrity or whether the captain involved was in a mood of cheerful readiness. In any case, at the other side of the passage is another qoliqoli, called Daveta iQasibale.

At this point, I suggest that you get a lift on one of the local open boats known all over Fiji as ‘fibre’ with an outboard motor and head straight for Yaukuve Levu across the lagoon. Yaukuve Levu is where Kokomo Island Resort (KIR) is situated.  Whilst you are there, savour a freshly boiled kawago, spangled emperor, served with a choice of organic vegetables grown on the island. You need the energy.

Later, after a rest in one of the excellent villas there, you get a lift again on the fibre and head east to continue snorkelling along the eastern stretch of the Great Astrolabe Reef. Once on the Reef, you head north back to where you started next to Solo.

The qoliqoli where you immediately get dropped off is called Colo iYaukuve. Colo in the Dravuni dialect carries the meaning of e cake, above. Throw in a bit of Laun dialect (why not?), this further carries the meaning of east/eastern/easterly. Recall that you are on the eastern stretch of the Great Astrolabe Reef. If you were either on Yaukuve Levu or Dravuni, you would be looking east towards that stretch of the Reef.

You enjoy your post-meal dip in the ocean, freshly chilled by the south easterly trade winds. Then it is time to move on. Not far ahead on your northly direction, Dravuni looms large. The next two qoliqoli are also prefixed with Colo, aligned to place names on Dravuni, namely Navetau and Butukoro.

Then things get exciting! Soon you realize that there are sharks everywhere. Don’t panic! Stay calm. Keep snorkelling and these ocean creatures will not harm you at all. There is plenty for them to eat. You have entered the qoliqoli known as Wainiqio, literally ‘Water of Sharks.’

The next qoliqoli you snorkel into is called Launasigasiga. The derivation of the name may have been lost in the mist of history. I would however hazard a guess. The word carries the meaning of having success fishing with one’s spear but only during broad daylight hours. The implication is that one should only go fishing there before the sun begins to descend in the afternoon to guarantee a good catch. Having success with one’s spear carries the meaning of a qoliqoli abundant with many forms of marine life. Being adjacent to the qoliqoli Wainiqio, you can imagine that such description is quite apt.

You leave Launasigasiga behind and snorkel to the next qoliqoli. You arrive at Sosolevu. The derivation of this name is one that may have been lost as well. But do not despair! Local knowledge can come to your aid. iSoso ni waqa, in the Dravuni context, is a presentation usually of freshly-caught fish and other marine produce to visitors to place in their boats when they return to their homes. Usually the fishermen would go out early in the morning to fish, returning before the visitors depart later in the day. The fishermen would normally go to a qoliqoli they know will not disappoint. Qoliqoli Sosolevu, next to fertile Launasigasiga and Wainiqio, is one that will not disappoint local fishermen.

You are getting close to Solo Lighthouse. But first you snorkel to the qoliqoli called Nanuku. Nuku is sand. The name could easily be indicative of the amount of sand close by. This does make sense when you realise that the next qoliqoli is called Naivabale, named as such because it marks a point where canoes and small sailing boats can safely cross the Reef preferably at high tide.

Congratulations! You are back at qoliqoli Naqara where you started. Further congratulations because you have visited thirteen of the sixteen qoliqoli. I suggest a rest before you visit the next three qoliqoli. For the first two of these, I suggest you seek a lift again on the fibre since you will be going over deep waters of the lagoon from one yamotu, detached reef, to another.

Here you are now at the south west rocky point of Dravuni and your fibre is ready to take you out to qoliqoli Yamotu ni Bo, not far off the coastline. Yamotu is a detached reef. Snorkel there and you will find bo, humpnose big-eye bream, galore. Now head towards Yaukuve Levu again not to re-visit Kokomo Island Resort but to stop off at another yamotu, another qoliqoli between Dravuni and Yaukuve Levu. You get busy snorkelling once you get there and then you begin to realize that you recognize the fish you see swimming around you. Yes, you are right. The fish is kawago. It is most likely that the kawago served to you at KIR was caught from here. The qoliqoli is called Koro ni Kawago. Koro is village. Our ancestors must have given the name to underscore a safe haven for the kawago.

Now, there is only the final qoliqoli to visit. But you can visit this on your way back to Suva. Your mission is almost accomplished.

Your boat to take you back to Suva is ready. A fibre is not recommended. The fishermen of Dravuni have made sure there is isoso ni waqa on board. The captain has chosen to travel by Naivabale to cut short on the time of travel and the tidal conditions are ideal.

You sail up the coast towards Muanalailai. You approach your final qoliqoli, situated past the rocky point of Muanalailai on the way to Naivabale. You see a yamotu. You begin to feel the cool and refreshing trade winds on you face because you are no longer under the lee of Dravuni Island at this point.

You are now at qoliqoli Naitasiri. The refreshing breeze drives your mind to imagining that you are on a camakau, an outrigger canoe, and the full breeze is billowing the sail to its fullest extent. You sense a sudden surge in the speed of the canoe. The camakau is skimming along the top of the waves, tasiri. You will be at your destination soon. You then begin to appreciate how this qoliqoli picked up its name.

Naming of places on land, on and under the sea, has tended towards a system that invokes a sense of permanence. Dr Paul Geraghty, linguist and expert on Fijian language and dialects, is on record to have said that much, as regards Fijian nomenclature in general. Our ancestors on Dravuni were true to that system when naming reefs, our qoliqoli. Their decision on a nomenclature reflecting the physical features of our various qoliqoli is thus conventionally consistent. The other aspect of nomenclature based on what marine life was endemic to specific qoliqoli, must have been formulated, to give our ancestors credit, on the frequencies of their observation. There is nothing untoward about that. That is science itself.

The consistency and the systematisation of their approach has helped present generations to make sense of these names and their derivation even when so much has been lost through collective amnesia.


© Kaliopate Tavola and kaidravuni.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kaliopate Tavola and kaidravuni.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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