Solo Lighthouse: Beams light to ward off mariners from its treacherous rocks; hides secrets from the past

Solo Lighthouse was built in 1888. The lighthouse stands on a massive rock surrounded by the circular Solo Reef, also known as the North Astrolabe Reef, adjacent to the Great Astrolabe Reef and Lagoon. The Solo Reef is actually the crater of a distinctive volcanic system, now extinct, and the massive rock in its centre and on which the lighthouse stands is its volcanic plug. The volcanic system that once existed here was older than that at Uluinabukelevu or Mt. Washington, at the southern end of Kadavu Island.

Solo can be imagined therefore as the original volcanic island that erupted and sank to the bottom of the sea, leaving its crater and plug partially exposed. Wikipedia refers to Solo as an islet, a rocky eroded peak of a volcano. In the records of the Native Lands and Fisheries Commission (NLFC), Solo, or more specifically Solo rock, is an island belonging to Mataqali Natusara of Dravuni Island. Solo Reef, however, belongs to the two mataqali on Dravuni whereas the Great Astrolabe Reef is collectively owned by the people of Ono District under the headship of Tui Ono.

As an island in ages past, so the story goes, people lived on Solo. Two women of chiefly rank, in particular, lived there. They were Solobasaga and Vonokula. They migrated to Muanalailai, the northern rocky end of Dravuni, after the island sank into the sea following an eruption.

The women’s mana is still observed today by the people of Natusara clan, comprising those from Dravuni and Buliya. Those, for instance, who go to fish at Solo Reef for the first time, especially the first born, have to participate in a traditional ritual whereby a length of rope is hung from the neck like a necklace before entering the Reef. It is a sign of homage and respect to the original chiefly pioneers of the island. Non-observance of this ritual will result in fishermen returning home empty-handed.

Whilst greatly respected, there are however not many tales told about these original pioneers. They obviously held secrets close to their chests – like the Solo Reef itself.  Solo, for instance, hides its vast age even to the extent of confounding the best judgements of those legendary tellers of tales on Ono and Nabukelevu. In the ‘Legend of Tanovo and Tautaumolau,’ I wrote about Tanovo stealing soil and rocks from on top of Tautaumolau’s Uluinabukelevu and spilling lumps of the spoils into the sea, forming islands in the process after a chase ensued. The islands of Dravuni and those nearby, amongst many others, even including the Solo Reef were the results of the spillage from that chase.

 The interpretation of the legend is that these islands of Dravuni and those nearby were the results of tephra falls from the Uluinabukelevu volcanic eruption. Geological and geomorphological evidence as regards the timeline does not support such an interpretation. However, the legendary tellers of tales were correct in predicting that Tanovo’s discarded ibalewa, yoke, would one day transform into a lighthouse.

Ownership of Solo Reef is as clear as crystal in the context of todays laws and regulations including the ratification of findings of past sessions of the NLFC. Be that as it may, there are those who still believe otherwise on the basis of perceived legendary transactions carried out in the distant mist of prehistory. It is as if the chiefly pioneers of the Reef regale from the intrigue they have bestowed on their future posterity.

In ‘The Tale of Ravouvou and Raluve iVanuakula,’ I wrote about the belief that the people of Nakasaleka still hold dear. That is their assertion that when Tunimata, owner of Vanuakula, wanted to reward Nakasaleka’s vu, Naitotokowalu, for recapturing Raluve iVanukula from the clutch of the Tongans, Tunimata presented the Solo Reef and its ownership instead of just the fish caught from the Reef. The latter of course is what had happened. This belief/misbelief has driven the Nakasaleka people to continue seeking legal reparation even after the matter had been resolved and true ownership of the Reef ratified.

In 1888 when the Solo Lighthouse first beamed its light, the people of Dravuni had to climb to the central island ridge in order to witness and enjoy the new sensation. The village then was sited at the old site on the eastern side of the island, facing away from the lighthouse, after it had moved back there from Muanalailai in the aftermath of the disaster brought on by the lila balavu (see ‘The Village site changed with time,’ History Page).

 The new sensation proved to be far from being transitory. Night-in, night-out, the people of Dravuni were held spellbound. Such sensation and the development ethos it engendered proved to be the justification for the final shift of the village site from the eastern side of the island to the western side, its current site. History records that it was about 1888 when Rev Eliesa Bula from Somosomo, Gau, visited Dravuni on his way to mainland Kadavu. He carried out mass baptisms at a site within the new village site. He also gave that site its name, Veitiri or Vitiri, the name of his tokatoka from Somosomo.

It is tempting to conclude here and to take an enlightened view that the significance of the new sensation, brought on by the new light beamed from Solo Lighthouse, brought about the decision to shift the village site. This is especially so given the blessings rendered to it by one of the early Fijian missionaries whose own family subsequently moved to Dravuni and called Dravuni their home.

However, as I have already shown in this blog, there can be two sides to any story and two conclusions to draw. The alternative conclusion to draw here is that Solobasaga and Vonokula had moved to Muanalailai after the volcanic eruption that sank Solo. They would have been thrilled therefore when the village site had moved north closer to their new abode. All this came to an end however after the disaster of the lila balavu, post-1800, and the subsequent return of the village site to the first site on the eastern side of Dravuni. It can be imagined that the two chiefly matriarchs of Solo Islet would have concocted all their magical powers for the return of the village site close to their current abode and to where villagers can be visually reminded, day and night, of the secrets that Solo Reef and Solo Rock have held dear for generations.

© Kaliopate Tavola and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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