Volcanoes and Legends

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I have written about the legend of Tanovo and Tautaumolau (see Legends). The legend has attracted scholastic interest. Two scientific papers available to me[1] have treated the legend as a narrative, conceived by early ancestors (of Ono and Nabukelevu) to explain, in their own way of seeing, knowing and imagining a volcanic eruption of Nabukelevu (Mt Washington). Locals also refer to the mountain as Delainabukelvu. The conceptualisation of the narrative was possible due to the fact that there were ancestors alive at the time of the eruption. They were eyewitnesses to the hitherto-unknown explosive, fiery and mountain-reshaping event.

Scientists affirm that “the volcano of Nabukelevu…..erupted at least twice during the time that these islands have been occupied by people: approximately AD 240-440 and AD 1630.” However, the volcanic eruptions on Dravuni and environs including what is now the Solo Reefs, enclosing the Solo Rock on which the Solo Lighthouse sits, are much older than that. Another scientific paper[2] dated these eruptions and general volcanic and climate change activities in the area to 3.3 – 3.5 million years ago.

It can be deduced that there were no people around on Dravuni or nearby at the time to witness these events. That however has not stopped our early ancestors from inventing their narratives that impinge on the volcanic features of their environs.

The legend of Solo Island / Solo Rock is that two high-ranking women ancestors lived on Solo Island and migrated to Muanalailai, at the northern end of Dravuni, when  the volcanic Solo Island erupted and was reduced to a volcanic plug, surrounded by the edges of its crater that have become the Solo Reefs. These women ancestors were Solobasaga and Vonokula. Villagers from either Dravuni or Buliya who have had the misfortune to overnight on the Rock, for one reason or another, hear in the stillness of the night human conversations and crows of cockerels. These clamours in the night are visceral visitations from past habitation. As these initiates will vouch, they are incognito dispatches from ancestors who once lived here. The privilege of sharing thoughts with the ancestors is not to be disparaged in any way.

Before they get to the island, however, those who are visiting for the first time, or the first-born, need to perform a ritual involving having to place a length of rope around one’s neck to show homage to the chiefly first settlers of Solo.

How did all this come about when the Solo eruption happened way back in the mists of prehistory?  I hazard a guess as to how these narratives were conceptualised and told and spread as tales of the high and unforgettable quests of our early ancestors. 

When Dravuni was first settled, Solobasaga and Vonokula were believed to have settled at Muanalailai. Vonokula happened to be the wife of Ravuravu, our Vu, common ancestor. Being high-ranking and of the first branch of our ancestral tree, they were treated with much awe and deification. Moreover, with a name like ‘Solobasaga’ and given the high and mystical aura with which they were regarded and the instinct for over-pampered aggrandisement, it was easy to make the connection to Solo that had mysticism writ large on it. ‘Solo’ itself is ‘rock’ in the local dialect. Whilst the convenience of dialectal convergence is celebrated, the inconvenience of the un-matching historical timeline is considered inconsequential in the context of local cultural dignification. The legend about Solobasaga and Vonokula, amongst others, being settlers on Solo – and even prior to the volcanic eruption was thus conceived.

Instances of authentication of cultural dignification continues today. In trying to rationalise the shift of the village site from its first site on the east of the island to Muanalailai before 1800, I raised the question whether the pull factor of the two chiefly occupants of that northern end of the island was somewhat responsible for such a move there (see The Village site changed with Time, on the History page).


[1] “Nabukelevu volcano (Mt. Washington), Kadavu – A source of hitherto unknown volcanic hazard in Fiji,” an Article in ‘Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research,’ March 2004, by Shane J Cronin, Marie Ferland and James P. Terry; “Oral and Written Accounts of the Volcanic Eruption of Nabukelevu (Mt Washington), Kadavu Island (Fiji) perhaps (about) 2000 Years Ago: Volcanological , Cultural and Cognitive Insights.’ By Loredana Lancini, Patrick Nunn, et al, (to be published in Journal of Pacific History).

[2] “Fiji’s Great Astrolabe Reef and Lagoon: A Baseline Study, Edited by R.J. Morrison and M.R. Naqasima, March 1992.

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