Taunovo and Tautaumolau

Source: Fiji Visitors Bureau

Taunovo and Tautaumolau are two vu of Kadavu. Some narrators have referred to them as simply kalou, gods; but in a generic sense implying that they are beings with super-human capabilities. Many narrators appear to reach some degree of unity in referring to them as vu, common ancestors. E. Rokowaqa and K.R. Meo in “Viti Makawa”, 2013, e.g. list Taunovo as a vu for a number of communities, all on Kadavu. That publication however is silent on Tautaumolau.

Views also vary as to who is of superior status. Both have been claimed to have overall authority over Kadavu. However, each has his specific strongholds: Ono Islands (Northen Kadavu), home to the peak Uluisolo (268m) for Taunovo; and Nabukelevu (Southern Kadavu), home for peak Delainabukelevu or Mt. Washington (805m, current height) for Tautaumolau, who does not reside on land but on a reef nearby, known as Vunilagi and dwarfed by Delainabukelevu.

There was a healthy dose of respectful rivalry between the two vu.

As it will be revealed at the end of this story, Taunovo may have wrested the superior status from Tautaumolau.  However, that is not the intended essence of the story. The essence is the creation of 33 small islands along the Kadavu mainland and those up north of Ono Island surrounded by the Astrolabe Reefs, including Dravuni.

Despite the constant duels for superiority between the two vu, there was mutual fear and respect between them. They were aware of their equal strength, all things being equal. Ascendancy over the other, however, came on the basis of elements of surprise or being outwitted by more crafty strategies and guile. In an earlier tryst between the two, Taunovo decided to make his lovo, earth oven, near Nakasaleka on mainland Kadavu.  He had already opened one side of the cooked lovo and had helped himself to its contents when he was surprised by Tautaumolau. There was a chase that immediately ensued. As a result, the other side of the lovo remained uncovered today and is aptly named Lovo iTaunovo.

The lovo incident was soon forgotten but the rivalry between the two never subsided. Early one fine morning, Taunovo was relaxing at his home on Ono Island, enjoying the view around him. He was peeved that Delainabukelevu  was prominent in his vision and the realization that Tautaumolau’s mountain was a lot more impressive than his own, Uluisolo. He immediately planned that he was going to remove soil and rocks from the top of Delainabukelevu to reduce its height.

With two baskets woven from coconut fronds and a firm stick as ibalewa or ivua, yoke, Taunovo set off for Nabukelevu and to Delainabukelevu itself and did not waste time filling his two baskets with soil and rocks scraped from the crest of the mountain. He was conscious of the fact that he was very much in Tautaumolau’s territory; and he was expecting an intervention from his dueling partner. Tautaumolau responded with guile. He waited for the right moment when Taunovo was least expecting him, then he made his grand entry.  Surprise and a feeling of being outwitted again drove Taunovo. He lifted his ibalewa to his shoulder, a basket full of soil and rocks at either end, he took off at a gallop. The chase ensued.

The chase was both on land and over the sea along the Babaceva, south and south eastern parts of Kadavu mainland, from Nabukelevuira, Naqaliira, Daviqele Villages, below Delainabukelvu,  along to Matasawalevu Village near the Ono Channel. Due to the haste of the chase and the uneven terrain of the coastline and relative depths of the sea floor being traversed, soil and rocks started to spill immediately over from the baskets. The spillage immediately formed islands.

The first island to form was Nagigie.  Soon there were islands being formed along Babaceva as one would see on any Kadavu map today – Kabarikinawa, Nanitove, Matanuku, Niuvaqau and two smaller ones nearby, Vaboa, Galoa, Yadatavaya, Tawadromu, Vonobia, Naitukuwalu, Waya, Veilailaivi, Bala, Vanuatabu, Buabua, and Vatulutu. The chase gradually got onto deeper sea, past Ono Island and towards the Astrolabe Reefs.

Taunovo obviously opted not to seek any re-enforcement from Ono Island. He fled past his home base probably hatching his own scheme already to outwit his pursuer.  He could not however prevent the spillage from the baskets, even though the speed of the chase was being slowed by the increasing depth of the sea they were traversing.  More islands were being formed – Vuro Sewa, Vuro Levu, Yabu and Buliya; the last two were formed when Taunovo moved his ibalewa to lie across his shoulders.  Next to form were Yaukuve Sewa, Yaukuve Levu, Qasibale, Namara, Yanuyanu iLoma, Yanuyanu iSau, thence Dravuni and Vanuakula.

The chase was taking its toll on the two antagonists with the increasing depth of the sea, but Taunovo’s baskets were almost empty. After Vanuakula was formed, only crumbs were left in the baskets. Taunovo then threw both baskets and the ibalewa out to sea and these formed the solid rock which is Solo today.

Solo Lighthouse, Great Astrolable Reef

Taunovo was greatly relieved by disposing of his load. He became re-energized and it was written over all his face. Tautaumolau did not fail to realize the change; and he felt that the table was fast turning, not in his favour.  He opted for safety. He turned back to land and retraced the same way he had come. This time around, Taunovo was hot on his heels.

He cut across and got on land at Nakasaleka and hid by diving into the sea again in a bay nearby. Taunovo did not let up. He drank the bay dry and exposed Tautaumolau who then raced to the next hiding place and hid behind a huge rock near a peninsula. Taunovo got a stick from nearby and threw it like a javelin piercing a hole in the rock. There was no respite for Tautaumolau and he headed for Nabukelevu. But having reached there, he knew that there was no place to hide. Taunovo was about to grab him. Tautaumolau lowered himself to the ground and with a tama, he acknowledged the presence of Taunovo, a greater power and authority than himself and pleaded for his life. Moreover, he gave the whole of Kadavu to Taunovo as his peace offering. Taunovo responded with a peremptory reprimand befitting his newly-acknowledged status, and exercised justice in keeping with that position by sparing Tautaumolau’s life.

Tautaumolau and other vu from Kadavu then planned for a big presentation of food to Taunovo, but bad weather prevented the presentation getting to Ono. It was only later when the weather had improved when the messenger finally got to Ono but not the food presentation.

Commentary on the legend

From information available in the Internet, the following geological and seismic background can be gleaned:

  1. Delainabukelevu (Mt. Washington) is volcanic, formed during the Pliocene – Pleistocene period (i.e. from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago). However, there is evidence of up to four Holocene (new volcanic period extending to the present time) eruption episodes from this volcano, with onshore evidence of the latest activity post-1686±40 years BP (Before Present or Before Physics), and offshore evidence of tephra (volcanic materials ejected during an eruption) falls between 2250±70 and 780±50 years BP. It should be noted that the first Fijians got to Fiji about 3,500 years ago.Delainabukelevu rising above Nabukelevu-ira village. Photo Leon Perrie, Te Papa
  2. Nabukelevu is prone to failure, the propensity in this case exacerbated by up to three edifice-cutting fault lines. The fault-induced weak and saturated zones have been the focus of repeated edifice failure through late Holocene debris avalanches of between 10-100 million m3. Many of these avalanches entered the sea, and these or additional submarine failures of the lower island flanks have led to emplacement of at least one major Holocene submarine mass flow deposit with distinctive mineralogy in the Suva Basin to the north. Two of the debris avalanches dated at post-2350±140 and post-1750±60 years BP apparently inundated local habitation areas, and the deposits incorporate pottery and human remains.
  3.  A widespread local legend describing catastrophic events on Nabukelevu corresponds in content with geological findings to provide additional evidence of a late Holocene eruptive and debris avalanche disaster on Kadavu during the latter part of the last ca. 2000 years of human occupation, possibly as recent as between AD 1630 and 1680.
  4.  The present hazardscape of the Nabukelevu area includes common landslides induced by frequent earthquake swarms and cyclones. Large edifice failures, possibly related to volcanism or fault movement, have the potential to create local tsunami, which under favourable conditions could reach areas near Fiji’s capital, Suva, 110 km to the north.

Apart from the traditional rivalry between the two vu on the basis of different cultural groupings, there was also rivalry resulting from the differential heights of the prominent Delainabukelevu vis-à-vis the lowly Uluisolo.

The various versions of the legend that give rise to the question of who is the superior vu could easily be a reflection of who the narrator of the story is. There is a tendency to give prominence to one’s own vu, especially on occasions of lively one-upmanship amongst friends.

There is also an equally strong tendency to render credence, perhaps in the pursuit of rough justice, to one that is perceived to be the underdog. On the basis of the relative heights of the two peaks, Taunovo of Uluisolo could be considered as the underdog. Furthermore, the changing height and configuration of Delainabukelevu, due to volcanic activities and avalanches over time, was fueling the rivalry but also creating an opportunity for the underdog to create his own advantage in the story.

Creation of this advantage is the essence of the legend. Taunovo’s advantage is to claim responsibility for the soil and rocks that had been removed over time from the peak of Delainabukelevu and offered an explanation as to where they had all gone. What better explanation than the creation of the various islands that are dotted along the Babaceva coastline and up north of Ono Islands within the Astrolabe Reefs! It is an excellent story. But it is only part of the real story.

“Fiji’s Great Astrolabe Reef and Lagoon: A Baseline Study”, edited by R.J. Morrison and Milika R. Naqasima, 1992, has this to say on the geology of the islands within the Reef:

“The Astrolabe Islands are a group of volcanic islands. An original large composite volcanic centre dominated the area and has subsequently been modified by erosion associated with relative changes of sea level, resulting in only fragments of the original volcano remaining above sea level. These fragments each form an island, with the exception of Solo and Buliya which represent single small volcanic centres.”

Clearly, the volcanic activities within what has become the Astrolabe Reefs formed an independent system from that at Delainabukelevu and are much older – dated at 3.3 – 3.5 million years.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Additional commentary on the legend…

    The geological and seismic background gleaned from the Internet, as I found out later (thank you Paul Taylor), was sourced from a scientific paper: “Nabukelevu volcano (Mt. Washington), Kadavu – A source of hitherto unknown volcanic hazard in Fiji”, article in ‘Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research’, March 2004, by 3 authors: Shane J Cronin (University of Auckland), Marie Ferland (Geological Survey of Western Australia) and James P. Terry (Zayed University).

    What is interesting in the discussions in the paper is the recognition attributed to oral traditions in explaining/re-enforcing the characteristics of the volcanic and seismic activities in the area and in Nabukelevu in particular. So much so that ‘Oral Traditions’ earns a special section in the paper (Section 4). Furthermore, the paper concludes: “On- and offshore geology coupled with archaeological and ethnological evidence demonstrates that volcanism has continued at Nabukelevu into the late Holocene. In addition, Nabukelevu is one of only two Fijian centres (along with Taveuni) that has affected local settlers, and should be considered as an additional potential source of volcanic hazard within the Fiji group.”

    Such recognition is an added credibility to legends/myths/mythology as a whole. To Lloyd Geering, for instance, (see under History in this blog – Comments/Responses), legends are expressions and impressions of earlier ancestors of real events. The paper, referred to above, confirms that the volcanic and seismic activities that had rendered the Nabukelevu volcano an hazard took place after habitation of the island (Kadavu). The paper posits that the first human settlement in the Fiji area occurred between 950 and 750 BC. There were therefore witnesses to the event. Furthermore, the debris thrown up by the volcano included pottery pieces, human and animal remains and charcoal.

    The paper also confirms evidence of tephra falls, comprising ash, boulders and dust – solid, huge, fiery and visible; the stuff of legends; credible enough for island creation offshore. Tanovo and Tautaumolau, and their devotees, stood as witnesses to all this, and lived to tell the tale.

    The scientific paper, having given the legend due recognition, attempted at relating the legend itself. However, as implied in the body of the text, any relating of the legend inevitably suffers from biases that reflect the story-tellers’ origin and loyalty. The legend told in the paper is obviously related by the people of Nabukelevu to the scientists and one that gives precedence to their vu, Tautaumolau.

    I had related the story of the return chase from the Solo Reefs back to mainland Kadavu, and when Tautaumolau dived under the sea to hide from his chaser, Tanovo drank the sea dry and there was no place to hide for the former. This time around, the roles have been reversed and the timing of the dive was at the beginning of the chase rather than at the return chase.

    New angles to the legend have also been added. The scientific paper’s version states that when the chase “reached north of Dravuni, Tanovo cast the remainder of his load aside, and then tried to escape by crossing the ocean to Rewa….. but found the water too deep.”

    Apart from new angles to the story, new specificities have encroached. The formation of Dravuni only, being the result of the soil (especially the ash) removed from the top of the Nabukelevu volcano, is interesting. Clearly, this is an attempt at word association. The Fijian for ash is ‘dravusa’. The derivation of ‘Dravuni’ from dravusa has appeared already in previous writing (see e.g. in this blog: Who was Ravuravu? – Comments/Responses).

    Another new specificity introduced by the scientific paper is that Ono Island itself was created from the soil from the Nabukelevu volcano. This however lacks precedent logic, for how could Tanovo be the vu of Ono when the island had not been formed? This, I guess, was thrown in for friendly rivalrous one-upmanship, which is typical when this legend is told for public consumption of opposing patrons.

    The above may lack precedent logic. The direction however where the tephra falls would naturally drift and accumulate to form islands is consistent with the upper-level wind patterns, implies the scientific paper.

    I conclude as the scientific paper concludes: “The correspondence of many elements in a local oral tradition from Nabukelevu with geological evidence is striking, with both lines of evidence pointing toward a locally important late Holocene eruption and related debris avalanche. Such legends when combined with geological evidence can be an important tool for interpreting palaeo-hazard records in the Southwest Pacific.”

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