Tunimata, also known as iTaukei Vanuakula, owner of Vanuakula Island, next to Dravuni, was a chief in his own right. Tunimata, in Fijian, means a chief or leader of a vanua, a confederation. His yavu, house or house foundation is called Nauluvatu. His pastime was to watch all ships that sailed by. From his prominently-placed Nauluvatu on the highest point of Vanuakula, he enjoyed a panoramic view of the sea around and of all the islands nearby. But he lived alone.
After a meeting of the vu on Dravuni one day, and on his way back to the island, Tunimata was presented with an uto, breadfruit, seedling to plant. The uto soon grew into a tree and a first fruit appeared, and this pleased Tunimata greatly. He looked forward to harvesting it. The fruit soon matured. But after a heavy rain, the fruit fell and splintered on the rock below. From this splintered uto appeared two persons – a girl and a boy. When Tunimata came to harvest the uto, he only found the two young persons who soon explained that they indeed emerged from the splintered uto on the ground. Tunimata embraced them as his own. Ravouvou iVanuakula and Raluve iVanuakula thus became the other residents on the island and would soon create their own history.
Ravouvou is an endearing term given to a male firstborn of chiefly parents. Raluve is its equivalent for female firstborn. Raluve iVanuakula soon grew into a beautiful woman. The news of her beauty soon spread to all corners of Fiji and beyond, even to the Kingdom of Tonga. Whilst growing up on the island the two siblings enjoyed their own respective pastimes. Ravouvou iVanuakula loved swimming around the island and exploring the reefs nearby. Raluve iVanuakula, on the other hand, loved cooking yams of the purple variety on the beach and swimming there. Every morning, Raluve iVanuakula would tie a vine to the ankle of Ravouvou iVanuakula before he went for his swim. When he was ready to return, he would tug at the vine and Raluve iVanuakula would then haul him back onto the beach.
In the meantime, a scheme was being hatched in Tonga. The king of Tonga was impressed with the tale of how beautiful Raluve iVanuakula was and wanted her to be his prince’s bride. The king sent his warriors to Vanuakula to kidnap the young beauty. The Tongan warriors soon found Vanuakula after a few false stops along the way. Hiding behind the rocks near Raluve iVanuakula’s favourite beach, they were able to witness and attest to the story of her beauty and her favourite pastime of cooking and eating purple yams on the beach.
The Tongan warriors moved in and grabbed Raluve iVanuakula and rushed her onto their canoe, after much struggle from the young beauty. Later that day when Ravouravou iVanuakula tugged at the vine, there was no response from Raluve iVanuakula. He swam back to the island knowing the tragedy that awaited him. Tunimata got to know about the tragedy and he was grief-stricken.
Tunimata directed Ravouvou iVanuakula to seek help from his friend, the vu of Nakasaleka on mainland Kadavu, Naitotokowalu (being supported by eight props, walu is eight in Fijian) who lived on his mountain stronghold on Uluinaibutubutu. Tunimata was convinced that with Naitotokowalu’s waqa titi, his transportation vessel made from the titi plant, his friend would be able to locate the whereabouts of Raluve iVanuakula – anywhere in Fiji or beyond.
Naitotokowalu was only too happy to help an old friend. But first, he had to locate the whereabouts of Raluve iVanuakula. He invited Ravouvou iVanuakula on board his waqa titi and started the chant to grow the titi plant. This vessel can grow tall like a tree as well as being able to sail. He got to a height where he was able to see to all parts of Fiji, but there was no sign of Raluve iVanuakula. He chanted a bit more to gain more height until he was able to see beyond Fiji. He was then able to see Raluve iVanuakula being prepared as the bride for the Tongan prince. They planned immediately to leave for Tonga to rescue the young Vanuakula beauty.
The waqa titi was readied to sail immediately on instructions from Naitotokowalu. Amongst other things, a hearth was placed on the canoe with an adequate number of stones. But the first port of call was Vanuakula to collect some purple yams, Raluve iVanuakula’s favourite, and firewood for the hearth.
On reaching Tongatapu, they were greeted by the din of celebrations after the royal wedding. Naitotokowalu knew that security would be lax. He sent Ravouravou iVanuakula with a knife to cut all the ropes that bound all the pieces and structures of all the Tongan canoes on Tongatapu beach. He started a fire on the hearth and started heating the stones that they had taken with them. Next they went looking for Raluve iVanuakula. They saw her in the midst of Tongan royal women but she looked glum and sad. Naitotokowalu rolled a cooked purple yam in her direction. Raluve iVanuakula noticed it right away and knew that help was on its way. She walked towards where the yam came from and met up with her rescuers. There was no time to lose. They headed for Naitotokowalu’s waqa titi and set sail.
Raluve iVanuakula’s absence was quickly realized and the King ordered immediate mobilization of his warriors for the search. But when his warriors rushed to their canoes to push out to sea to give chase, they soon found that their canoes were all in pieces. The King was furious. He called his priests together to get their kalou vu, a sea snake called Togalelewai, to give chase instead.
The escaping trio fully expected the ensuing chase by the sea snake and they could see its form and huge head making waves behind them, getting close to the fragile canoe. However, every time, the sea snake opened its jaws to bite off the rear of the waqa titi, Naitotokowalu threw a white-hot stone down its mouth. The creature would recoil and retreat for a while before he came forward again. This went on for a while until Naitotokowalu threw his eighth white-hot stone that killed the creature of the deep. Naitotokowalu was pleased about the magical property of his favourite number, eight.
The canoe landed first on Dravuni where they unloaded the rest of the stones from the hearth at a point on the east coast of the island. Ravouravou iVanuakula, having enquired from Raluve iVanuakula, realized that she had lost her virginity. He thus cut off his sibling’s tobe, the plait signifying virginity for young Fijian girls and tossed it at the point where they landed.
The party then proceeded on to Vanuakula. Tunimata was in a celebratory mood. He sent Ravouravou iVanuakula to his favourite reefs to fish. On his return, Tunimata presented the fish to his friend, Naitotokowalu and according to a version of the legend, he also gifted the ownership of the reefs from where the fish came from and which happened to be the Solo Reefs.
Commentary on the Legend
Vanuakula Island is uninhabited now. The yavu, Nauluvatu, is known to many kaiDravuni and also to the Roko Tui Dreketi’s chiefly household of Rewa. My father recalled the story when a young chief from that chiefly household, Ro Logavatu , visited Dravuni to convalesce after the war in 1946. He made his wish known to my father that he would love to be buried on Nauluvatu on Vanuakula. But this did not eventuate.
Vanuakula is known for its sole uto tree that seems to defy nature and stays alive regardless of its age. The island is also known for a special plant that grows there that makes excellent firewood even if it is still green. Its name has a Tongan connection: nailitokeitoga. Lito is Fijian which means to keep alight or to get light.
On a rocky cliff facing Vanuakula Passage, one can still see long furrows as if made by fingers believed to be those made by Raluve iVanuakula when she struggled being captured and dragged by the Tongan warriors.
The ownership of the Solo Reefs had been under dispute for a long time, even today, when the ownership had already been formalized and codified. For some time, the people of Nakasaleka had always believed that the Solo Reefs belonged to them. I have seen written evidence of this claim. Even as recently as 2006-2007, I was approached by a prominent Fijian lawyer in Suva and asked about my opinion on a proposed legal action by a delegation from Nakasaleka to regain the ownership of the Solo Reefs. My response was that it would be an exercise in futility since the ownership had been codified.
The codification of ownership took place after the Veitarogivanua, traditional court for land registration, of 1931. Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna was the Commissioner of Native Land at the time. He entertained a delegation from Nakasaleka to come to Dravuni for the Veitarogivanua, and for them to present their case. At the hearing, Ratu Sukuna heard the delegation’s claim, which was refuted by Dravuni’s representative, Marika Koroivui.
Ratu Sukuna’s legal training was sorely tested. He then asked the Nakasaleka delegation what they would normally do when they came from Nakasaleka all the way to the Solo Reefs to fish. The delegation’s spokesperson responded that they would come to Dravuni first to present their sevusevu, kava offering, before they proceeded to the reefs. Marika Koroivui chimed in and said for all to hear: “Sir, that proves without any shadow of doubt that the reefs are still owned by the people of Dravuni.” The hearing concluded and decided in favour of the people of Dravuni.
According to the results of the Veitarogivanua, whilst the legal rights of fishing in the Astrolabe reefs collectively belong to the people of Ono District of Kadavu, those for the Solo Reefs are an exception. The rights to fish there belong to Yavusa Natusara of Dravuni, comprising the two mataqali, family groupings on Dravuni. However, the rock on which Solo Lighthouse stands today, is regarded as an island and it belongs to Mataqali Natusara of Dravuni.
On Dravuni, the point where Naitotokowalu’s waqa titi landed is called Ucuivadravakatobe. The sole vadra, screw palm that grows at the point represents Raluve iVanuakula’s tobe that was cut and thrown there by Ravouvou iVanuakula. The stones at the point are the only ones on Dravuni that do not splinter when fired in a lovo, earth oven; meaning that they had been fired already.