Popular Science Monthly/Volume 86/June 1915/A History of Fiji I
|A HISTORY OF FIJI|
By ALFRED GOLDSBOROUGH MAYER
THE CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON
OF all the island groups in the outer Pacific none surpass the Fijis in their rare combination of beautiful scenery and interesting natives. The islands are upon the opposite side of the world from England, for the meridian of 180° passes through the centre of the group crossing the island of Taviuni. The islands lie from 15° 30' to 19° 30' south of the equator, and are thus south of the region of perpetual trade winds, but still well within the tropics, the center of the group being about 1,000 miles due north from New Zealand.
That dauntless old rover, Abel Jansen Tasman, discovered them in 1643 on his way from Tonga in the Heemskirk and Zeehaan and named them "Prince William's Islands" and "Heemskirk's Shoals." After this, they were all but forgotten until July 2, 1774, when Captain James Cook sighted the small island of Vatoa in the extreme southeastern end of the group. The natives fled into the forest upon the approach of his boat, and he contented himself by leaving a knife, some medals and nails in a conspicuous place. Finding many sea-turtles in the region, he named his land-fall "Turtle Island," and then departed from the Fijis never to return.
In May, 1789, Captain Bligh sailed through the group in the small open boat in which he made the voyage of 3,600 miles from Tonga to Timor, this feat being celebrated in Byrons's poem "The Island." He was pursued by two canoes from Waya Island, and dared not land nor hold any communication with the natives. Later in 1792, Bligh again sailed among the Fijis, this time while in command of the man-of-war Providence, and in 1796 Captain Wilson cruised among the islands upon his missionary voyage in the Duff. Thus gradually the group became known to Europeans; but remained uncharted until 1840, when the United States Exploring Expedition, under Wilkes, made a survey of the region. Indeed, the oldest detailed accounts of the islands and their inhabitants is that given by Wilkes in the third volume of his narrative of the expediton.
Counting isolated rocks, the archipelago is composed of about 270 islands having a total area of 7,400 square miles, or nearly the same as that of Massachusetts. Two of the islands are far larger than the others, Vanua Levu (the great island) being about 100 miles long and 25
miles wide. and Viti Levu (Great Viti) being 80 miles long and 55 wide. Kandavu and Taviuni have not one twentieth the land area of the two larger islands, and all the others are much smaller, so small indeed that only about 80 islands of the group are large enough to be inhabited.
Geologically speaking, the Fijis are old and the volcanoes which gave rise to them have long ago subsided into their final rest. Yet even to-day there are reminders of more active times in an occasional earthquake, or the hot springs of Ngau or of Savu Savu valley and other places on Vanua Levu, or the pumice, which at times rises to the surface of the sea and is cast ashore at Kandavu. The islands were once much larger and higher than they are to-day, for tropical rains have washed the soft lavas into the surrounding sea, leaving here and there pinnacles of hard basalt towering upward in fantastic castellated forms and imparting a romantic beauty to the view which is surpassed only in the Society and Marquesas Islands. The little island of Kobu near Nairai is a mass of volcanic rock, 90 feet in height, and is so strongly magnetic that a compass placed upon its summit is deflected 85°.
In the Fijis the erosion has gone so far that most of the old volcanic rims have disappeared. Totoya and Thombia are, however, beautiful cup-like craters, their centers now being harbors encircled by crescent shaped ridges, and there are a few fairly M-ell-defined craters among the mountains of the larger islands. Indeed, at Kambara a small volcano has in recent, but still prehistoric, times broken through the elevated coral reef, but no native myths speak of volcanic eruptions.
The Fijis are much older than the large islands of the Hawaiian group or than some of the Samoan and Tongan islands, the volcanoes of which are still active. Indeed, in the interior of Viti Levu plutonic rocks and slates are found attesting to the considerable age of this island, allying it to such land masses as New Zealand or New Caledonia, which are partly volcanic and partly continental in character. Thus the Fijis differ from the simple volcanic tumuli which constitute the Hawaiian, Samoan, Society and Marquesas islands. In Hawaii and Tahiti we find great central volcanic peaks, from the summits of which deep valleys radiate outward to the sea, but in Fiji the large islands have been formed by fusions between many adjacent volcanic cones, and in later times the erosion has gone so far and local elevations and depressions have been so frequent that the landscape is broken and wholly irregular.
Indeed, the islands have not been passive during all the ages in which the rains have worn them down, for there have been depressions, and also great upheavals here and there, as at Yanua Mbalavu, where the old coral reef is now a bold precipice of overhanging castellated craffs towering far above the waves that dash at its feet. This old coral rock is cavernated and, at least one place along the shore, at Black Swan Point, on Yanua Mblavu Island, one may enter through a small cleft in the precipice and find oneself in a spacious chamber several hundred feet in height, with veil-like sheets of stalactites sparkling in the dim light that wanders inward through some hidden rift far up in the vaulted roof. A deep pool of wonderfully clear ocean water lies within this shadowy retreat, and brilliant blue and green fish flit butterfly-like through their natural aquarium, the floor of which is carpeted by graceful sea-whips, and slowly creeping crinoids with long feathery arms.
Many other islands also exhibit elevated coral reefs, which in some cases, as at Vatu Vara, have been lifted nearly 1,000 feet above the sea, and, near Suva, the hillside is full of fossil sea-shells and corals. We can see that the islands were once much larger than they are to-day, for nearly every one is encircled by a coral reef several miles out to sea, which marks the contour of the old coast line. Indeed, at Astrolabe
Reef, we find a small cavernated volcanic rock, the last remnant of an island, surrounded by a broad lagoon which is edged on its seaward side by a rim of coral reef over which the surf breaks ceaselessly. In other cases, as at Cakau-momo, the island has washed away and only the submerged reef is left to mark its former site.
The very land has age and life and is vanishing before our eyes. In the past the islands were higher, but now the loftiest mountain peaks are not over 4,600 feet.
The earthquake waves, which must have accompanied many of the changes of elevation, may have given rise to the myth of a deluge, which under varied forms is found almost universally among the natives of the tropical Pacific, but we need not resort to such remote or hypothetical occasions for the establishment of the flood-myths, for almost every year between February and March there is a severe storm in Fiji, and recent floods of the Rewa River are now the topic of native song.
It is to the rich tropical forest which clothes them that the Fijis owe their charm. Even the sheltered relatively dry leeward slopes of the mountains are fairly well covered with forest, but on the sides which face the southeast trade wind the vegetation crowds into every nook and cranny of the precipices even to the summits of the highest peaks. So copious is the rainfall that the Rewa River is larger than any in England and is navigable for fifty miles above its mouth, its width being fully three thousand yards, where it meets the ocean.The beauty of the mountain valleys produces an impression which time can not efface from the memory. Great Tahitian chestnuts, the "Ivi" (Inocarpus edulis), with buttressed trunks, tower far above like columns of an ancient temple garlanded in green, while overarching the rock pools of the stream are the rich brown stems of tree-ferns crowned by emerald sprays of nature's lace-work. Broad-leaved caladiums cluster in the water, and the clambering Pandanus winds in reptilian folds over the high boughs, where dainty orchids nestle far from the reach of all below. Now and again there is a flash of color, where some cockatoo or parrot or brilliant butterfly appears only to vanish in the leafy maze, or here and there through a break in the canopy a furtive beam of sunlight penetrates to gild the greenness of the shade. One looks in vain for dead trees and old decaying logs for all is life in this luxuriant growth. Death has here no lasting place, for termites and ants and a host of parasitic plants set hungrily upon all that weaken, and the dying trunk shrinks into other greenness and passes phoenix-like into other life. Wilkes spoke truly when he said of the islands, "So beautiful was their aspect that I could scarcely bring my mind to the realizing sense of the well-known fact that they were the abode of a savage, ferocious and treacherous race of cannibals." To-day there are
no cannibals, and one is safer in "dark Fijia" than in the streets of any civilized city.
An extraordinary number of the forest trees of the Fijis furnish food for man. Such are the bread-fruit, which grows to be 50 feet high, with deeply incised glossy leaves, sometimes almost two feet long. The Malay apple, or kavika (Eugenia), grows to a great height and bears a delicious fruit, which, when ripe, is white, streaked with delicate pink, and most refreshing and rose-like to the taste. The cocoanut palm clusters in dense groves along the beaches, the long leaves murmuring to the sea breeze as they wave to and fro, casting their grateful shade upon the native village. Of all trees none is more useful to tropical man than the cocoanut. In time of drought it provides a life sustaining drink, its leaves serve to thatch the sides of houses and its nuts become drinking cups, or provide oil or food; its wood serves for manifold purposes; its terminal bud is the celery of the tropical epicurean, and the sap from its flower-stalk provides an intoxicating beverage. Indeed, to do justice to its uses would lead us so far afield that we must perforce desist. Curiously, the cocoanut thrives only on the lowlands near the ocean, and flourishes best where the sea-spray settles upon its leaves, or even where its roots sink beneath the level of the salt water. Very rarely one sees a cocoanut palm growing upon the mountain side at Tahiti, up to 800 feet above the sea, but this is exceptional. Bananas and the wild plantain (Fei) grow luxuriantly in the forest, as do also oranges, lemons, limes, shaddocks, guavas, alligator pears, the papaw, mango and many other smaller shrubs and vegetables. Indeed, from remote times the natives have cultivated the soil, and their principal farinaceous food to-day consists in the yam (Dioscorea), which becomes from four to eight feet in length, and in the dalo, a caladium, which grows in swampy places. In time of harvest they often bury the breadfruit, dalo or bananas in pits lined thickly with leaves and covered with earth and with stones to foil the pigs. Treated thus, the fruit ferments and may remain for months before being cooked and eaten. Famine is indeed all but impossible in the high islands of the tropical Pacific.
In the rich soil of the broad Rewa valley sugar-cane is cultivated extensively. Cotton becomes a perennial tree in Fiji and produces an exceptionally good quality of boll. Delicious pineapples grow on the less fertile soils, and coffee thrives on the mountain slopes. Indeed, had the Fijis but a market for their produce, they would outstrip Hawaii as centers of agricultural industry.
Even in savage days the natives delighted to cultivate flowers, and the chiefs wore garlands of blossoms around their heads as do the young men and maidens of to-day. It was by means of the flowers that they knew the months, for the scarlet blooms of Erythrina marked the season for the planting of crops. June was heralded by the "tombebe" flowers along the shore, and when the ivi with its violet-scented flowers bloomed in the forest, the natives watched, knowing that it was nearing November when upon the morning of the moon's last quarter the water over the reef would be crowded by myriads of the Mbalolo worms swimming only to burst and shrivel with the rising of the sun, thus casting forth their eggs into the sea, after which the worms, emptied of eggs, sink as mere translucent skins to die upon the bottom. This was the great feast of the Mbalolo, the New Year's Day of former times, when bearers would be despatched to carry the cooked worms nicely wrapped in leaves to far-off chiefs among the mountain valleys.
Once from an old man I gathered a myth of the Mbalolo to the effect that long ago their ancestors were sailing over the sea, while one of the sea-gods guarded the canoe and each day sent food in the form of the Mbalolo, but one old man, fearing it might not be continued, collected more than was required for the day and hid it beneath a mat. Whereupon the god visited the canoe and detected the Mbalolo through the odor arising from its decomposition. In a rage, he swore never again to provide food for the ingrates; but the old man taunted him, saying that the real reason was he had lost the power to cause the worms to appear. Thus, in order to show that he still had power to produce it, the Mbalolo is permitted to swarm only upon the mornings of the last day of the October, and especially of the November moon. Accordingly, October is called Vula i Mbalolo leilei (the moon of the little Mbalolo) and November Vula I Mbalolo levu (the moon of the Great Mbalolo). In Samoa, this worm is called Palolo from Pa, to burst, and lolo, oily, referring to the oily appearance of the water when myriads of the worms burst and cast forth their eggs.
I suspect this myth to be of recent origin, for it bears a suspiciously close resemblance to the manna story in the Bible. Moreover, the old Fijian mythology asserts that their original ancestors were created in Fiji and did not sail over the ocean to these islands. It is remarkable how quickly a new myth may arise among a simple people. Certain floods which occurred within the century have passed into mythology, and one of the mountain tribes has a song of the marvellous manner in which sugar is made at the recently established sugar mill on the Rewa river. A tower of Babel myth has arisen since the conversion to Christianity, and, in Tahiti, a recently originated folk story tells of the creation of the first woman Ivi from a bone of the first man.
The Fijians are of mixed stock. Their dark brown skin, thick
mop-like heads of hair, broad noses, and full lips betoken Papuan ancestry of remote African origin, and probably the earliest inhabitants were of purer Negroid blood than those of the present, for there has been a constant admixture with the Polynesians, who, being good navigators, have peopled the remote islands of the outer Pacific. For ages this and producing a tall, fine-featured, brown-skinned "Vititonga" race, far superior to the negroid peoples of the western islands of the Fijis.has been checked through the practice of the Fijians of killing and eating strangers who were stranded upon their shores, and it is interesting to see that it is only in the small islands of the Lau group of the Fiji archipelago that a decided mingling of the Papuan and Polynesian elements is observed. These Lau islands are set one after another, like the leeward isles of the West Indies, in a long sweeping crescent along the eastern edge of the archipelago, and are only about 270 miles west of Tonga, hence the Tongans, under their great chief Maafu, overran them, killing the men and capturing the women,
In Fiji, as elsewhere in the Pacific, the strongest natives live along the shore where coral reefs and cocoanuts afford abundant and varied food. At times these shore tribes welcomed the coming of Tongans among them, for they are far better navigators and more intelligent than the Papuans of ancient Fiji, and they taught the art of canoe building. Indeed, pigs and chickens and certain vegetables are thought to have been introduced by this back wave of Polynesian immigration from Tonga.
Among the mountain valleys of Viti Levu one may still see traces of the stunted, sooty-skinned, long-armed, mop-headed negroid race of old Fiji, while in the eastern parts of the group and along the fertile coasts the natives are superior both mentally and physically. The average height of the chiefs is fully six feet, they stand superbly erect, no student's stoop disfiguring the proud shoulders of these noblemen of nature's making. The skin is rich bronze-brown, the lips full, but not protrusive, the nose not especially flattened, and the hair alone remains African and grows into a huge stiff mop which they periodically cover with lime, causing it to lose its black color and to assume a tawny brown-red hue. The eye lacks the languid softness of the Polynesian's and is small, swine-like and often bloodshot, imparting a cruel aspect to the visage.
Yet, withal, the native grace and unconscious dignity of these superb people, especially those of chieftain's rank, produces a profound impression. Physically they seem to be a finer race than we, yet they lack the endurance of the Caucasian, and soon succumb to prolonged assumed the character of a veritable plague, more than one quarter of the population perishing, while in many villages the children starved, and the dead were devoured by hogs, for none were left to bury them.
Yet we must come to the tropical Pacific to see how beautiful the human form may be. As Wilkes wrote, "I have scarcely seen, a finer looking set of men than composed the suite of Tanoa" (King of Fiji); and Miss Gordon Cumming spoke truly when she said that no English duchess bore herself with greater dignity and graciousness of mien than did the ladies of the royal family of Mbau.
In many another trait do they show their kinship to the universal feminine. Wilkes attempted to entertain the Queen of Rewa and her maids of honor on the Vincennes, but nothing seemed to please, and the party was evidently drifting into failure until, upon a whispered word from the Queen, all became animated and lively expressions of delight changed the entire tone of the afternoon. It transpired later that the Queen had commanded her suite to "act as if pleased."
Their scantiness of attire serves but to reveal the beauty of their forms. Indeed, we must recall the fact that even in cannibal days the Fijians would never expose the entire body, for such immodesty would have merited death at the hands of the chief, and in 1837 the natives of Levuka sent off a deputation to protest to Captain Dumont d'Urville against the indecency of his sailors in entering the ocean stripped of clothing. Dress has little or nothing 'to do with morality; indeed, among savage people the more clothing they are forced to assume the lower do their morals decline. Dressed in his simple waist-cloth, the Fijian is ready at any moment to seek the deep pools of some cool mountain stream in which to bathe. As civilization introduces clothing, so does this practice of swimming decline, and the once cleanly native becomes the prey of filth-diseases. Fortunately, the British Governments of Papua and Fiji have not insisted upon the hat, shirt and trousers for the men, or the ugly "mother hubbards" for the women, which the missionaries have forced upon the natives of nearly all other groups in the Pacific, to the detriment of both health and morals.
As James Chalmers, the great missionary to Papua, wrote in 1885
The Polynesians of Samoa, Hawaii, Tahiti and New Zealand had a lyric history sung by priests and sagas which told of days when the ancestors of their chiefs were gods, but the Melanesian race has little of this mythology, and there is no "history" in Fiji, where, according to Wilkes, all are said to have descended from a single pair, whom the gods made black and wicked and to whom they gave but little clothing. Then the gods made the brown-skinned Tongans who behaved better and to whom they gave more clothing, and, last of all, the white men were created, and these were well behaved and were given much clothing. There are apparently no myths of ancient migrations, and the people are said always to have lived in Fiji.
There is no history of the group as a whole, for war was the one chief object of Fiji, and each little district was forever suspicious of its neighbors. Indeed, to such a degree did the Fijians carry their zest for war that two men would walk abreast, never one behind the other, for the temptation of the man behind to club his companion might at any moment become irresistible. It was death to pass behind a chief or to cross his shadow, or the shadow of his house. No Fijian revenge was assuaged until the enemy was eaten; indeed, so natural does this seem to them that a high chief asked me in a casual manner whether we of the United States had eaten the Spaniards whom we had killed during the war of 1898.
A detailed account of the ceaseless native wars is given by the Reverend Joseph Waterhouse in "The King and People of Fiji" and by Williams in his fascinating "Fiji and the Fijians" and they are records of treachery, murder, cruelty and vice, unrelieved by the narration of a single fight for principle or an act of mercy or chivalry. In all history there have been few instances of higher courage, fidelity and devotion to their creed than those furnished by the lives of the early missionaries to these islands, and nowhere in the Pacific has conversion accomplished more good and in the process done less harm than in Fiji.
Tradition states that in former times the island of Mbengha was dominant in native affairs, and its chiefs still style themselves "Qalicuva-ki-lagi," "subject only to heaven"; finally, however, the chief of Rewa conquered Mbengha and slaughtered nearly all its inhabitants, and then, in 1800, the village of Verata on Viti Levu became dominant in Fijian affairs. At this time, Mbanuvi, who had succeeded his father Nailatikau, was the head chief of the town of Mbau, but he soon thereafter died and was succeeded by his son, Na Ulivou (The Hot Stone).
Mbau is a little island, not a mile in width, which lies off the southeastern corner of the great island of Viti Levu, of which indeed it is a mere outlyer, being connected with the mainland at low tide by a natural causeway. Yet this insignificant islet of a single hill, surrounded by shallow mangrove flats and reefs, was destined to conquer nearly half of Fiji.
In the south seas that chief who first obtained the aid of white men in the use of firearms gained a rapid and terrible ascendency. It so happened that in 1809 the armed brig Eliza was wrecked on the coral reef off Nairai, which was a dependency of Mbau, and the natives plundered the vessel. A Swede, named Charley Savage, and three companions made their way to the shore, and Savage was the. first white man to come to Mbau. Here it is not improbable that he would have been killed and eaten in accordance with Fijian custom respecting the shipwrecked, had he not bethought himself of a musket which had been left on board, and requested the natives to search for it. They found it, built into the palisade surrounding a native village and soon Na Ulivou saw in Savage and his musket the means to "world-wide" conquests.
Verata, which was only eight miles from Mbau, was then the strongest power in Fiji, dominating the villages for about ten miles along the shore of Viti Levu, but Mbau, aided by this base imitator of Champlain, soon stripped it of its dependencies, leaving to its chief only his native village. Savage caused the natives to construct an arrow proof sedan chair, within which he remained comfortably seated firing through an opening, and this contrivance was carried into battle while he terrified and slaughtered the impotent enemies of Mbau. For his share of the spoils of conquest Savage demanded women, and he is said to have acquired a hundred wives. Na-Ulivon heaped honors and titles upon him and gave him for his principal wife a chieftainess of the highest rank, but her children were strangled for reasons of state polity, so that after his death he was survived by but a single daughter.
For two years Mbau enjoyed a monopoly of firearms in Fiji, and
Ratu Bem Tanoa and his Wife Aui Cakabau in their House at Navuso. Viti Levu Island, Fiji, in 1899. They are cousins, both being members of the Royal Family of Fiji. The screen is a large piece of Taviuni tapa.
conquered all the neighboring islands and overran the eastern and southern coasts of Viti Levu, Finally, in 1813, the Mbauan conquests were pushed as far as Mbua in the southwestern part of Viti Levu, where in a fierce battle the ammunition of Savage and his white companions became exhausted, and they were forced to retreat to a small island in the river, where they were surrounded by thousands of howling enemies engaged in devouring the bodies of the fallen warriors of Mbau. Savage went to the water's edge to treat for terms of surrender, where he was captured, drowned and eaten, and his leg bones made into sail needles, while other parts of his skeleton were ground into powder to be drunk in Yaqona.
In 1814, Na-Ulivou and his warriors again came to Mbua with a great fleet of war-canoes, and wreaked terrible vengeance upon those who had killed their champion Savage. For long years after this no native would pass the spot where Savage died without first plucking some leaves and casting them upon the ground; for, as Williams says
In the South Seas the most dreaded ghost is that of the man who seeks revenge for having been murdered and devoured.
Early in his reign a powerful conspiracy arose against Na-Ulivou, but he drove the rebel chiefs from Mbau and also from Rewa, whither they had retreated, and finally he pursued them to Somo Somo on Taviuni, whence they fled to the distant island of Lakemba, whither he met them in a great sea fight and they were utterly annihilated. After this, Na-Ulivou assumed the title of Vunivalu (root of war), and he reigned the greatest chief in Fiji until his death in 1829.
Rewa, however, remained independent of Mbau, and indeed until the group was annexed to Great Britain these two villages were rivals almost constantly at war.
In about 1804 a number of convicts who had escaped from Australia settled upon Rewa and were protected by its chief, and the aid rendered by these reprobates was sufficient to prevent Mbau from conquering Rewa. Even in Fiji, where cruelty, treachery, cannibalism and ferocity were considered virtues, some of these men are still remembered as monsters of iniquity. In a few years they had nearly all killed one another or fallen in native wars, and only one, Paddy Connel, called Berry by the Fijians, survived until 1841, and served as guide, pilot and interpreter to Wilkes during the surveying operations of the United States Exploring Expedition in 1840. This man became thoroughly Fijianized, having the traditional hundred wives and forty-eight children, and so great was his influence that the chief of Rewa would always roast and eat any man who incurred Connel's displeasure. Indeed, if native accounts are to be trusted, Connel was himself a cannibal. All travelers in the Pacific will agree that the most vicious savage is not the native, but the degenerate white who has violated his birthright to civilization.
When na-Ulivou of Mbau died, he was succeeded by his brother Tanoa (kava bowl), who reigned for twenty-three troubled years, and died a cannibal and a heathen in 1852.
Soon after Tanoa's accession, a powerful faction in Mbau decided to make war upon Rewa. This Tanoa was desirous of preventing, for he was Vasu (nephew) to Rewa, his mother having been a chieftainess of this place. This gave him the right to seize and appropriate to his own use almost anything he desired from Rewa, where he was treated with a respect bordering upon religious adoration; for whenever he visited his mother's district the people would salute him with clapping of hands and shouting "Hail good is the coming hither of our noble lord nephew."
Naturally he was well disposed toward Rewa and he treacherously aided them while ostensibly prosecuting the war. This enraged the Mbau chiefs and they drove him into exile, where he remained five years, but finally in 1837 with the aid of his son Seru (afterwards called Thakombau) he reconquered his native village, and in a fiendish orgy dismembered his captives, roasting and eating their tongues, arms and legs while they still lived.
Beneath every post of his house in Mbau a slave was buried when his new canoes were launched they were rolled into the water over the bodies of living victims who, after being crushed, were roasted and eaten, and when the canoe took to the water men were slain upon its deck so that it might be baptized in blood. When he sailed, he ran down all in his path, often capturing the victims for his cannibal feasts, for it was the rule in Fiji that all who were upset or wrecked were regarded as sacrifices to the gods. Indeed, the gods of Fiji were themselves cannibal ghosts of dead chiefs and fed upon the spirits of those who were sacrificed.
Wilkes gives a description of the coming of Tanoa to a conference held upon the U. S. S. Vincennes in August, 1840;
The later years of this inhuman monster were disturbed by dissentions and by the rebellions of his sons. Yet when he came to die he smiled with his last breath when told that five of his wives were to be strangled to accompany him into the world beyond.
Throughout his reign, Rewa and Mbau were almost constantly at war, but every now and then Tanoa would command the Rewa chiefs to come to Mbau to beg pardon for their temerity, which they always did, even if victorious.
Tanoa lived to be nearly if not quite eighty years of age, a rare occurrence in Fiji, for they believed that as they were at the time of death so would they be in the world to come. Thus doubly did they dread the infirmities of age, and people who passed middle life commonly requested their nearest relative and friends to strangle or bury them alive. Thus died the great chief Tuithakau (king of the reefs) of Somo somo, an event of which the missionary Williams gives a detailed and graphic description. Tuithakau was described by Commodore Wilkes as
In August, 1845, this old aristocrat became feeble after prolonged illness, and one day he announced to those around him that the time of his death had come. Two of his wives were then adorned in gala attire and strangled by their kindred, while the old king was covered with charcoal pigment, the chieftain's turban of masi placed upon his head, and a string of whale's teeth around his neck. Then the chief priest blew two blasts upon his triton shell, and after an interval turning to the old king's son he said "True the sun of one king has set, but our king yet lives." Then the aged man was carried out through an opening torn through the wall of the house, as is the custom to-day at Fijian funerals, and they placed him upon the bodies of his two dead wives who lay upon the mats within the grave, and as the earth was thrown over him he was heard to cough beneath the ground. Sixty of his subjects then cut off their little fingers, fastened them upon reeds and thrust them into the thatch along the eaves of the dead chief's house. So respected was this custom of burying the aged that for a whole year at Somo Somo the missionaries heard of but one natural death of an adult, and Wilkes says that among over 200 natives at Savu Savu he saw not one over forty years of age.
(To he continued)
- "James Chalmers, His Autobiography and Letters," pp. 255-256, by Richard Lovett, London, 1902.
- The "kava" of Samoa.