Built for education

The Navuloa Theological College today. Picture: VEILOMANI TAGINIGAUNA

WITH its rich history in Fiji dating back to the early 1800s, the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma has come a long way in establishing many successful educational institutions in the country.

One of those successful institute is the church’s theological college which was first established in 1841.

It was 11 years after the first LMS Tahitian teachers had arrived in Fiji and just six years after William Cross and David Cargill established a Wesleyan Station at Lakeba.

According to the Davuilevu Theological College Department of History, the initial idea of establishing the theological education in Fiji started way back in 1839 at Nasima in Somosomo, Taveuni.

Theological education as the Reverend John Hunt and Reverend Richard Lyth referred to was solution to the problem they faced at Somosomo — to train the natives to become agents of transmitting the gospel to their own people.

It was at Lakeba during the 1841 annual meeting of missionaries that Reverend John Waterhouse, the general superintendent of Wesleyan Missions in the Pacific, suggested that his Fiji colleagues commence intentional theological training.

This decision was fully supported and it was decided to commence such training in 1842 with the responsibility given to John Hunt, a much respected missionary in Fiji since 1839.

The first lecture that was conducted by Mr Hunt was in Viwa in late September 1842, his first two students were both from Viwa, Noa Koroinavugona who had been with Mr Hunt during his previous appointment at Somosomo and Ezekiel, who was of senior status within the Viwa priestly clan and whose conversion to Christianity contributed to a decline of traditional religion on his island.

With his first oral lectures, Mr Hunt realised that his information would be better in written form and he began to write down his sermons on Wesleyan doctrine as well as lectures on Theology and Geography.

The material was then put into printed form by the Printing Press on Viwa and became the foundation curriculum for ministerial training throughout Fiji.

There was much progress in the theological education offered at Viwa and following the death of Mr Hunt in 1848 the systematic theological education was kept alive by Lyth.

From Viwa, the theological college moved to Bucainabua in 1849, following the conversion of Roko Taliai up until 1856. As recorded, when Rev. Lyth departed Fiji in 1854, missionaries were initially preoccupied with the flow of converts after Cakobau’s conversion. Consideration of ministerial training was later revived in 1856 as recorded, and an institution planned for Mataisuva in the Rewa Delta from 1857 to 1860.

The land at Mataisuva was made available by the US Consul, John Williams but ownership was disrupted by the Rewa chiefs that being one of the reasons that the institution could not remain in Mataisuva.

The first principal at Mataisuva was James Royce and the course included Mr Hunt’s sermon on theology, Wesleyan doctrines with reading and writing.

The first examination took place in April 1858 when missionaries William Moore and John Fordham declared that students could explain the plan for salvation through faith in their Lord Jesus Christ.

From Mataisuva, the theological college then moved to Richmond in Kadavu from 1861 to 1872, reason being because Richmond was too isolated and infrequent transport was experienced on the island.

The department of history highlighted that the deficiency of Richmond’s planting land and terrible hurricanes during the years also gave Richmond an unenviable site.

Also during the time Cakobau’s wish was to have a ‘grand educational establishment’ near Bau, his chiefly residence including a
relocated theological institution.

Navuloa then became the fifth site of the theological education of the Wesleyan mission in Fiji following several of those transition from 1839 to 1872.

The first principal at Navuloa according to the church’s department of history, was Jesse Carey who had accompanied the transfer from Richmond in 1873.

Arthur J Webb assisted Carey during the former’s furlough and other principals included Joseph Waterhouse (1874 to 1877), Lorimer Fison (1877 to 1881), William Lindsay (1882 to 1900), William Bennett (1901 to 1903), William Heighway (1904 to 1906)
and then William Bennett took over again from 1907 to 1908).

According to records highlighted by the Department of History, in 1872 the students roll was 54, in 1874 the student roll increased to 68 (30 of the student being married) and in 1876 the students number went up to 83, all of whom were funded by scholarships from England that Jesse Carey the first principal had organised.

First few iTaukei students at Navuloa who became prominent figures in Fiji were Aminio Baleidrokadroka, Peni Luvu and Sailasa
Naucukidi were the first Fijian missionaries that volunteered to New Britain.

Peni Luvu and Sailasa Naucukidi were pioneering iTaukei missionaries to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands that became martyr.

According to the Davuilevu Theological College, the main objective of the college was to train the locals to be responsible in converting their own people and also to equip them in the leadership role of the Fijian church.

One of the problem in the Fijian mission was that they were not allowing the natives to organise their own church.

The reason why the Navuloa site was selected was because of its accessibility to young natives all around Fiji especially to those in
the western part of Viti Levu, unlike Richmond.

According to the department of history, Cakobau’s influence was strongly felt in the institution by both teachers and students.

After five years of existence he summoned the students to join the army at war at Naigunugunu in Naitasiri.

The land at Navuloa belonged to the Tora ni Bati of Buretu and the Roko Tui Kiuva.

The Institution finally relocated in the year 1908 and the work at Davuilevu started in 1805 where the students used the boat Lomavata to travel from Navuloa to Davuilevu.

According to the Department of History, relocation to Davuilevu was the initiative of the late Reverend George Brown, the Mission

His vision was to build a greater educational centre at Davuilevu and the decision to move to Davuilevu was part of the discussion at
the district meeting from 1869.

The Davuilevu Theological College student roll since it started was 57, which included three Anglican Church priests, and four
deaconess student.

Now the land at Navuloa is utilised by the people of Daku Village in Tailevu for farming and they are responsible for it by the authorisation of the Buretu Circuit and the Bau Division.

Significant sites like the place where the chapel was, the principal’s residence and the grave of William Lindsay was well kept
and looked after by the people of Daku and still visible today is the remains of a reserve tank beside the Principal’s residence.

Navuloa was the site of the Theological Institution for thirtyfive years from 1873 to 1908 and at Navuloa Jesse Carey outlined his
scheme for a secondary department for the education of the sons of the chiefs and native ministers.

Carey hoped also that he could include a boarding school for the sons of the European settlers who would have joint classes with the
Fijian chiefs and minister’s sons.

His ambitious scheme for higher education of Fijian lads led to the future high school at Navuloa, and afterwards Davuilevu and ultimately to the present Lelean Memorial School.

Another important achievement at Navuloa was the women’s project with the assistance of the Government that resulted in the
construction of the Ba Hospital.

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