The ‘idle land’ – Revisiting Suva, Part 1

Thurston Gardens. Picture: SOPHIE RALULU

MUCH has been shared on social media and said over Government’s idea to allocate the “idle land” beside the Fiji Museum to accommodate the Indian High Commission.

It is no wonder many are objecting to the construction of the Indian High Commission because of its significance.

This week members of the three yavusa (Nadonumai, Vatuwaqa and Nauluvatu) from Suvavou presented their petition over the their objection on the rezoning of Suva’s Botanical Garden.

On social media it was widely questioned, why were the resource owners, who now reside in Suvavou Village in Lami not consulted.

Government had said the land is owned by the State and Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources Ashneel Sudhakar says the land near the Suva Botanical has been idle for the past 100 years.

He added Government had approached the Suva City Council in 2014 for the possibility of them surrendering the land near the Fiji Museum, because India had given Fiji a prime land valued at over $100 million and Fiji too needed to reciprocate by also giving a prime land, thus this land.

From a book sourced from the Fiji Museum by Colman Wall on his writing on the Historical Notes on Suva, adapted from a paper entitled “Sketches in Fijian History” and edited by Dr Paul Geraghty gives a detailed explanation of what was once the village of the kai Suva, before they moved.

Colman writes the Suva people had traveled from Saivou, Navitilevu in Ra and were led by their leader Tabanimakoveve who is claimed to be a direct descendant of Degei and hence was of chiefly status.

“The first migration of the clan southward towards Suva would seem to have taken place in the earliest stage of Melanesian settlement in Fiji.

By successive stages, most probably at different times, and evidently from the number of sub-clan names in distinct bodies the Suva people reached the district lying to the south of the Waimanu river, and here they planted and fished and built frail villages, whose name even are forgotten but they gradually moved down towards the sea, for a time stopping about Tamavua and Rairainawaqa, and finally settling on the high land behind the Lunatic Asylum (St Giles Hospital – Reservoir Rd), their citadel being the steep grey rock of Uluvatu that rises up from the waters of Walu Bay.”

Colmon added after a while the Suva people moved down from the hill-fort and built their town (village) of Suva on the site of the present Botanical Gardens.

“Past the mouth of the creek that flows through the cricket ground, known as Ucukobau from its being the landing place of the Bau canoes after they had sailed past the town with mast erect and streamers flying to the sound of lali and conch shells, for Bau and Suva were akin and allied, this creek (on the other side of the bridge) was then much wider and deeper than at present and was used as a turtle pond.

“Halfway between here and the beach, where Grand Pacific Hotel now stands, was Vunivesi, the landing place for the common people, while the beach at the hotel itself was known as Vunimulomulo.

“From the northern side of the old town another track led across Cakobau Rd, called Naisobubenu, from the rubbish heaps that littered it, through what are now the tennis courts. Naiusanimaru – the burial place of the chiefs where the fiercest fighting took place the day that Suva was burned.

“By the pool Vailase (Wailase) in the center of the cricket ground, where the women washed their feet on returning from their plantations before entering the town, across the creek Matamaiwati (Matameiwati) whence the girls carried their drinking water and on to the high ground known as Vuniivi, where Mitchell Street joins McGregor Road and from there struck right across by the kiosk in Victoria Park to the ford at Naisamuni.

“Passing over the raised track across the moat, opposite the lawn tennis pavilion one entered the town and right in front towered the temple of Ro Vonu, situated on what is now the east side of the present little ornamental water, and behind it shaded by nokonoko trees was the mound sacred to
Naleka.

“The space near the clock tower was the burial place of the itaukei (landowners), and there present quarters of the prison laborers was called Soso.

“In later days, the gable end of the house of the chief Tui Suva, better known as Ratu Ambrose (Ratu Aporosa), was almost on the beach road, somewhere about about half-way between Cakobau Rd and the leading to Government House, but the bure of his father Ratu Ravulo, who found
the town was little further in an to the southward, and close to it stood the house of Lacalevu the High Priest of the temple, with his wife Wasi Rokovakatini was buried alongside it.

“Though most of the houses were erected for protection inside the ramparts yet many were to be found in the ibili (outskirts of the town), on the rising ground known as Nabuabua, and the present site of Government House then known as Korobaba.

“The rara (town square is now the drill ground of the Armed Constabulary, and in 1860 when most of the people had embraced Christianity.”

J.W Parham in his Agricultural Journal (Vol. 19, No. 3 and 4); July –December 1948, writing under the heading THE BOTANICAL GARDENS,
SUVA, stated the former inhabitants moved across the bay in 1882.

“To the old Fijians Suva, a little, was the mound on which temple of Ro Vono stood and in which was concealed the sacred stone Vatu Bulia from Vatuwaqa, on which their chiefs were seated at their inauguration, and this mound gave the name to the town; but the name of Suva was never applied by them to other place.

“The space near the clock tower was the burial place of the taukei or landowners — and in the latter days the gable end of the house of the of the Tui Buia was almost on the beach road about half way between Cakobau Rd and the gate entrance to Government House.

“The bure of Ratu Ravulo who founded the town a little further in and close to it stood the house of Laca Levu, the high priest of the temple.

“This town of Suva was founded not later than 1820 by the chief Tabukaucoro ranked as a powerful chief.

“As Tui Suva he could muster nearly thousand warriors he was also vasu to Bau with all the privileges that went with that dignity and he had a strong alliance with all the hill from Suva to Serua.

“Nevertheless on the 6th April 1843 the town was attacked and burned by Rewa people and many of its inhabitants killed and eaten. In 1845, Cakobau began to take steps to rebuild Suva and to returns its people to their homes and the last time that war drum was beaten in Suva summoning the warriors too the fray was close towards the close of the Vugalei war about 1865.”

Colman in 1919 writes “25 years ago the moat and rampart were practically intact, but there are now no traces of them left, nothing now remains to tell the visitor that this was once a busy fortified town, nor that in 1843 when it was burned it was the scene of one of the fiercest and bloodiest fights in Fijian history.”

The kai Suva have lost everything that reminds them of their village and their history.

Nauluvatu now accommodates people from all walks of life, including the Ministry of Health Mental hospital.

The Thurston Garden is their last frontier and reminder of their village that once was and as the Tui Suva Sanaila Mudunavosa puts it “Na kena vakabaitaki tu ena bai ni kovana na kena nanuma ni na maroroya tiko na matanitu na iyau bula ni yavutu ni vanua o Suva, ena gauna keimami toki mai kina. Ia ena gauna saraga e dai ni sa tukuna tiko na cakacaka baleti iratou, ena noqu itutu ni veiqaravi, ena noqu itutu vaka Roko Tui Suva, au sa sega saraga ni duavata kina, me baleta na kena nanuma me caka kina na cakacaka.

(We had faith in the government to protect our old village site, now they are saying that work can continue, in my position as chief of my people and Roko Tui Suva, I will never accept it.)

“Kevaka sa mani toso na cakacaka e dua na ka me ratou nanuma vinaka tiko ni vanua oya e vanua taukeni, ni dua na ka ena yaco vei iratou me
ratou kua ni nanuma me ra qai mai e na koro, me mai caka e dua na ka ni veivakameautaki.

(Should they proceed with work, they must remember there are the real owners of the land. Should something happen to them, we will not be in a position to accept their traditional request of apology)

“Au sa tukuna talega vei ira na gone ni mataqali, dou kua ni ciqoma na cakacaka ni veivakameautaki, kevaka e dua na vakacala e yaco ena tiki ni vanua oya.

(I have also told members of my clan not accept anyone who want to seek the blessing of the vanua), added the Roko Tui Suva who is the head of the
mataqali and yavusa Vatuwaqa.

“Na vanua oya e tawa tu, ni dua na ka na yaco kina mera kakua ni tovolea mera rai mai e na koro, baleta ni sa kece na neitou itukutuku me kakua ni vakayagataki na tiki ni qele oya. Na vanua saraga oya era tauyavu mai kina na qase ni bera nira toki mai ke. Na kena mositi keimami tu, neimami nanuma ni na maroroya na matanitu na veika me baleti Suva.”

(They should not think of turning to us if something happens to them, it hurts us because this is our old village site, this is our beginning where our forefathers once lived before we were told to move.)

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