A Bad Choice
Fijians greatly value their breadfruit trees. They are beautiful trees with their large, glossy leaves, and their big, round green fruit. They pick the fruit, and carry them home to cook them, and serve them with fish and coconut cream sauce, or with green vegetables, and they are a welcome change from or an addition to their customary diet of yam or taro. In the long ago days two Fijians were standing near a bread-fruit tree on the bank of a stream. The whole tree was reflected in the clear water of the stream. They gazed at it, and thought about what really good food cooked breadfruit was. They imagined a meal with plenty of it and a good dish of salt, and a tasty relish of fish or prawns or leaves. One man spoke, he said, “Let us each have a share of the breadfruit. I shall have the top ones, and you will have the lower ones”. The other man, seeing that the breadfruit mirrored in the water appeared larger, simply did as he was told. He dived into the water to claim his share. While he was doing this, the first man was climbing the tree, and in a few moments he had all the fruit. He tied them onto two ends of a pole, slung it over his shoulder and set off home. But the poor fellow who had dived into the stream soon found that his share of the spoil was utterly insubstantial. His breadfruit had vanished away.
Some of the most interesting stories and legends come from unexpected sources, we found an old book – chewed by mice, covered in mould and very dilapidated in a second-hand book store in Auckland. When you read the stories, you will see that they have been translated literally from the spoken word of the Fijian language. They also serve to remind us that Fiji – before the missionaries came and clothed everybody – was a vibrant society spiced by folklore, superstition and legends of gods, demi-gods maintained by a deep oral history passed through the generations. We have managed to save a few of the stories, and reproduce them here for your pleasure.
Fire Walkers of Beqa
In the olden days in Beqa in Fiji one day some chiefs, who loved listening to stories, were sitting on the mat floor of a house, listening as one after another related some old legend or some real incident that they had observed. Kava was drunk, and the talk went on. Hours passed. Everyone was content and relaxed and happy.
“What will you give me tomorrow for my story?” asked one. Each promised something. Tui Qalita said, “I shall bring an eel”.
The story went on, and at cock-crow, everyone being sleepy, all lay down and slept. In the morning all those, who had promised, went to get the gift they had said they would bring. Tui Qalita went to dig for his eel. He dug and he dug, throwing up mud, and at last a strange semi-human creature emerged from the hole.
“Do not kill me”, it said. “Save my life, and I shall be your god of war”.
“No” said Tui Qalita, “I shall take you and kill you”, “Save me and I will be your god of canoe-saling”, said the creature.
“No”, said Tui Qalita, “I shall take you and kill you”, “Save my life and I shall give you the power to walk on hot embers, and not be burnt”.
Tui Qalita accepted this last gift, and, so the story goes, that is why the descendants of Tui Qalita have ever since been able to walk on hot glowing embers, with the soles of their feet remaining quite unscorched and unburnt.
Note: Fire Walking – the ancient South Indian and traditional Fijian rite shared and kept alive by both cultures here in the multiethnic islands of Fiji. Fire walking in Fiji has become a major tourist attraction. Some resorts and hotels host the Fijian ceremony and on the full moon in late July – early August, visitors can also witness the Indian fire walking at many of the temples around Fiji.
How the Sandhills of Nadroga were Formed
There was once a giant in Kadavu in Fiji who had not any land of his own, so he decided to steal some. He could do things by magic, so he could fly like a bird, and he flew about looking for some land to steal. He saw some hills, and he thought that they would do quite well, so he began to dig the soil from the top of the hills with a pointed digging stick.
The owner of that land saw him digging. He knew magic too, and he could also fly like a bird. The thief hastily placed the earth on his wings, and flew off over the sea, intending to place it somewhere in the sea, and to make another island with it, and then to live there on that island.
It was a great chase over the sea to the north-west of the island of Kadavu. The thief was nearly caught, but he made another great spurt of speed, and flew on away from his pursuer.White clouds sailed in the blue sky. The hot sun shone. The blue sea sparkled below. A lovely steady cool trade wind blew from the south-east. On and on they flew, but, as the thief flew, some of the earth from one wing fell into the sea and formed the island of Beqa. Then a storm blew up, and with the changing wind, hew was blown a little to the east, and the next earth that dropped formed the island of Nukulau. Then Makuluva took shape; then away to the westward again, Yanuca was formed, and then Vatulele. To this day all those islands are there with lovely coconut trees on them and fruit gardens of bananas, yams, paw-paw and taro for the happy inhabitants to eat.
But the thief had not finished his journey, when all those islands had taken shape. He still flew on. But evil-doers frequently do not prosper. The spirit-world punished this thief. The land, that was left on his wings, turned to sand. He alighted at Nadroga on the south-west coast of Viti Levu, but having deposited what was left of his load, he found that it was useless land. To this day you may go to that coast and see the sandhills, that were carried so long ago on the wings of a giant across the sea from Kadavu.
In all the channels through the coral reefs of Fiji in the olden times gods used to guard the land. Dukuwaqa was one very powerful such god.
One day he was boasting about his bravery, saying that he had been to all the channels, and had been meeting the various gods or guards, but had never been beaten by one of them. A spirit guard, watching the channel near Makuluva had the form of a sea-eel. The sea-eel guarded the people of Rewa. This guard was beaten in single combat by Dakuwaqa, the shark god. After that fight Dakuwaqa travelled between the mainland Viti Levu or Big Fiji and the small island of Beqa. He encountered the spirit, who was guarding the passage of Yanuca. Maselaca was his name. He also had the form of a shark. These two were close friends. Maselaca told Dakuwaqa that there were some very brave spirit guards protecting the passage on the southern side of Kadavu.
From there, he travelled towards Solo and on to Naiqoro. When he reached there, he found the watchman absent. He went on down to the Vesi passage, and the guard of Vesi, Tui Vesi, a man, was on land, where he lived. Tui Vesi and Dakuwaqa gree ted eachother, an Tui Vesi told him that an Octopus guarded the Naceva passage.
He went on down the coast, and Tui Vesi warned him that he must be careful, because the Octopus was powerful. His name was Rokobakaniceva. Before you come to that channel or passage, you will see an imprint of that octopus on a rock at a point opposite the channel. Dakuwaqa went on down the coast, and before he entered the channel, he gave warning. ‘Make way at the passage’.The octopus replied, “No I am the barrier, past which no-one may go without my permission”. Dakuwaqa replied, “Very well. We’ll fight”.
In preparation for this combat the octopus let four of it’s great arms grasp the biggest rock at the bottom of the sea, and he stretched the other four to the surface of the sea. At that very moment Dakuwaqa qas shootin his way through the passage, and immediately the octopus grasped Dakuwaqa with his four upper arms. Then he loosened his four lower arms from the rock, round which they had been twined, and all eight of the great things were round the body of Dakuwaqa, the shark-god. From the top of his tail to his head he was embraced by the Octopus, with his mouth only free from the enemy?s arms. Then spoke the octopus: “Never will you see your friends again. This day is the day of your doom”. But Dakuwaqa would not relinquish hope. He pleaded for release.
“Only let me go”, he implored, “and I make you a solemn vow. Let me free, and I shall undertake that forever in the future there will be a bond of mutual helpfulness and goodwill between your land and mine. Taveuni and Kadavu shall be forever friends. Nor will your people, when shipwrecked away from home, be eaten by the great shark-god. I shall spare them. Your Naceva people will always be free of this dire peril”. And so it came to pass. To this day, because the octopus yielded to his foe?s plea, Naceva people, it is said, are helped and befriended by the great Dakuwaqa, the shark-god. And a bond of friendship still exists between the people of Naceva, Rokobakaniceva’s people, and Taveuni, the land of Dakuwaqa, the famous.