Signing the visitors’ book at the Chiefly home of Ratu Epenisa Cakobau – photo courtesy of Jeff Moag
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Chiefly Island of Bau. I am a big reader of Fijian History so it was a real thrill for me to meet Ratu Epenisa Cakobau, the great grandson of the King of Fiji. With other guests, we went to Ratu Epenisa’s home, where I signed the guest book that Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain has signed, on the table that the Deed of Cession was signed in 1874 when Fiji peacefully ceded to Britain at Levuka, on Ovalau Island. 100 years later to the day, Fiji became independent of Britain. The date is 10th October, and this date that marks both occasions is celebrated as Fiji Day.
The table top is coming off of the table bottom, and it was in the lounger room next to the Christmas tree.
Ratu Epenisa Cakobau waving goodbye to us at Bau Landing. Photo courtesy of Jeff Moag
I loved my visit to Bau Island and learned so much that I didn’t know. My husband’s mother’s village was a defender of Ratu Epenisa’s great grandfather in the tumultuous days of tribal warfare, and so our family has a special traditional relationship with Bau Island and the Chiefly family.
Ratu Epenisa presented such a humble and welcoming face to us, and I felt so at ease and found him very easy to talk to. The village children however, when we walked past their game on the playground on the way to the church, sat down mid-game, almost like a game of “what’s the time, Mr Wolf” and would not stand up until he passed.
There are no crops planted on the island, so the island looks beautiful and well kept. I asked Ratu Epenisa about this and he explained that no one is allowed to plant crops except for his family, and they all must go to the mainland to harvest or buy root crops.
The villagers are divided into classes – the fisher classes (one class for around the shore line which uses fish traps made of sticks, and another class who are the open water or deep sea fishermen), the planting class, the warrior class etc. This structure still remains today.
I even got invited back to bring the kids – what a gracious man!