Near Lovoni Village, Ovalau Island, Fiji, a gang of village kids joined us for a swim.
While members of our group egged each other on, taking ages to jump, the kids threw themselves into the water which was about 12 metres down with no fear.
1. Climb to to the top of the hill,
2. suspend yourself from tree branches or roots,
3. leap into water with complete abandon!
I was strangely impressed that the little girl was as fearless as the boys, but I shouldn’t be.
Later we had lunch at their house.
Lovoni has an interesting story – the only way up to the village in the old days was single file through the rainforest on a 6 hour trek. Any warriors that were sent to engage the village in battle were defeated as they were picked off one by one as they walked up the track.
The previous self proclaimed King of Fiji, Cakobau (the great grandfather of Ratu Epenisa Cakobau of
View of the Chief’s House, Lovoni Village from the doorway of the house where we ate.
Bau Island) had an agreement with the European settlers at Levuka, which was the old capital of Fiji. He let them build Levuka Town. The people of Lovoni felt that their chief was the paramount chief and that Cakobau had no right to let the Europeans build a town on their island (Ovalau), and furthermore, not so close to them. The town was constructed just over the mountain from the village.
Subsequently, it was apparently great fun to regularly hop over the mountain under cover of darkness and burn down the town of Levuka. The story goes that every time the Lovoni people burned down the town, the townspeople would rebuild. It became a game apparently of who would
Midway through the trek, Epi climbs for coconuts to stave off dehydration
tire of the process first. Eight times they burned down the town.
On the rainforest trail to Lovoni village, with our guide Epi. It seemed incongruous that mobile phones worked in such a remote location.
Eventually, King Cakobau sent warriors up through the rainforest track to defeat the Lovoni people and put a stop to the practice of town burning. However, every time, the warriors were defeated due to the terrain.
One day, the King invited the townspeople of Lovoni to town for a big feast to say “sorry” and mend bridges (a sevusevu). Being Fijian, the Lovoni people couldn’t resist the invitation, so off they went to town. On their arrival though, they discovered that they were trapped, and were sold into slavery in the cotton plantations. It was a trick. However, rather than seeing this as a legitimate play of strategy by Cakobau, the Lovoni people to this day carry a lot of bitterness and resentment.
Plaque on the church in Lovoni commemorating the defeat
Finally, after about 4 hours of trekking, a view of Lovoni village in the distance
They tell me that the current chief, Ratu Epenisa of Bau has apologized, and that as a concession, the Lovoni people are the only Fijians who are permitted to wear hats in the presence of the Chief. I am not really sure if this is true, but if it is, then it seems to me that still they have been tricked, as this is not a sign of supremacy, but a reminder of their humiliating defeat a hundred and fifty or so years ago. It is a sign that they will not let go of the past.
That sentiment seems to cloud the village, and the village of Lovoni, despite the people’s protestations of supremacy, appears dismal and gloomy to me, especially compared with their rivals, the Bauans of Bau Island. It is amazing that the Chief of Bau ruled Fiji from a tiny island such as Bau.
Me, about three hours into the trek. We trekked from the sea, which you can see in the distant background
We were also told that since that disagreement and defeat such a long time ago, that the people of Lovoni no longer eat fresh fish from the sea, as they used to trade with Bau. They are inland people so they used to grow crops and trade with Bau for fish. At lunch we were served boiled vegetables in coconut juice (lolo) with tinned tuna. I am not sure of the truth of this tale, or whether it was a bit of an economy measure and excuse fora poor example of Fijian hospitality. I must say that even at home, my husband would not allow guests to come and be served tinned fish, we would get a fresh fish.