The British colonialists could not crush Fijian prophets and oracle priests fighting oppression and injustice in Fiji
By VICTOR LAL
Throughout Fiji’s turbulent colonial past the i-taukei threw up pastors and oracle priests who stood up for them against oppression and injustice from colonialists and their own paramount chiefs.
One of the most famous, some would say, the most notorious, was Apolosi Nawai, described as the ‘Rasputin of the Pacific’, who was three times banished to the island of Rotuma, in 1917, 1930 and 1940, for his semi-religious sermons, promising a new era of prosperity for the Fijians, with himself as their Messiah.
Some years ago I dealt with these prophets and oracle priests in my writings and also in my book Fiji: Coups in Paradise but it is suffice here to quote a more detailed study of an American anthropologist Martha Kaplan who, in 1990, wrote on Navosavakadua and the Tuka Movement in Fiji: ‘In the late 1870s Christian missionaries had been in Fiji for almost 50 years.
The islands had been ceded to Great Britain in 1874. Then, in the hinterlands of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island, an oracle priest called Navosavakadua mobilized in opposition to enemies old and new. He foretold a world overturned, in which Fijian chiefs would serve the Fijian people and foreigners would be driven out. He foretold the return of ancestor gods and ancestors; he made miracles and granted immortality (tuka) to his followers.
‘Revealing the return of two Fijian gods, the Twins, to the sacred Nakauvadra mountain range, he identified them as the true Jehovah and Jesus. Colonial authorities found his Tuka movement heathen and criminal; Navosavakadua and his followers were the subject of extensive colonial surveillance and were ultimately de ported.
Their present-day descendants, now returned to their ancestral lands, have little to say about Tuka but much to say about their ancestor. They assert that Navosavakadua served Jehovah and worshipped him before the missionaries came to Fiji.
From the 1870s to the present, Navosavakadua has remained a potent legendary figure, renowned among his direct descendants in the north of Viti Levu, his name known by Fijians throughout the Fiji group. He has remained potent in the concerns of the colonial and postcolonial state and in the Western scholarly imagination.’
Navosavakadua has been called a prophet, and Tuka has been read as a paradigmatic example of the ‘cargo cult’ or ‘millenarian movement’. He was seen as a prophet. Navosavakadua was a 19th-century Fijian oracle priest, and his Tuka movement, once considered a paradigmatic ‘cargo cult.’ Navosa- vakadua's project contested a developing colonial orthodoxy; both were articulations of Fijian ritual-politics, colonial authority, and the Christian god.
As Kaplan points out, Navosavakadua ‘came prominently into notice’-colonial notice, that is-in 1877, when the chiefs of Rakiraki, a polity in Ra province of northern Viti Levu island, protested against the colonially appointed Fijian officials placed over them (Editor’s Note: similar to unelected and murderous military personnel sent by the dictator Bainimarama to police the provinces as district commissioners).
The Native Commissioner, David Wilkinson, according to British Colonial Office Records, was sent by the governor to investigate. He reported that the Rak iraki chiefs’ charges were ‘in some way or other connected or mixed up with the Kalourere [invulnerability ritual] business at Drauniivi [village]’ At Drauniivi, Navosavakadua, an hereditary oracle priest, had proclaimed that ‘the land was soon to be visited again’ by Naciri- kaumoli and Nakausabaria, twin gods of the Nakauvadra mountain range, who, in well-known legend, had left Fiji after a quarrel with their father (or grandfather), the god Degei.
The Twins had since arrived, Wilkinson wrote, and The yalo spirits [gods] are congregating at Nakauvadra in preparation for Siganilewa, judgement or some other important event ... for which there is to be four years preparation....Nacirikaumoli and Nakausabaria reside at Nakauvadra but are said to be going to and fro through the land making observations and of course looking out for the tamata dina [true men] to see if they are many.
Amongst other wonderfull [sic] accounts of their travels their visit to the Bose Vaka Turaga [meet ing of the Great Council of Chiefs, a Fijian advisory council established by Fiji's first colonial governor] at Rewa is something more than amusing.
.... As Nacirikaumoli treads the Kamakawa [path] to the house [Laselase, where the meeting was held] certain trembling of the foundation of Laselase is experienced but once he enters the building one side from the ridgepole is rent in twain right down to the ground with a great commotion.
The younger brother then follows and the side opens in the same way and constranation [sic] is at his [its] height. Wilkinson found the tales ‘absurd,’ but in conjunction with the protests against the Ra colonial officials the ‘Kalourere business’ was taken seriously.
Editor's Note: To be continued