Of Degei The Snake God
Greatest of all Fijian gods was Degei, the Snake god. In
the beginning he lived alone, without friends or companions, and the
only living creature he knew was Turukawa the hawk. Although the hawk
could not speak he was the constant companion of the god.
One day Degei could not find his friend and looked everywhere
for him. Days went by and at last one morning he spied the hawk sitting
in some long grass. Gladly, he welcomed the bird but, to his consternation,
she ignored Degei and commenced building a nest. Disappointed, he
retired to his house and the next day went back to the nest and found
two eggs. He then realized the hawk had found a mate and that he had
lost her affection. So scooping up the eggs he took them into his
own house and kept them warm with his own body. After several weeks
of nurturing the eggs and wondering what would happen two shells broke
and there were two tiny human bodies.
Degei built them a shelter in a vesi tree and fed them
on scraps of food. They grew quickly, but there was nobody to teach
them except Degei. He did not understand children but when they were
hungry he fed them and to save himself work he planted banana trees
and root crops close to them. He also talked to them and told them
about the secrets of nature. Eventually the children were fully grown
and all this time had been unaware of each other's presence as Degei
had placed them on opposite sides of the tree.
One day the man left his shelter and as soon as he saw
the maiden held out his arms to her and told her Degei had made them
for each other and that their children would populate the earth. So
Degei showed them how to cook the root vegetables in an earth oven.
Some time later they were blessed with a little baby and
Degei also was very happy as he knew that because of loneliness men
and women had come into the world and would worship him as their god.
According to legend Degei also created Viti Levu and all
the small islands. [TOP]
The Shark God
One of the best known gods in Fijian legends is the fierce
sea-monster Dakuwaqa. He was the guardian of the reef entrance of
the islands, fearless, headstrong and jealous. He frequently changed
himself into the form of a shark and traveled around the islands
fighting all the other reef guardians.
One day he set out for the Lomaiviti group and after emerging
victorious from this area he decided to set out for Suva. The guardian
of the reef here challenged Dakuwaqa and a great struggle took place.
There was such a disturbance that great waves went rolling into the
mouth of the Rewa River causing valleys to be flooded for many miles
Dakuwaqa once more emerged as victor and proceeded on his
way. Near the island of Beqa his old friend Masilaca, another shark
god, told him of the great strength of the gods guarding Kadavu island
and slyly asked Dakuwaqa whether he would be afraid to meet them.
Like a shot Dakuwaqa sped off towards Kadavu and, on nearing the reef,
found a giant octopus guarding the passage. The octopus had four of
its tentacles securely gripping the coral and the other four were
held aloft. Rushing furiously in, Dakuwaqa soon found that he was
being almost squeezed to death as the octopus had coiled its tentacles
around him. Realizing his danger Dakuwaqa begged for mercy and told
the octopus that if his life was spared he would never harm any people
from Kadavu wherever they may be in any part of Fiji waters.
So the octopus released him and Dakuwaqa kept his promise,
and the people of Kadavu have no fear of sharks when out fishing or
Even today when local fishermen go out for a night's fishing
they reverently pour a bowl of yaqona into the sea for Dakuwaqa.
The high chiefs of Cakaudrove are considered the direct
descendants of Dakuwaqa and their totem shark will appear to the reigning
chief on occasions when momentous news is about to the announced.[TOP]
On The Island Of Beqa
In accordance with the legendary tradition of the Sawau
tribe of the island of Beqa, the firewalking ceremony is still performed
on special occasions.
The firewalking skill is possessed by the Sawau tribesmen
living in the four villages on the windward, or Southern side of the
island of Beqa. In special cases, however, members of the other tribes
who have been adopted by the Sawau tribe, have successfully performed
the ceremony. The main village is known as Dakuibeqa where the chief
of the tribe known as Tui Sawau lives.
When the ceremony is to be performed several representatives
are chosen from each village, the total number being usually from
the immediate family of the Bete. For two weeks before the event,
the participants segregate
themselves from all females and have no contact with them whatsoever,
also they must not eat any coconut. Failure to observe the tabu renders
the culprit liable to severe burns during the ceremony.
A large circular pit is dug some twelve to fifteen feet
in diameter, three to four feet in depth. This pit is lined with large
river stones twelve to fifteen inches in diameter and a huge log fire
is built over them some six to eight hours before the ceremony.
When the time arrives, the men of the village in gay regalia
are led by the Bete to prepare the arena for the firewalkers. Armed
with long green poles some of which have loops or strong green vines
(walai) lashed to their ends, the young men clear the burning logs
from the stones. As they heave on the vines, they chant in unison,
A long tree-fern called waqa-bala-bala said to contain
the Spirit God is then laid across the pit at the direction of the
Bete. A large vine some 1.5 inches in diameter is then dragged across
the stones leveling them and preparing them for the firewalkers.
When the stones are finally in position, the Bete jumps
on to them and takes a few trial steps to test their firmness and
when satisfied, calls for bundles of leaves (drau-ni-ba) and bundles
of long swamp grass (sila); these are placed around the edge of the
When all is ready, the position of the waqa-bala-bala is
adjusted at the command of the Bete, and the base pointed in the direction
from which the firewalkers will approach.
The village men who have prepared the pit now surround
the circle leaving only a gap for the entry of the firewalkers.
The Bete looks around and when satisfied that the time
has arrived gives a great shout of "Vuto-O" which is the signal for
the firewalkers to burst from their place of concealment and in a
single file at a brisk trot, approach the pit.
The waqa-bala-bala is quickly removed and the firewalkers
enter the pit and walk briskly in single file on the white hot stones
round the circumference of the pit. They appear to suffer no harm
from the heat. As the audience is hushed in silence, a sudden shout
goes up, the bundles of grass and leaves are thrown on the stones
and the group huddles in the center of the pit chanting a song associated
with the occasion.
Around the ankle of each is a band of tinder-dry tree fern
leaves called drau-ni-bala-bala and it is significant although a handkerchief
tossed on to the stones will burst into flames, this band of fern
does not ignite. These bands are carefully taken off and buried in
the oven together with four special baskets of roots called vasili
which are said to take the place in the oven of the performers.
The whole pit is then covered with earth, and left for
a period of four days. After four days, the oven or lovo is opened
by the firewalkers and the baked roots are taken out and are ground
and mixed with water. Dalo (taro) roots are then cooked in the liquid
and eaten by the firewalkers.
This completes the firewalking ceremony. [TOP]
The Firewalkers Of Fiji
years ago on the island of Beqa (pronounced Mbengga), a tribe called
Sawau lived in a mountain village called Navakeisese. In this village
there lived a famous storyteller known as Dredre, who regularly entertained
the members of the tribe with his stories. It was customary for the
people of the village to bring gifts to Dredre in appreciation of
one occasion when asked
what gifts he would like, he requested each person of the audience
to bring him the first things they would find while hunting the next
of the warriors of Beqa called Tui-na-Iviqalita, went fishing for
eels (rewai) in a mountain stream. The first thing he caught felt
like an eel. When he pulled it out of the mud, it assumed the shape
of a Spirit God.
was extremely pleased and set off to present his catch to Dredre,
the storyteller. The Spirit God, however, pleaded for his life and
offered all manner of gifts in exchange. These Tui refused until finally,
the Spirit God offered to give him power over fire and this offer
aroused his curiosity.
prove his gift, a pit was dug and lined with stones, and a great fire
was lit on the stones. When the stones were white with heat, the Spirit
God leapt down on the stones and called Tui to jump in with him. Finally,
he plucked up enough courage and was surprised that he did not feel
any effect from the heat. The Spirit God then told him that he could
be buried for four days in the oven without suffering any injury.
However, Tui was afraid to do so, saying that he was quite satisfied
to walk on the stones. To this day members of the Sawau tribes are
able to walk on white hot stones and direct descendants of Tui-na-Iviqalita
still act as Bete, or high priest, of the firewalkers of Fiji.[TOP]
Turtles Of Kadavu
the island of Kadavu (pronounced Kandavu) one of the larger islands
of the Fiji Group and some fifty miles by water from the capital city
of Suva, is the Fijian village of Namuana. Namuana nestles at the
foot of a beautiful bay adjacent to the Government Station in Vunisea
Harbor. Here the island of Kadavu narrows down to a very isthmus
and by climbing the hill behind Namuana village one can stand on the
saddle and look out to the sea to the south and to the north. Legend
says that in the days gone by the warriors of Kadavu slid their canoes
on rollers up over the narrow neck of land to save the long journey
around the east and west of Kadavu island.
women of Namuana village still preserve a very strange ritual, that
of calling turtles from the sea. If you visit Namuana village to see
the turtle calling, your schooner anchors in a beautiful bay right
under the cliffs of a rocky headland. You land on the beach and then
either sit on the rocks under the
bluffs on the beach or climb a rocky tract to a point some 150 or
200 feet up the rock face. Here you have a splendid view and find
assembled all the maidens of the village of Namuana singing a strange
chant. As they chant, if you look very carefully down into the water
of the bay, you will see giant turtles rise one by one to lie on the
surface listening to the music.
is not a fairy tale and actually does take place and the water in
this area is forbidden for the fishing of turtles.
interesting sideline to this performance is that if any member of
the nearby village of Nabukelevu is present, then the turtles will
not rise to the surface of the bay and turtle calling will have to
is usually the case with such strange ceremonies and customs in Fiji,
the turtle calling is based on an ancient legend still passed on from
father to son among the Fijian people of Kadavu.
many years ago in the beautiful village of Namuana on the island of
Kadavu, lived a very lovely princess called Tinaicoboga who was the
wife of the chief of Namuana village. Tinaicoboga had a charming daughter
called Raudalice and the two women often went fishing on the reefs
around their home.
one particular occasion, Tinaicobaga and Raudalice went further afield
than usual and waded out onto the submerged reefs which are just out
from the rocky headline to the east of the bay on which Namuana village
became so engrossed with their fishing that they did not notice the
stealthy approach of a great war canoe filled with fishermen from
the nearby village of Nabukelevu. This village is situated in the
shadow of Mount Washington, the highest mountain on Kadavu island.
Today, Mount Washington is well known to mariners because there is
a splendid lighthouse there warning them of the dangers of the rocky
the fishermen leapt from their canoe and seized the two women, bound
their hands and feet with vine and tossed them into the bottom of
the canoe and set off in great haste for home. Although they pleaded
for their lives, the cruel warriors from Nabukelevu were deaf to their
pleading and would not listen to their entreaties.
Gods of the sea, however, were kind and soon a great storm arose and
the canoe was tossed about by huge waves which almost swamped it.
As the canoe was foundering in the sea the fishermen were astounded
to notice that the two women lying in the water in the hold of the
canoe had suddenly changed into turtles and to save their own lives,
the men seized them and threw them into the sea.
they slipped over the side of the canoe the weather changed and there
were no more waves.
Nabukelevu fishermen continued their journey back to their home village
and the two women from Namuana who had been changed to turtles lived
on in the water of the bay. It is their descendants today who rise
when the maidens of their own village sing songs to them from the
translation of the strange song which is chanted on such occasions
is as follows:
"The women of Namuana are all dressed in mourning
a sacred club each tattooed in a strange pattern
to the surface Raudalice so we may look at you
to the surface Tinaicoboga so we may also look at you."
may doubt the truth of the legend, but you cannot doubt the fact that
the chanting of this strange song does in fact lure the giant turtles
to the surface of the blue waters of the bay near Namuana village
on the island of Kadavu.
strange power of calling these turtles is possessed only by the people
of Namuana village and it is true that should a member of their traditional
enemy tribe from the village of Nabukelevu further down the coast
be present, then no turtles will rise. [TOP]
the high mountains of Taveuni, known as Fiji's Garden Island, there
is a beautiful lake of considerable size. A flowering plant called
Tagimoucia is found only on the shores of this lake and any attempt
to transplant the vine has failed. The Tagimoucia is one of Fiji's
most beautiful wild flowers, the bunches of red flowers have a small
white center.The legend
of the Tagimoucia flower goes something like this.
a hill above the shore lived a woman and her little daughter. One
day the little girl was playing when she should have been working.
Her mother kept asking her to get on with her work but she ignored
her mother and kept on playing. Annoyed, the mother seized a bundle
of sasas (mid-ribs of the coconut leaf) which she used as a broom,
and spanked her daughter. "Go on, get out, you naughty girl. Go out
and I don't want to see your face again."
little girl was so upset that she sobbed and ran away. She kept on
running not realizing where she was going. Her tears blinded her and
as she ran along she blundered into a large climbing plant that hung
from a tree. It was a thick green vine with large green leaves but
there were no flowers on it. The child became entangled with the vine
and could not get free so she stayed there, crying bitterly.
the tears rolled down her cheeks they changed from salt tears to tears
of blood which fell on the stem of the vine and turned into lovely
last the little girl stopped crying and managed to free herself from
the vine and went back home. She was delighted to find out that her
mother had forgotten her anger and so they lived happily together
Fish Of Fiji
the island of Nananu-i-ra, just off the North-east corner of Viti
Levu, can be seen one of the strangest sights in the Pacific. Here
Paul Miller who lives on the island keeps a school of tame sand cod.
These fish are friendly and come to be fed every day by Paul.
Cropp, one of Australia's best known underwater cameramen says the
fish will do anything. It is quite safe to get in and swim with them.
The fish, weighing up to 45lbs will take food from your fingers and
will allow themselves to be petted and stroked. Ben and his wife Van
have filmed many exciting and amazing sequences with these fish and
they have particularly asked to try to have the waters round the island
declared a fish sanctuary. [TOP]
is a legend "NANANU-I-RA" which goes something like this:- "Once upon
a time there lived in the village of Nanukuloa (village of black sands)
on Viti Levu (Queen of the sands). Adi fell in love with a handsome
young chief from Bua, about twenty miles across the water. Bua was
famous for its forests of beautiful sandalwood with a fragrant perfumed
timber, and the people of Bua were great canoe sailors.
lover, being a skilled sailor, sailed his fast canoe across the intervening
sea to visit her, bearing many gifts carved from the exotic sandalwood
however, the tribes of Bua and the tribes on Viti Levu were not friendly,
and the suit of the young chieftain was rejected by Adi's father and
the chief of Nanukuloa.
however, the two lovers were determined to meet secretly and this
is what they did. Off the coast near Adi's village is the island of
Nananu-i-Ra, meaning "Dreamland in the West" and it was here the lovers
arranged to meet. [TOP]
The Red Prawns
ago on the island of Vatulele there lived a very beautiful chief's
daughter called "Yalewa-ni-Cagi-Bula" or Maiden-of-the-Fair-Wind.
So beautiful was she that every eligible chief who visited Vatulele
sought to take her as his bride. Yalewa-ni-Cagi-Bula however, was
hard to please and on every occasion she scornfully refused to accept
far away on the mainland of Viti Levu lived a very handsome and dashing
chief's son who was heir to the throne
of mainland tribes. He had heard of the beautiful daughter of the
chief of Vatulele and decided that she was worthy to be his wife.
Finally, after much preparation, our bold young chief set off, laden
with gifts, to seek the favors of Yalewa-ni-Cagi-Bula. He was well
received by the chiefs of Vatulele, and confidently, he produced the
special gift which he had personally carried from his mainland.
gift consisted of the greatest delicacy known to Fiji Islands, a bundle
of giant prawns from the coastal streams of Viti Levu, cooked to a
tasty turn in coconut milk. Such a delicacy could be expected to melt
the heart of any Fijian maiden - but not so on this occasion.
face clouded in anger and with flashing eyes she commanded ladies
in waiting to seize him and take him to the highest cliff on the island
above the "Caves of the Eagles" (known in Fiji as Ganilau) and cast
him out into the sea. As he tumbled down the cliff to the sea his
gift of bright red prawns fell from his hands into a rocky pool at
the base of the cliff, and the leaves in which they were wrapped fell
among the rocks around the pool. Our bold young chief survived the
fall and returned sadly home to end his days pining for his lost love.
Everyday he would go down to the sea and look towards the south where
on a clear day, he could just make out on the horizon a dark line
which was Vatulele.
tells us that on one occasion he even began to build a bridge of stone
to span the sea between Vatulele and Viti Levu and the remains of
this bridge can still be seen jutting out to sea near the village
end of the story is as interesting as the beginning for where the
red prawns fell into the rocky pool they came to life and to this
day the pools under the cliffs on Vatulele are filled with bright
scarlet prawns and in the crevices of the rocks grow the leaves in
which they were wrapped. To the Fijians of Vatulele these bright scarlet
prawns known as "URA-BUTA" or "cooked Prawns" are sacred and may not
be harmed in any way. They firmly believe that any who dare defy the
TABU will surely be shipwrecked.[TOP]