Rev Wison has finally joined us, having been delayed yet one more day due to cancellations of Air Pacific flights from Los Angeles.
So begins the Methodist Church brochure about Bau, a 20 acre island located one-half mile from the southeast coast of Viti Levu and about 20 miles north of present-day Suva. It consisted partly of reclaimed land protected by embankments and when the missionaries came it was residence to about 1500 people, occasionally 3000. Twenty large war canoes and as many as 200 smaller ones anchored at the stone wharves. Burials were made under the houses. There were some 30 idol houses or temples and the religion of the time was described by English-speaking visitors as demanding human sacrifices. Also: “It was the boast of the Bauans that their ovens were never cool. When Joseph Waterhouse resided on Viwa, two miles away, he said that the death-drum on Bau could be heard nearly every day. The victims were dashed head first against the ‘killing stone’, later made into the baptismal font in the Methodist Church on the island.” The Fijian name actually is “vatu ni bokola” with “vatu” meaning stone and “bokola” meaning someone who is less, lesser or does not count, such as we humans tend to regard our enemies.
The chief of Bau had become recognized as the leading chief of Fiji, although not an unquestioned overlord. His prestige was such that the conversion of Cakobau in 1854 marked the turning point of Fiji’s missionary history. It was Cakobau’s decision, with the agreement of other chiefs some of whom had rebelled against him, that brought about the voluntary cessation of Fiji to the British crown in 1874. (Tourist guide histories of Fiji attribute Cakobau’s decision to a threat of invasion by Tonga.)
We are coming to Bau to meet Ratu Apeniasa Cakobau, the great great grandson of Cakobau. Ratu translates to English most closely as Chief and Ratu Cakobau is in many ways the highest in the land.
Until this morning we have seen days of broken clouds, on-and-off breezes and frequently sweat-soaked shirts. This morning is different. It is entirely overcast, threatening and windy. Fog envelops the higher mountains northwest of town. Our 7 am departure has been postponed, at first to 730 and now to 930, due to a combination of misinformation about the tides (boats to and from Bau cannot depart at lowest ebb) and windy conditions on the sea. We are told that getting to Bau is not a wind issue, but there had been a plan to go to Viwa as well and that involves open seas. So there is time at least for breakfast, our usual combination of fruit, cereal, toast and coffee though a few of us order scrambled eggs as well. At 830 the Bishop holds a meeting for the Clergy.
The trip to Bau takes us past Davuilevu and northward across a flat alluvial plain not far from Nabua school and farm. The road ends at a embarkation point for open boats with outboard motors that each carry about 8 passengers. Our three boats travel at different speeds. The one carrying the Bishop and Minnie travels slowly; ours speeds ahead until, perhaps the boatman suddenly realizes protocol, we slow down and let the Bishop arrive before us; the third and last boat to leave zooms ahead and passes both of us. (Rev Schuyler insists he did not speak to or otherwise bribe the boatman.)
We are greeted on arrival by the Talatala and then rest a few minutes on the veranda of a home at the edge of an elongated grassy field that is bordered on the seaward side by modest houses and on the inland side by the large church and a large meeting house that was built for the visit of Queen Elizabeth in the 1950’s.
Right behind the church and meeting house rises the steep-sided central hill. The grassy field was once occupied by houses but, it is said, Cakobau took a liking to cricket and so had them torn down. Also along the edge of the field are a huge, magnificent tree and the only temple that remains from pre-Christian times, its steep thatched roof replaced by metal but the stone foundation and wood and thatch walls still intact.
We are taken to the meeting house, which is the first place we have visited with no chairs available; one does not sit in a chair if Ratu Cakobau is seated on the floor. Bishop Brown is directed to the matted floor directly under a large photograph of the original Cakobau and his left are Ratu Apeniasa and other dignitaries including (or all?) themselves Ratus of lesser stature (effectively each village of Fiji has a Ratu and there are three villages on Bau alone).
There is extended sevusevu, with much kava in very full bowls being passed around to everybody (the first time during this trip). There are numerous formal greetings passed back and forth, and only then does Ratu Apeniasa speak, welcoming us and explaining the history of Bau; his English is particularly good, accented perhaps by Australia.
Ratu Apeniasa then takes us on an tour of Bau, walking around to the opposite side where his home is, and an adjacent house that had been built for the visit of the Queen. He apologizes for the absence of this wife and children, who are in Suva during the week. He shows us the very table upon which Cakobau signed the agreement with the British in 1874. He then takes us to the Church where the historic baptismal font is mounted on the floor in front of the chancel. Bishop Brown leads us in prayer.
Outside of the church is a steep staircase that leads to the top of the hill and some of us ascend, to the sound of birds mixed with squealing, laughing children. The hill top is divided into three areas, one of which holds the elementary school: the kiddos are on the central lawn happily playing some game under the direction of a teacher. Many of the 150 students come daily by school boat from adjacent islands and the mainland. The other two divisions of the hilltop bear the Talatala’s house (currently being repaired) and (at the very top) a chiefly burial ground.
Returning to the meeting house we are treated to lunch and then an extended period of formal gift exchanges. Tabua and cloth from us to the Ratu and tabua and mats received. At about 4 pm Ratu Apeniasa strolls with us to our departing boats. School is now out and children have appeared on the cricket pitch. When they see the Ratu they immediately sit on the ground; he tells the Bishop that sometimes he avoids being seen during rugby games played by the adolescents, because they will interrupt their play to sit on the ground when they see him.
5 pm – Back at our hotel …
We have time for rest and reflection, giving thanks to God for this extraordinary visit. And then into cars at 6:45 to …
7 pm – Epworth Hall, Farewell Dinner with Church President Tugaue
Another extraordinary banquet, with entertainment by the Kadavu Choir and meke dancers, which represents emigrants to Suva from Kadavu, the third largest island of Fiji. Extended words of thanks and appreciation are given by Bishop Brown, by our Fijian representatives, and by our host. Tabua, cloth and mats are again exchanged. The Choir leads the assembly in singing Isa Isa, which is the Fijian song of farewell.
930 pm –
Back at our hotel. We will depart by bus back towards Nadi at 8 am.