Monday, February 23, 2009

Floating on an island

Floating on an island
Rashneel Kumar - Sunday, February 22, 2009

THERE are people who have heard and read about the Floating Island on Vanua Levu but I doubt if many of them know about the myth that lies behind this captivating place. Well, I never knew anything about this place until I went on a recent trip back home. I discovered how the island is supposed to have originated. Let me start with my journey back to the Friendly North.

Waves hit the side of our ship, creating that milky foam leaving it to glimmer under the light of the moon.

I gazed across the sea that night looking for a beam of light which was far too away to imagine.

Well, that's what the life of a seaman is like and for a night I was no different.

Night was miserable with people cramped in to get a nap before witnessing a new day on a new land but there was some relief from my companions Ema Racule (LTC student) and Ravikash Singh (FIT student) who were going back home too after a year of studies on Viti Levu.

There was some noticeable change in Savusavu with new buildings cropping up.

But that fresh aroma on the hilltops as the bus to Labasa drove, fighting the mist, remained the same.

After a three hour bus ride, I reached my hometown, Labasa.

I noticed something - the introduction of new and expensive boutiques, restaurants and hotels.

Well my stop for the night was my home at Taganikula (about 50km drive from Labasa Town) close to where the Survivor Fiji television series was shot.

It was a heart-breaking sight as I gazed out on the arid fields of my village which were once covered with 'green gold' and beautifully designed houses.

It is a sad fact that a lot of people have either moved to urban areas in Labasa or local overseas, Suva because of the unsolved land problem.

But life goes on, no matter where you live.

The Floating Island

Early one morning I set off with my nana (mum) Veniana Vakatari for the Floating Island, as it is known, in the yearn to unearth the myth following it's existence. I have been living in that area since birth but honestly speaking, this was my first trip to this amazing place.

After an hour of bus drive, I managed to get to the place where this lady my Nana said was familiar with the myth of the Floating Island.

The place was peaceful and clothed in the colours of the vast and ancient place. Ghost gums and roots in the earth as red as blood stood against the expanse of blue sky which lined up in the meandering path down to a restful waterhole.

This waterhole is a drano (or a lake) of approximately 100 square metres in dimension.

It is situated at a remote place, to where one has to travel the entire rutted route to get - named Kurukuru in Nubu (about 60km from Labasa).

This lake is surrounded by pandanus (suluka) tree of almost similar size giving the lake quiet a queer but more of a uniform look.

Upon stepping on the banks of the drano, I felt the ground underneath to be of sand. This is believed to be the remains of the yagona which the Vu's (ancient God) used to consume during their time!

"Isa ... o sa siga ni kila vinaka na vola ni drano" (I don't know much about the Floating Island) were the foremost words of 63-years-old Litiana Dicauna whom my nana said was the only person left in the area vividly knowing the myth.

But she combined with her pal Kesaia Ranuve, 60, and did satisfy my longing for the ancient discovery. I was told to observe some traditional norms during the trip.

The drano is believed to be founded by the Vu (ancient god) of Nubu.

This was because they can have easier excess to the nearby sea for fishing and transportation. They were said to have made a drain (I don't know why they called it a drain because it actually looked like a river) through to the sea.

Once the Vu from Nubu had a fierce battle against the Vu of the neighboring village and this forced the owners of drano to leave the place and reside to a little far away village named Siriaga.

Nothing is particularly special about the lake apart from its appearance. But the thing which is really charismatic is what is floating on the drano.

The drano has two huge islands, one of which amazingly floats. It is believed that both used to make a circular trip around the Floating Island ,however, one of it has anchored itself on the side of the lake.

The one that is still floating is named Vanalato (it is named after a tree) and the one that is not functional is called Vanavadra (pineapple tree). The names have been given after these things were found on the islands.

Dicauna said that the Vanalato and Vanavadra have spiritual guiders who steers the island.

The Vanalato used to move on the tunes of the Bete (or priest) in the olden days but now any person speaking Nubu dialect can command it for a short journey around the drano. Also other people, but rarely, are able to make the island stir.

Only fortunate ones are able to ride on Vanalato .The people also believe that the Floating Island has a captain who is really moody and is the one that navigates the Vanalato. When sometimes the island does not move, it is believed that the captain is missing or not in a mood to steer the drano.

I was told that the Vu (which the people living in Nubu believe is still residing) has a name - Yame-bua-ovo (meaning - fire). Well how the Vu got the name has its own story.

Some centuries ago a white man used to live on the hillside near the lake. One day he ran out of matches (or fire).He mumbled to himself asking if there was any fire left anywhere and to his surprise flames erupted from the lake to his cooking place.

From there on people living near to the lake named the Vu, believed to be still living in the lake, Yame-bua-ovo.

The Source (Origin) of the Lake

The lake is believed to be sourced from a far (almost 60km) place set high amongst the towering cliff called Kiriyaganilali. The shape of this place, I was told, is bit extraordinary - it looks like a house and the door shaped part is where the water surges down forever to far and wide.

The Depth of the Lake

Believe me - no one to date knows how deep the drano is? The bank of the lake is about neck high of an average person but centre is still a mystery. People had tried many times with none succeeding in determining the depth. I was told that about some decades ago a man tried to dive in to check the deepness but he never reappeared again leaving all in a total misery and mystery.

The Evidence that the Vu still resides there

Nine years ago on a beautiful Sunday a boy aged 19 took some visitors who had come to church service in Kelikoso (neighbouring village of Kurukuru) for a trip around the lake.

Let me call this teenager Pita (I know the name but cannot reveal due to privacy) was a bit mischievous youth. During the trip he was bit off the traditional norm that should be practiced during the visit to the place. Everything went well, the Vanalato responded and left the port (where it haboured) making a circular round. When it was on its way back to its base, the boy jumped into the lake ... maybe to take a quick dip because of the searing heat of the day.

Pita was well ahead of Vanalato, swimming towards the land when he suddenly went underneath the water. The other mates accompanying him thought he was just on the way to crack another joke.

But he never came up and a search party was called who later found him somewhere floating about meter down the surface of the lake. He did not even have a scratch on his body and even the doctors were unable to find the cause of his inconceivable death.

This according to the villagers shows that there is still existence of the Vu who looks after the welfare of the drano and his people.

Now and Future

Ranuve and Dicauna sometimes sit under the hurricane lantern light and share the story with their grandchildren.

"They always ask me about the drano and are eager to know more about it," Ranuve said.

As I board on the bus again that day to return home, watching the dust scattering carelessly in the winds, the legend woven in the tapestry of the land kept on banging my head.

Was it true or just another of the tales my grandfather always used to share with me... that is for you to decide!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bringing out the truth

Bringing out the truth
By Geraldine Panapasa - Sunday, February 01, 2009

They performed at the Flood Appeal Concert at Albert Park two weeks ago and have promised to bring the best out of traditional and cultural sounds of Fiji.
The local-based music band Vuku led by talented musician and Fijian chant master Sailasa Cakau (pictured right), is one of many local groups ready to take the world by storm with their fusion of indigenous and modern beats.
As he sat and explained the origins of the group, Sailasa had more than just cultural intuition and pride when talking about the significance of Fijian chants in modern day music.
Quietly sitting beside him was drummer Tevita Sauliga.
The five-member group was formed in 2002 during a yaqona session in Qauia.
Sailasa said the sounds produced from the group are a fusion of traditional Fijian chants and rock beats.
"This is the first time for Fiji to have a group producing a fusion of Fijian chants and rock," said Sailasa, who is also the lead singer, composer, arranger and innovator of Vuku.
"Our drawback is lack of instruments. At the moment, we are using a 12-string guitar and acoustics.
"We have participated at various musical events including the Fiji Music Festival in 2002."
Just like the Irish rock band U2, Vuku is ready to take on the world with their fusion of traditional rhythm and beats, and to share with the world a new genre of music that carries years of Fijian heritage.
Sailasa spent 11 years studying and learning traditional Fijian chants or the I Vola Vivigi Kei Viti (The hidden chronicles of Fiji).
With the help of his father and the elders of Nakorotubu and Nalawa in Ra, Sailasa said the inspiring U2 focused on telling the world about their pain and their cries.
"People are watching Fiji, not only in the political arena but in the kind of music we can come out with," Sailasa said.
"This is the moment for an uprising."
Originally from Tuatua Village on Koro Island, Sailasa says as an indigenous chanter, he had to live off the land to really understand the traditional gist of Fijian chants and heritage.
His ability to understand and relay Fijian chants is like carrying Fiji in the palms of his hands.
The 39-year old said success for the group is when they perform or play.
"It's not about the money but about the knowledge passed down from our elders. It's not about a race," he said.
"I want to bring about a revolution in Fiji through my music. I gave the first track for George Veikoso's Transition album called Na Vatu Kwe, meaning 'this jewel', referring to the people of Fiji.
"Also chants in the Killer album for Black Rose. I just want to empower other musicians that the world of music is a big market.
"And there's even space for our music."
The eldest of eight siblings, Sailasa was born and bred in Suva. His mother, Mere Tora was a trainer for caregivers while his father, Laisiasa Tora is a draftsman or land technician.
His mother introduced him to orchestra and with his passion for music firmly intact Sailasa braved his way through the challenges of the Fiji music industry.
He attended primary school at Delainamasi in Suva and Lautoka Fijian.
Sailasa continued his secondary education at Natabua High. He joined the National Youth Band and was awarded top honours in 1992.
He was awarded the best performer of the year award and most outstanding student of the year.
"I continued my interest in studying western music and traditional chants. I went on to teach music at Natabua High, Suva Grammar School and International Secondary School in Suva, and Koro High School," he said.
"From 1998 to 2007, I was the first musician in residence at the Oceania Centre at the University of the South Pacific.
"I would encourage the people of Fiji especially the cauravou to stand up for truth, for the needy and for the silenced," he said.
"Bring your heritage out. Put more value on your heritage because it's the truth about your past and future."