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!

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