Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ro Veidovi of Rewa - Right and Wrong

Nothing but the truth

by Ro Alipate Mataitini

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dona Takalaiyale, on instructions of the Roko Tui Dreketi, pleaded in the letters column of a newspaper on Saturday, January 9, 2010, that those closely related by blood to the Roko Tui Dreketi desist from making any more public comments about Ro Veidovi. Three days later, in direct contravention of this, he made the same plea in the Fiji Times of Tuesday, January 12, but then went further with a feature article published in the Fiji Times. I will make this my final comment on the issue.

The reaction from Dona was emotional and expected, since it went against the very things that some people hold dear the glorification of a period that was rife with sibling rivalry, fratricide, parricide, vanua politics, hero worship and cannibalism. Indeed, these characteristics are still very much at play in Rewa today in one form or another.

Interestingly, Dona (and those behind him) show scant respect for the close relationship between the vunivalu of Rewa and the Roko Tui Dreketi on the one hand, and that of the two chiefly households with the vanua on the other. Otherwise, he would not have made such inappropriate comments.

Dona's loyalty to the Roko Tui Dreketi is not in question; that there was an invitation from the Smithsonian Institute is not in question either. The truth hurts, though, and I insist that to call Ro Veidovi anything other than what he was is simply glossing over the truth, whatever the age he lived in.

Dona need only read the article by Dr Roderick Ewans in the Fiji Times of Monday, January 4, 2010 to confirm the manner in which the media had been trying to "re-invent" and "lionize" (Dr Ewans' terms) a man, albeit of chiefly blood, who, in fact, broke the law. I personally do not know Dr Ewans, but his comments are quite telling, coming from a person with no agenda except the quest for the truth.

Ro Veidovi was indeed a chief to be reckoned with. This was never suggested otherwise. The fact is that he was directly responsible for the death of 10 Americans, for which he was convicted and sent to the United States to serve his sentence.

To suggest that he came aboard the Peacock out of love and respect for the hostages Roko Tui Dreketi and his entourage is erroneous. Had it not been for Ro Qaraniqio, Ro Veidovi would probably sooner have had Ro Banuve out of the way in order to lay claim to the title himself. Brotherly and familial love at the time is something overrated today.

Ro Veidovi's brothers were Ro Koroitamana (also known as Mataitini), killed by warriors because he murdered his father, the then Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Tabaiwalu; Ro Macanawai, clubbed to death by his brother Ro Tuisawau (also called Seru) who was in turn murdered by gunshot by Ro Veidovi (there you go again); Vakatawanavatu, who was killed in war; and Ro Banuve, the Roko Tui Dreketi himself who was killed by the hands of his Bauan cousins. The other brothers were Ro Cokanauto, known as Philips, and Ro Qaraniqio, who was said of all the brothers to have the mien and bearing of a true chief.

This cycle of death and murder was somewhat the norm in those days. But with the advent of the white man and of Christianity, a day of reckoning had to eventuate. Whether or not Ro Veidovi's actions were justified was a matter of law, and Ro Veidovi was found wanting on the American scales of justice of the time.

He was taken to the US, died on the first day he arrived in New York and was buried there. I say let him rest in peace there at the Cypress Hills National Cemetery.

To set the record straight, the initial reason for raising my concerns was to correct Dona's assertion that Ro Qaraniqio was the vunivalu of Rewa at the time. Dona repeated this throughout his television interview on Noda Gauna. This program was even aired repeatedly, further exacerbating this falsity. I therefore felt it my responsibility to disseminate information based on facts and devoid of any emotional outburst.

The line between the vunivalu and the Roko Tui Dreketi has always been clear, and to suggest that Ro Qaraniqio, as a brother of the Roko Tui Dreketi, was vunivalu, is incorrect. There was never any suggestion that the vunivalu at the time and Ro Qaraniqio were mentioned as one and the same person.

The weight of evidence, both written and oral, would judge both records that Dona referred to as erroneous in this respect, at least. One needs only to visit Lomanikoro in Rewa to observe the physical set-up of the residences of the vunivalu and the Roko Tui Dreketi, and to confirm that the chiefly households are of equal status and that deference to the Roko Tui Dreketi in Rewa is a case of being first among equals. Even the traditional dualistic set-up throughout the province of Rewa is indicative of this, and for Dona not to acknowledge this is the height of self-denial.

Furthermore, the two families merged when the Roko Tui Dreketi Ro Banuve's daughter, Ro Saunalewa, married the then vunivalu, Ro Veceli Musudroka. Today's vunivalu, Ro Epeli Vakacaracara Mataitini, is a direct descendant of that union.

Ro Veceli Musudroka was, indeed, originally from Namosi and his descendants are extremely proud of it and actively maintain this link.

The current vunivalu, therefore, is originally from Namosi, being a direct descendant of one of the first settlers in the Delta together with the Vusavasu, Burenivalu and Nakauraki clans. This fact has never been denied and is recorded with the Native Lands and Fisheries Commission in the "Tukutuku Raraba" for Rewa. Dona would do well not to further denigrate the people of Namosi since he would be cutting his nose to spite his own face.

Dona's comments that "the Veceli Musudroka... is from Namosi... and that Veceli's descendants still live amongst us in Lomanikoro" is extremely disrespectful of the vunivalu. Sad to say, this is unfortunate.

Dona also questioned my mandate to be commenting on Ro Veidovi.

The current vunivalu, my father, is the great-grandson of Ro Veceli Musudroka and the great-great grandson (through his great-grandmother, Ro Saunalewa) of the Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Banuve (Kania), half-brother to Ro Veidovi.

I, therefore, need no mandate from Ro Veidovi's direct descendants, since I am a descendant of both the Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Banuve, and the vunivalu, Ro Veceli Musudroka.

Given his emotional reaction and the false, derogatory comments about Ro Veceli Musudroka and his descendants and the people of Namosi, Dona's letter is hardly worthy of a person professing to be of the Sauturaga clan.

Dona refers to a Roko Tui Dreketi who accepted Christianity. It was Ro Banuve himself. I would have him know also that when Reverend William Cross arrived in Rewa, the Tongans were already conducting praise and worship sessions there, courtesy of the vunivalu.

Dona professes to be insulted and hurt. I make no apologies for having to set the record straight. It teaches us all the lesson that we need to get our facts straight before we represent ourselves as experts on critical and sensitive matters affecting relationships.

My views are, of course, very personal indeed, and I meant them to be nothing other than personal. I am related to Ro Veidovi after all; but I am not going to alter history simply because of that fact.

Finally, in this day and age, when those we defer to are supposed to be guiding us through a more enlightened path towards the saving Grace of God, we want righteous, respectful and God-fearing leaders who will take us forward by standing in the gap against our demons of the past. The last thing we need is leaders who keep us well and truly riveted to the past.

We need not renounce our past; just the ungodly actions of the past. There is a difference.

Anything less is a glorification of sin, and a mockery of God.

May the truth set us free and allow Ro Veidovi to rest in peace.

* Ro Alipate Mataitini is a son of the vunivalu of Rewa. He is a lawyer and a former journalist.

by Dona Tuicaumia Takalaiyale

www.fijitimes.com - Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I REFER to the opinion piece (FT 02/01) by Alivate Mataitini purporting to set the record straight about Ro Veidovi and would be grateful for an opportunity to respond.

Alivate discussed at length the commentary I voluntarily gave Fiji TV for the vernacular program Noda Gauna, which was re-screened on the evening of Monday, December 28.

First and foremost I wish to state that the comments I made on Fiji TV and to other members of the media, were with the full knowledge and approval of my Gone Marama Bale Na Roko Tui Dreketi, who was hosting members of the media to lunch at Valelevu.

These comments were made in my traditional role as the Sauturaga, Chief Advisor of the Roko Tui Dreketi

The recent resurgence of interest in the life story of Ro Veidovi stems from a very generous invitation which was extended in recognition of the Gone Marama Bale, as the direct descendant of Ro Veidovi and the current Roko Tui Dreketi, by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. through the United States Embassy here in Suva.

Because the invitation was received by the Gone Marama Bale on the eve of her departure for Los Angeles in June last year, the invitation was not discussed until her return.

At the suggestion of the Smithsonian Institution and the Embassy of the United States, we have attempted to involve the media in retelling and sharing with the people of Rewa the fascinating life of Ro Veidovi and have also approached the Permanent Secretary for Information to involve the Government Archives in this invitation.

In planning our response to this invitation we have also fully informed the Permanent Secretary for Indigenous Affairs and the Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

While some historical events are lost in the mist of time and relegated to unsubstantiated oral history please allow me to respond to some very serious and offensive allegations made by Alivate regarding the story of Ro Veidovi.

To call Ro Veidovi a murderer is extremely offensive. In the historical context of the time, Ro Veidovi was a warrior chieftain and he was renown throughout the delta and the surrounding islands as a chief to be reckoned with.

If as Alivate implies, Ro Veidovi was bent on undermining the authority of the Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Kania Banuve, why would he have so willingly given himself up to go to the ship Peacock where the members of Valelevu were being held. This was because of his respect and love for the Roko Tui Dreketi and the members of Valelevu held captive aboard.

Alivate also mentions that Ro Qaraniqio was not the vunivalu at the time.

In the published diary of the Methodist missionary John Hunt, The Inheritance of Hope, (pp: 117) it is clearly stated that Ro Qaraniqio was indeed and in fact the vunivalu at that time. Records of the Catholic Church also mention the same, which is in accordance with the oral history we were taught as children.

The Veceli Musudroka recorded in history is from Namosi and what we do know is that Veceli's descendants still live amongst us in Lomanikoro.

Also to state that Commodore Wilkes named Vendovi Island in the Puget Sound off Washington State "to humour the sorrowful Veidovi," is merely repeating a very subjective conjecture and reflects more of the unkind disposition of the writer rather than a true reflection of the relationship between Commodore Wilkes and Ro Veidovi.

All of the information I relayed to the media including Fiji TV was as a result of written historical documents and not something I nor members of Valelevu created to alter the life story of Ro Veidovi.

If he had bothered to ask me, I would have been more than willing to share with Alivate the books and documents from which I gathered the facts of Ro Veidovi.

For Alivate to imply embellishment is not only mischievous but extremely disrespectful to the members of Valelevu and to me personally.

It is also very presumptious of Alivate to place the history of Ro Veidovi in perspective as he carries no mandate from Ro Veidovi's direct descendants.

In closing Alivate claims Ro Veidovi was a victim of the circumstances and the time in which he lived, which is in direct contradiction of his rather vitriolic opinion piece, in which he has lambasted the memory of our high chief.

It is unfortunate and ill informed of Alivate to judge the actions and life of Ro Veidovi from a modern day perspective and not from the historical and social context in which this high chief lived his life.

If Ro Veidovi were present to defend his story today, I rather suspect Alivate would be singing a completely different tune.

On Monday the previous week, the members of Valelevu led by the Gone Marama Bale visited the chiefly household of the Ratu Mai Verata at Nasobasoba.

This is because, like all Fijians the world over, they are proud and happy to acknowledge and affirm their past, and their chiefly ties which are still being maintained today. With all of its highs and lows, the lessons of the past make us what we are now.

For example in Rewa we are not foolishly proud but humbled that Reverend Cross brought the Living Word to Rewa resulting in the dissemination of the Gospel through the vei Mataki network in Viti Levu. We are humbly proud that this was God's plan for Rewa and would never renounce the decision of the Roko Tui Dreketi to accept Christianity.

Perhaps Alivate should seriously examine why he wishes to renounce his past, because we in the delta lands of Rewa only wish to learn from our history and environment that has made us what we celebrate today.

Over the New Year's Eve weekend I was summoned by my Gone Marama Bale Na Roko Tui Dreketi, Adi Teimumu V. Kepa, to Valelevu and she has requested I convey to all who are genuinely connected to Valelevu through blood and vanua ties and have the interest of Rewa and Burebasaga at heart, that this should be our last joint response to Alivate Mataitini's opinion piece about our late chiefly ancestor, Ro Veidovi.

May his soul now rest in peace.

* Dona Tuicaumia Takalaiyale is sauturaga of Navolau, Lomanikoro in Rewa.

Ro Veidovi: Hero or villain

Saturday, January 02, 2010

ON Monday, December 28, Noda Gauna presented the story of Ro Veidovi, the half-brother of the then Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Banuve, also known as Ro Kania.

While it made for interesting viewing, the information provided by Dona Takalaiyale was not factual.

Takalaiyale's attempts to gloss over what was essentially one of the more infamous periods in Rewa's history with supposed proper chiefly behaviour ultimately demeans those who were affected at the time by Ro Veidovi's criminal act.

By Ro Veidovi's arrest and transport to New York, the Roko Tui Dreketi also lost a brother.

Indeed, the actions of Ro Veidovi brought to the fore the vindictive character of the Americans who, like all colonialists, would not let such an action go unpunished, especially when committed by a native.

Ten people lost their lives through Ro Veidovi's deception.

Those whose bodies were recovered were buried at sea, only to float to the surface to be eaten by the very people who slew them.

So instead of trying to embellish the character of Ro Veidovi, one should put things in their proper perspective and admit that he really was nothing more than a mischief-maker who sought to undermine the authority of the Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Banuve at every turn, and someone who was ultimately a murderer who was arrested and sent to the United States in New York to serve his sentence there.

Ro Veidovi was directly responsible for the murder on September 5, 1834 in Ono, Kadavu of ten crew members of the American brig Charles Doggett. Eight of these men were American. Their deaths were witnessed by a beachcomber, Paddy Connel, who was aboard the Charles Doggett which was anchored off Ono.

Connel was the chief witness when Ro Veidovi was brought to justice six year later.

Ro Veidovi voluntarily gave himself up on May 22, 1840 after being persuaded by his half-brother, Ro Qaraniqio to do so, since their brother and Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Banuve and his entourage were being held hostage overnight aboard the Peacock.

The vessel was one of four of a squadron of ships commanded by Commodore Charles Wilkes on a scientific expedition of the Pacific. Commodore Wilkes had been instructed by the United States Navy to bring Ro Veidovi to Brooklyn.

It has be said here that Ro Qaraniqio was not the Vunivalu as claimed by Dona Takalaiyale in Noda Gauna.

The Vunivalu at the time was Ro Veceli Musudroka, who was also aboard the Peacock as a member of the Roko Tui Dreketi's party.

In volunteering to bring back Ro Veidovi, Ro Qaraniqio was not doing this out of any interest other than his own.

Ro Veidovi was his main rival in the impending struggle for the title of Roko Tui Dreketi once the incumbent, Ro Banuve died.

With Ro Veidovi out of the way, the path was clear for his eventual assumption of the title.

Nevertheless, the reality was that the Americans cared little about who was the Roko Tui Dreketi, so long as the reverence with which the title was held by all Rewans was enough to compel Ro Veidovi to give himself up.

Simply put, Ro Veidovi was a murderer and he had to be brought to justice.

He was put in chains and the Peacock proceeded to continue on its expedition back to America.

The vessel ran aground off the Columbia River and Ro Veidovi was transferred aboard the Vincennes, flagship of Commodore Wilkes.

So Ro Veidovi was aboard the Vincennes, not the Peacock, when it arrived in New York on July 11, 1842.

He was said to have been heartbroken when the master's mate, Benjamin Vanderford, his close friend during the two year journey from Fiji to New York died (documents say that Commodore Wilkes named one of the islands off Puget Sound Vendovi Island, essentially "to humour sorrowful Vendovi").

However, he had contracted pulmonary tuberculosis during the long journey and died two hours after arrival.

He was buried at the Brooklyn Naval Cemetery and later re-interred at the Cypress Hills National Cemetery in New York.

That Ro Veidovi became a celebrity was therefore far-fetched.

His death was indeed of interest to New York's penny press at the time, but more for the method with which his head was detached from the rest of his body to be added to a collection at the Smithsonian Institute called the "The National Cabinet of Curiosities".

Fifteen years ago, I was studying in New York when my wife, Leba visited me from home.

Together with Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu (now Tui Cakau and who was then undergoing post-graduate studies in Washington) and Lui Vunibobo, we went to the Cypress Hills National Cemetery to visit Ro Veidovi's grave.

We were pointed to the site, but the spot was bare where he was supposed to have been buried.

There was no headstone; neither were there any other indications to suggest that we were at grave.

But we did feel a connection and that was all we needed to assure us that we were indeed standing at his gravesite.

Leba had brought a piece of masi and a bouquet of flowers, which she laid on the site.

We said a short prayer for the repose of Ro Veidovi's soul and left.

The quest to know one's past to be able to face the future better, however, can never be achieved when the objective is blurred because the inevitable result will be economy with the truth.

Recent articles and comments on Ro Veidovi have tended toward being pompous and overweening, bordering on the narcissistic.

Rather than pulling skeletons out of the closet, it would be much more beneficial for those living in the present to respect each other, making sure that in thought, word and action, the motive for anything we set out to do must be right before God.

Ro Veidovi was an essential element in the history of Rewa, but his role must be placed in its proper perspective.

He was a victim of his own generation, subject to the atrocities of the time like murder, abuse and cannibalism, memories of which can only be expunged by the telling of the truth, rather than an embellishment of what were really acts that should never be condoned.

Really, the past is not something to be proud of.

As a Christian, I say these past actions should be renounced; not repeated as folklore. A blessed 2010 to all.

* Ro Alipate Mataitini is the son of the Vunivalu of Rewa, Ro Epeli Mataitini and is a lawyer by profession.

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