This song relays the general belief of the modern Fijian that their ancestry, origin, journey and settlement in Fiji began in Africa. The surprising fact however, is that this song was never sung by the first Fijians who came into contact with missionaries and the period leading into and after the deed of cession.
Thomas William a missionary-anthropologist who arrived in Fiji in 1839 studied the native Fijians and could not trace an origin even noting ‘that native songs are silent in the matter’.
The story of the journey involving the Kaunitoni was first told to Sir Basil Thompson by a Jonacani Dabeta of Beqa around the early 1890’s. He discusses this journey in his book ‘South Sea Yarns’ published in 1892.
Reverend Ilaitia Tuwere also discussed this in his book ‘Vanua:Towards a Fijian Theology of Place’. He mentions that this belief became widely publicised by Ratu Kitione Vesikula, a chief from Verata (the home of Lutunasobasoba) in a series of radio broadcasts. The methodist church and also the government then helped in the dissemination of this legend which has now become widely believed by native Fijians as the story of their origin.
This is the English translation of the song:
Our ancestors, let me tell you
How they travelled from South Africa Verata their true village
From one side of the lake in Tanganiyika
Lutunasobasoba their leader
In their journey from South Africa With his wife
Lady from Egypt
Lutunasobasoba has five children
They are our chiefs
Only one daughter
O Bui Savulu staying in Bureta (Ovalau)
Roko Moutu staying in Verata
Vela Siga is in Burebasiga
Tui Nayavu in Batiki
Dau ni Sai is in Kabara
The reason they came away
Because of a wasting illness
They crossed the Atlantic Ocean
Looking for a land in the Pacific
A hurricane hit them
They felt unsafe in their canoe
In the Kaunitoni and the Duibana
The Kaunitera is the name of their canoe
Lutunasobasoba was wailing
Oh my descendents, I feel sorry for you
My stone chest has been emptied
And it goes with my book
Whether this legend only written around 1890 in a book called South Sea Yarns is true or not is open to debate. It is true that legends and family ties are close between the villages mentioned in the song. It is difficult to ascertain but it is likely that this ties were present before the book was published.
Something that can be questioned is the chest and a ‘book’ that sank in the ocean during a storm. There are no known writings in ancient Fiji but there are some caves that have inscriptions and carvings and some even claiming that they resemble old Hebrew characters.
But that is all conjecture and we will leave it there.