05 Dec 2019
ESCAPE TO LELEUVIA – A VOYAGE OF MANY DISCOVERIES
History and leisure mingle well at Leleuvia Island Resort where travellers may experience the sea and sun while reflecting on the sands of time.
Long popular with backpackers, holiday makers and locals looking to flee Suva’s congested routine, Leveuvia is perfectly placed, offering the “close enough to reach quickly but far enough to be an escape” sort of attraction.
Straddling the waters between Tailevu and Lomaiviti, Leleuvia Island Resort is designed to give travellers a taste of truly relaxing Fijian living in a truly eco-friendly environment.
Guests get to sample the resort’s efforts to maintain Leleuvia’s biodiversity and history.
The eco-haven boasts green initiatives that include a plastic bag and bottle ban (which is enforced by checking that guests boarding the boat do not take them to the island).
The resort allows only “reef friendly” sunscreen and has an ongoing 7-year ban on the harvest of all marine life around the island.
Marine life flourish in the waters around Leleuvia where fish come up to you, coral flowers bloom and both giant and baby clams have been nurtured successfully.
Situated on the beach and neatly nestled underneath coconut palms, all 20 bures are made almost entirely out of natural products and beautiful beach mahogany.
In the middle of the village is the large central meeting bure which often doubles as an art gallery, a necessary extension of the Waisiliva gallery which sits on top of the main dining area.
Every other weekend, guests will rub shoulders with leading lights of Fiji’s literary community. Frequently, bonfires along Leleuvia’s beaches will be the dramatic backdrop to a gathering of poets and musicians or yogis and outrigger canoe paddlers!
Under the main dining bure, a large deck rolls onto the white sandy beach overlooking the turquoise water, where another of Leleuvia’s frequent visitors may be moored – the Uto ni Yalo.
Biggest of all the marine crafts on the resort, the Uto ni Yalo uses Leleuvia as a second home port and in doing so gives guests the opportunity to sail on a replica of a traditional iTaukei canoe.
The double-hulled canoe (which has sailed around the world) is a completely clean energy vessel promoting sustainable sea transportation. Its long term goal is to get Fijians back to the ocean – a fitting and noble cause, given the Waisiliva legacy.
Translated to mean silver water, the term – made famous by folklore, songs and oral history passed down through generations of Fijians – Waisiliva describes the beauty of the surrounding sea.
In ancient times, these waters were home to the Lasakau Sea Warriors, a 19th-century warrior sub-culture – “a sort of naval force” as French naval officer Dumont d’Urville described them.
The Lasakau Sea Warriors, built a proud seafaring and sea warring heritage on which Bau and its chiefs built their power and influence.
It is not dissimilar to the voyaging nature of the Lapita people who historians say came through Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands on epic voyages to colonise other Pacific islands thousands of miles away.
In fact, Leleuvia has a unique proximity in Fijian and Pacific history and it all has to do with a woman who lived in the area hundreds of years ago.
Archeologists named her Mana.
She had lain on her side on the island of Moturiki next to Leleuvia, hands clasped underneath her, as if to rest but did not get up from where she lay, sometime between 790–789 BC.
More than three thousand years after Mana was buried on Naitabale in Moturiki, archeologists dug up her remains and by doing so shook the very foundation of Fiji’s archeological history.
Moturiki, like Leleuvia, is as beautiful as it is mysterious – and little was previously known about the hilly island situated in the heart of Fiji’s central province, Lomaiviti.
It is now one of the most important sites of Pacific history.
That fact is not lost on the islanders of Moturiki nor on the team that operates nearby Leleuvia Island Resort.
Samisoni Bautabua, who looks after activities and events at Leleuvia Island Resort lives on Moturiki and was there in 2002 when they found the ancient ancestor.
“When I realized there were human remains, I got down to help uncover the skeleton. I helped to clear all the soil and sand away from her body beginning with her hands all the way up to her neck and ending with her teeth. I could see she was lying on her hands as if to sleep,” Bautabua said.
The Naitabale site, excavated in 2002 by a team of researchers from the University of the South Pacific and Fiji Museum would for the first time ever give people a look at what someone from the Lapita age might have looked like.
According to Professor Patrick Nunn, the former Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) of the University of the South Pacific (USP), the Lapita are a race who lived between 550 – 1100 BC and are now known to have been the original inhabitants of Fiji and many parts of the Pacific.
Scientists at USP, Japan’s Kyoto University and Nagoya University as well as Otago University in New Zealand determined Mana to have been 40 – 60 years old when she died.
“We were very excited when we realized that we had found the skeleton and we went through all the proper channels and all the proper protocols to get permission to disinter the skeleton,” Professor Nunn said.
“We realize that there was an exceptional opportunity to, therefore, recreate the head and particularly the face of this individual and it was the first time then that we were able to recreate the face of a person who had lived in Fiji during the very earliest times.”
Her face, put together through computer remodeling answers many questions about who the earliest people of Fiji and the Pacific may have looked like. It also raises many other questions.
Bautabua hopes the Naitabale excavation site will one day host visitors who are interested to learn what became of this seafaring Lapita race.
As traces of the Lapita continue to be found all over Fiji and the Pacific, Mana may help uncover a lot of clues to their journey. A journey most likely taken on a traditional craft like the Uto ni Yalo.
Her people left behind pieces of a story that spans across Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
“I would like visitors to learn that we are an old civilization. I dream of the day when there will be places on Naitabale where people can sit and learn our history. I know people will want to visit the site that tells of our history,” says Bautabua.
It is a dream that is already becoming a reality for guests of Leleuvia Island Resort.
Escape to Leleuvia: a voyage of many discoveries
by LICE MOVONO