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CHIEFS OF FIJI’S TAILEVU SEEK ‘VUNIVALU’ LEADER Top chiefly title vacant since 1989

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, May 12, 2008) - The chiefly households of Tailevu have been holding talks to find a new Vunivalu of Bau, the title held by Ratu Seru Cakobau - the ‘King of Fiji’ who ceded the country to Great Britain to settle a debt in 1874.

The title has been vacant since 1989 following the death of the last Vunivalu, Fiji’s first local Governor General Ratu Sir George Cakobau.

Ratu Sir George held the title since 1957, succeeding his father Ratu Popi Seniloli, and was considered by many as Fiji’s highest-ranking traditional chief.

[PIR editor’s note: Tailevu, one of Fiji's 14 provinces, is located in the southeastern region of the main island of Viti Levu. The biggest town in Tailevu is Nausori. The "vunivalu of Bau" is generally considered the most important chiefly title in Fiji.]

It is understood that recent moves to fill the post have been prompted by the policy of the current administration to only include traditionally installed chiefs in the Great Council of Chiefs.

Lawyer Ratu Savenaca Komaisavai, a descendent of one of the signatories of the Deed of Cession - Ratu Varani a feared warlord of the then Vunivalu, confirms there have been "at least two meetings on Bau in the last three weeks."

He confirms the contenders for the title are Adi Samanunu Talakuli Cakobau (Fiji’s former High Commissioner to Malaysia), her younger brother Ratu George Kadavulevu Cakobau, Ratu Epenisa Cakobau and interim Foreign Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau.

Fijilive has been reliably informed that the title could go to either half-brother, Ratu George or Ratu Epenisa, sons of the former Vunivalu from two separate marriages.

The Native Land Commission may have to adjudicate on the matter if the Bau chiefs do not agree on a name.

Ratu Savenaca said the ‘high-powered’ discussions on Bau are part of the reason for the delay of the Tailevu Provincial Council.

The council was to have met early this month but will now be convened on May 15.

"The seat has been vacant for too long. It’s been very frustrating," he said.

"We want to iron the matter out before the sitting of the next GCC."

Tailevu Provincial Council chairman Jo Serulagilagi said he was not privy to the discussions on Bau.

Neither could he confirm if the Vunivalu issue will be on the agenda of the next provincial council meeting.

"The discussion on the Vunivalu is only for the chiefs," he said.

"But, at the council meeting, all will be there -- including the lower ranks and the chiefs. The matter may be raised then."

Serulagilagi said the delay in the meeting of the Tailevu Provincial Council meeting is because of the Fijian Affairs Board.

"They have to first make formal appointments for the ‘mata ni turaga’ (chief’s representatives) before the council sits. Five have yet to be appointed."

A Look at the Claimants

(Source: Who’s Who in Fiji by Reverend Samuel Berwick)

Ratu Epeli Nailatikau: Born in 1941, he is a retired military officer and diplomat.

Family: Ratu Epeli is the son of former Deputy Prime Minister Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau and Adi Lady Vasemaca Tuiburelevu. He is married to Adi Koila Nailatikau, daughter of former Prime Minister and President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. They have one son and a daughter.

Education: Ratu Epeli was educated at Levuka Public School, Queen Victoria School and Oxford University (foreign service course). For his military service he was educated at New Zealand Army School in Waioru and the Australian Army Staff College in Queenscliffe.

Career: Commissioned in the army in 1963, he was made platoon commander the following year. He was seconded to NZ Army in 1966 before being appointed Second Secretary with the Fiji Mission to the United Nations in 1972 to 1974. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and named commanding officer of Fiji regiment to UNIFIL in 1978. Was RFMF Chief of Staff in 1980 before being appointed RFMF Commander in June 1982. Deposed in 1987 coup and has since been High Commissioner to UK and Speaker of Parliament before interim Government appointment after 2006 coup.

Adi Samanunu Talakuli-Cakobau: A diplomat and politician.

Family: Eldest daughter of last Vunivalu Ratu Sir George Cakobau from his first marriage to Adi Veniana Gavoka. Her other siblings include Adi Litia Cakobau and Ratu George Cakobau. Adi Samanunu is married to former British Army soldier Ratu Manasa Talakuli of Nakelo and has lived outside Fiji for a number of years.

Career: Her return to Fiji in the late 1990s sparked a court case which declared she was not a Fiji citizen. She has since served as a senator, Cabinet minister and diplomat. Her last diplomatic posting was as Fiji’s High Commissioner to Malaysia.

Ratu George Kadavulevu Cakobau: Former Senator and soldier.

Family: Son of the last Vunivalu Ratu Sir George Cakobau from his first married to Adi Veniana Gavoka. Siblings include Adi Samanunu Talakuli and Adi Litia Cakobau.

Career: Ratu George is a former soldier and Senator. Little is known of him outside Bauan circles.

Ratu Epenisa Cakobau: The youngest of the claimants he is a businessman.

Family: Ratu Epenisa is the eldest son of the last Vunivalu, Ratu Sir George Cakobau, from his second marriage to Lady Seruwaia Lelea. He was married into the chiefly Toranibau clan of Batiki but is separated.

Career: Ratu Epenisa is a businessman who has been active in sports, social, community and provincial levels.

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