By Robert Matau

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 15, 2008) – The Vunivalu of Rewa, often the chief behind the scenes of all things Rewa, actually commands the fierce loyalty of his people.

This was evident last week as the people of Rewa commemorated the end of mourning for the late Ro Jone Mataitini.

[PIR editor’s note: Rewa province is located in southeast Viti Levu Island and is where Fiji’s national capital of Suva is situated.]

The Vunivalu is the traditional warrior-chief who keeps the affairs of his people close to heart.

The Vunivalu also enjoys the support of half the people of Rewa (the other half, of course coming under the Roko Tui Dreketi)

The four mataqali that first settled in Rewa were Nukunitabua, Yavusavasu, Burenivalu and Nakauraki, who are now living in Vutia.

Lomanikoro and Vutia people affectionately call each other Drega, but refer to the Yavusa Nakauraki in Vutia as Mataqali.

Ro Jone was always close to the late Roko Tui Dreketi Ro Lady Lala Mara.

His only surviving brother is former Senator Ro Epeli Mataitini, currently NLTB board member and most likely next in line for the Vunivalu title.

He has three surviving sisters, Ro Saunalewa (mother of Permanent Secretary for Tourism Environment Ro Banuve Kaumaitotoya), Ro Litiana, and Ro Qereitoga (mother-in-law of Ro Filipe Tuisawau).

The vow by his nephew last week Ro Aca Mataitini, while presenting the magiti vakavanua to the vanua of Rewa and the paramount chief of Rewa, Ro Teimumu Kepa was another age-old assurance.

He was pledging what his ancestors had done many centuries before.

Since the first Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Rawalai was installed by the vanua of Rewa on Lomanikoro it has been the Vunivalu's, and the tribes he commanded, solemn vow to lead the vanua in protecting their chief.

The book "Customs of the Fiji Group," written by United States Commodore Charles Wilkes in the early 1880s, describes how the Vunivalu would summon his troops in preparation for war.

He said as the troops near their enemy, the Vunivalu, or general, makes a speech to each separate tribe.

He (Vunivalu) would use praises and taunts, or exhortation, as he thinks best suited to the purpose, to excite them to deeds of bravery.

Words like, "You say you are a brave people."

"You have made great promises, now we will see how you keep them. To me you look more like slaves than fighting men. Here are strangers come to fight us. Let us see who the best men are. To another tribe he would say: Where do you come from?"

Wilkes writes that this would provoke one of the tribesmen to strike the ground with his club and reply by naming the name of his foundations which Fijians refer to as dela ni yavu tabu.

Then the Vunivalu would reply: "Ah. I have heard of you; you boast yourselves to be brave men; we shall see what you are; I doubt whether you will do much. You seem to be more like men fit to plant and dig yams than to fight."

Rewa was settled from Verata by Roko Ratu (who was also known as Ro Melasiga) and was Rokomoutu the first Koya Na Ratu Mai Verata's younger brother.

Commodore Wilkes noted that the Roko Tui Dreketi had their own pennant - the flag that only chiefs of high rank possess.

The colour of that flag was four or five vertical black and white stripes.

He noted too that the Vunivalu of Rewa also had his own flag which was black and white horizontal stripes. Testament to his own high status.

Last week we revealed how the grandsons of Verata were granted pennants for taking part in the race at Walu in Verata including Vuetiverata the first Roko Tui Bau and then principle chief of Bau.

The patriarch Lutunasobasoba's children in order include: Buisavulu, Rokomautu, Rokoratu or Romelasiga, Tuinayavu, Daunisai and Sagavulunavuda.

David Routledge states in his book Matanitu that Rokoratu travelled from the Verata coast to Rewa in his canoe at Namako' and settled at Dreketi in the southwest coast of the delta.

But before Roko Ratu arrived, the yavusa Burenivalu were already living there and apparently were led to Lomanikoro by the Vunivalu himself.

The Burenivalu are made up of the six villages of Nadoi, Drekena, Vunuku, Narocivo Tavuya and Lokia.

The Drekena serenaders sing in their song about Rewa - the abundance of the moci (baby prawns), kuka (small crabs), bonu (eels that dwell in the mangroves) and mana (mud lobster) because these are the dishes that the Burenivalu pamper their chiefs with.

It is understood that Ro Rawalai arrived at Burebasaga when the Vunivalu and the Burenivalu were settled in Lomanikoro.

"One of our elders went up to the chief one day while doing chores for him in Burebasaga and standing a little distance away he opened a fresh parcel of rourou vaka utona - or moci baby prawns wrapped in rourou or dalo leaves," he said.

"As the smoky scent of the food aroused the young chief's taste buds, the elder of the Burenivalu clan started talking to the chief.

"He told the chief that if he wanted to eat such food he should cross the river and resettle with the Burenivalu in Lomanikoro."

Until this day the Burenivalu continue to perform this function and prepare the special delicacy for their chief.

There are other tales of the Burenivalu and their turtle catchers who do not go deep sea fishing but simply drag in beached turtles, as if they were steered to land, when the Roko Tui Dreketi wants to feed the vanua for a special function. Where some would call these things tales others refer to it as sau or mystical powers.

When the chief Ro Rawalai moved, however, he maintained the name Burebasaga in memory and out of respect for his old home while the chiefs in Burebasaga maintained the title Roko Tuni Mata Dreketi.

Ro Aca said the first title they bestowed upon Ro Rawalai was Tui Dreketi.

That changed later to Roko Tui Dreketi to give significance to the vast areas they were to lead.

Some members of the Vunivalu tribes in Namosi moved to Serua then on to Rewa.

Last week we related how Rokomautu's second eldest son, Rovarovaivalu left Verata and settled in Levuka then travelled to Namosi confirming the common names of the two vanua (Nabukebuke). It is most likely that branches of the same tribes resettled in the islet opposite Nasali Landing and eventually at Lomanikoro.

Today the people of Rewa call Verata people Mataqali in recognition of these close ties.

But in recognition of the Vunivalu's status, the tribes of the Burenivalu who accompanied the Vunivalu, are divided into two one lot under the Roko Tui Dreketi and the other under the Vunivalu.

Legend has it that when Roko Ratu had settled in Rewa his brother visited him from Verata and they travelled to Suva where they divided the borders of land.

Roko Ratu later installed his own son Ro Rawalai as the chief giving him the title Tui Dreketi, Routledge states in Matanitu.

As his home was in Dreketi they name the area today as Vuniyavu or origins or foundations.

When Ro Aca pledged, last week that if anyone left the Roko Tui Dreketi, the Vunivalu clans would stick by the chief's side, he was pledging and cementing the ancient ties that have kept the vanua of Rewa together ever since the Vunivalu arrived in Rewa.

He was also calling on his own tribes, just like those before him, to stand by their chief and rise to their various calling.

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