Gone but not forgotten

Josaia Soso and his wife Lili Cagituevei wih their two granddaughters at Vuninuku village. Picture LUKE RAWALAI

WHEN you enter Vuninuku Village, the central part of far-flung Cikobia Island, a monument located on a vacant spot looms large, bearing a dark history that still haunts villagers to this day.

The monument is the remnant and only reminder of the 21 lives lost in a sea mishap that occurred between Vanua Levu and the island in 1995.

To this day the disappearance without a trace of the 21 people who were headed to Labasa for a church event remains a mystery. Some refuse to believe the group are dead.

They still cling to the hope that their loved ones are alive and living happily somewhere.

Miriama Novu, the mother of the headman of Vuninuku Village, was the eldest of those who perished.

She was 78 years old at the time. Josaia Soso said the memory of his mother still lived on through her children and grandchildren.

An ancient promise Before the mishap of June of 1995, the people of Cikobia travelled the waters around their island venturing to Vanua Levu and nearby islands confidently because of a legend passed down from their elders.

Similar to the legends of the people of Kadavu, the elders of Cikobia had a tribal God who took the form of an octopus and travelled the waters ensuring the safety of his people.

Legend has it that one day the spirit god of Cikobia was challenged by the shark god Dakuwaqa and as the two did not give in to the other easily, a fight ensued that raged for days, causing squalls in the sea.

At the end of the tussle, the god of Cikobia managed to subdue Dakuwaqa who surrendered and asked for his life to be spared, swearing to bless the people of the island with a promise that they would travel the sea unscathed even during storms.

He promised to protect them.

As the ruler of the sea, he promised the spirit god of Cikobia that none of his people should ever perish in the sea.

Upon hearing this wonderful promise, the god of Cikobia let Dakuwaqa go free, holding him to his promise that he would be the protector of his people considering that their only mode of transportation was by sea.

With this promise in mind, the people of Cikobia used to traverse the seas between their home and neighbouring islands without fear, trusting on the promise made by Dakuwaqa the shark God.

When disaster strikes However, things changed following the sea mishap of June 1995.

The people learnt to respect the sea as a totally powerful force of nature that no human had any control over.

Mr Soso said if anything good came out of the incident, it taught the people of his island to fear the sea.

“Before the incident, our people would go out to sea even during bad weather, taking no heed of warnings,” he said.

“I remember very well the preparation and the hype of travelling to Labasa for a church bazaar for the Methodist Church with everyone looking forward to the trip.

“I along with two other men including women and children boarded the first boat headed for Labasa that fateful Saturday morning.

“The weather was fair and we had a breeze of 15 to 20 knots blowing that morning with the sea just the right condition to allow us safe passage through to Vanua Levu.”

Mr Soso remembers very clearly that they left the island at 9am that morning straight after breakfast while the rest of the villagers prepared to leave in a second boat.

“At 4pm we safely reached Vanua Levu and we were billeted at a Cikobia man’s home in Tabia where we were to wait for our kinsmen who left in the second boat depending on when they left the island,” he said.

“However, that afternoon no one turned up and so we figured they were still making their way to Labasa.

“Tuesday followed Monday and then Wednesday rolled in without a trace of people from the island. ”

“We started to worry so one of our own men was dispatched to the town to investigate the whereabouts of our people.

“We then learnt of the fate that had befallen our relatives and it was a big blow as our anticipation turned to mourning.”

In the days that ensued, Mr Soso and the delegation from the island learnt more of the incident and the miracle survival
of the only woman who was swept to shore in Nukusa, Udu.

Mr Soso said to this day many family members were still trying to find closure for the loss of their loved ones because
they simply disappeared without a trace.

  • Next Monday: Read the accounts of the only survivor, Toloi Tara.

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