Fiji, November 7, 2017 - Vunisavisavi is not, at first glance, what you’d expect to be the home of a King. Perched below steep hills, on the south-east coast of Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Levu, Vunisavisavi is relatively unassuming. Tucked quietly into the landscape, wrapped on both sides by the sea, the village is home to just 82 people. To step foot into the village is a privilege reserved for few outsiders.
“Vunisavisavi is the original home of the ‘Tui Cakau’ and we are proud of that,” says Meredani Koco, a retired head teacher who has called Vunusavisavi home for 23 years. “The whole of [the district of] Cakaudrove is named after this place.”
Tui Cakau – translated directly from Fijian as ‘King Cakau’ – is the title given to one of three paramount chiefs in Fiji, a position that’s been passed down through fifteen generations. For each Tui Cakau, the responsibility to guard Vunisavisavi is personal, because it’s here where the home of the very first Tui Cakau stood, the home of Ro Kevu.
Fijian history remembers Ro Kevu fondly, as the son of a demigod and High Chief. Yet amongst these ancestral grounds, all that remains of the Tui Cakau’s home is a stone hedge that once surrounded it, the rest has been destroyed by the ever-encroaching sea. Physical remnants aside, the deep responsibility to protect Vunisavisavi has not diminished.
“We are the keepers of these ancestral grounds. These lands ancestrally belong to us. My elders were asked many years ago to keep this place, and we’ve been here ever since,”says Sepesa Kilimo, village nurse and descendent of the first settlers in Vunisavisavi.
Time – and a rapidly-changing environment – has not been kind to Vunusavisavi. Rising sea levels, coastal erosion and recent extreme weather is have left their mark here: steps sink far too easily into unusually soft soil, crab holes are scattered across the whole village, and even before low tide, there are visible remnants of what were once houses and a church. A large, uprooted Banyan tree sits on the shore, long since lost its footing due to coastal erosion.