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This chapter is adapted from a Fijian legend. It talks about the sacred sea turtles of Kadavu and the ritual performed by the maidens of Namuana village to bring them to the surface of the bay. The legend goes back to the story of a mother and a daughter who were transformed into turtles by the sea gods to save them from the cruel warriors of a neighbouring village.
Namuana and the Sea Turtles
On the island of Kadavu in Fiji, the village of Namuana is situated at the foot of a beautiful bay beside the Government Station in Vunisea Harbour. Here, the island of Kadavu narrows down to an isthmus, and by climbing the hill behind Namuana village, one can stand look out to the sea to the south and to the north.
Legend says that the warriors of Kadavu slid their canoes on up over the narrow strip of land to save the long journey around the east and the west of Kadavu island. The women of Namuana village have a very strange ritual, that of calling turtles from the sea. If one visits Namuana village to see the turtle calling, one can either sit on the rocks under the bluffs on the beach or climb a rocky tract to get a splendid view.
All the maidens of the village of Namuana assemble and sing a strange chant. As they chant, giant turtles rise one by one to lie on the surface, listening to the music. This area is forbidden for the fishing of turtles. If any member of the nearby village of Nabukelevu is present, then the turtles will not rise to the surface of the bay, and the turtle calling will have to be stopped.
The Ancient Legend
The turtle calling is based on an ancient legend among the Fijian people of Kadavu. Many years ago, in Namuana, there lived a lovely princess called Tinaicoboga who was the wife of the village chief. She had a charming daughter called Raudalice, and the two women often went fishing on the reefs around their home.
Once, Tinaicoboga and Raudalice went further than usual. They were so busy with their fishing that they did not notice the stealthy approach of a great war canoe, filled with fishermen from the nearby village of Nabukelevu. This village is situated in the shadow of Mount Washington, the highest mountain on Kadavu island, which has a splendid lighthouse now.
Suddenly, the fishermen caught the two women, tossed them into their canoe, and set off in a great hurry. Although the women pleaded for their lives, the cruel warriors did not listen to them. But the sea gods were kind, and soon, a great storm arose.
The two women, lying in the water that had entered the canoe, had suddenly changed into turtles, and to save their own lives, the men threw them into the sea. Immediately, the weather changed and there were no more waves.
The Nabukelevu fishermen went back home, and the two women from Namuana who had been changed to turtles lived on in the water of the bay. It is their descendants today who rise from the water when the maidens of their own village sing songs to them from the cliffs.
The strange song which is chanted on such occasions says that the women of Namuana are all dressed in mourning and each carries a sacred club tattooed in a strange pattern. It asks Raudalice and Tinaicoboga to rise to the surface so they may look at them.
This chapter helps us know about a legend from a distant culture. Even if we do not believe the legend that started the strange ritual that the women of Namuana perform, their chanting does indeed have something magical, because it really summons the sea turtles.