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The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Custom

The Kalou-rere

The Kalou-rere

The kalou-rere differed from other religious observances in that, though it was practised in most parts of the group, either under its prevailing name or that of ndomindomi, the form was universal. The votaries were youths of the male sex only: there was no recognized priesthood; the cult was rather one of the effervescences of youth which in England find their vent in the football field and the amateur stage. The object of the rites was to allure the "Little Gods"—the Luve-ni-wai (Children of the Water)—a timid race of Immortals, to leave the sea, and take up their temporary abode among their votaries on land. Beyond the gift of immunity from wounds in battle, and such pleasure as may be drawn from the excitement of the secret rites, it is not clear that the Little People conferred any boon upon their worshippers commensurate with the labour and privations that worship entailed, but more than this has been urged against Freemasonry by its critics.

In a retired place near the sea a small house was built, and enclosed with a rustic trellis fence, tied at the crossings with a small-leafed vine, and interrupted by long poles decorated with streamers. Within the enclosure a miniature temple was erected to contain a consecrated cocoanut, or some other trifle. No effort was spared to make the place attractive to the shy little gods; the roof of the house was draped with masi; the wall studded with crab-claws, and span-long yams and painted cocoanuts were disposed about the foundations that they might eat and drink.

A party of twenty or thirty youths spent several weeks in page 170this enclosure, drumming every morning and evening on the ground with hollow bamboos to attract the sea-gods. During this long period they observed certain tabus, and spent the days in complete idleness. Williams heard of a party who, to facilitate the landing of the Luve-ni-wai, built a jetty of loose stones for some distance into the sea. When they were believed to be ascending, flags were set up in some of the inland passes to turn back any of them that might try to make for the forests inland. On the great day a Nanga-like enclosure was made with long poles piled to a height of twelve inches and covered with green boughs, spears bearing streamers being set up at the four angles. Within this the lads sat gaily draped, with their votive offerings of clubs and shells before them, thumping their bamboo drums on the earth. Presently the officers of the lodge were seen approaching headed by the Vuninduvu, a sort of past-master, armed with an axe, and capering wildly; the Lingu-viu (Fan-holder) circling madly round the drummers, waving a great fan; the Mbovoro, dancing and carrying in his hand the cocoanut which he is about to break on his bent knee; the Lingu-vatu, pounding his nut with a stone. Amid a terrific din of shrieks and cat-calls the gods entered into the Raisevu, who thereafter was regarded as a peculiarly favoured person. Then all went mad; the Vakathambe shouted his challenge; the Matavutha shot at him, or at a nut which he held under his arm, and all became possessed with the same frenzy as the inspired priests. One after another they ran to the Vuninduvu to be struck on the belly, believing themselves invulnerable, and if the Vuninduvu was over-simple or over-zealous he sometimes did them mortal injury. Williams, who gives the above description of the rites, says that in the old days the orgy was free from licentiousness: we shall see how they have deteriorated since the conversion of the people to Christianity.

On the western coast of Vitilevu the favourite ascending place of the Luve-ni-wai is marked with a large cairn of little stones, which has grown year by year with the stones flung upon it by each worshipper and by every passer-by. The more republican institutions of the western tribes permit a page 171commoner to rise to considerable influence, and not a few of these great commoners can trace their eminent career to the youthful distinction of having been the Raisevu. The combination of hysteria and cunning and impudence necessary to that distinction raised Nemani Ndreu from the lowly position of a commoner of a Nandi village to be the official Roko Tui of Mba. At the date of annexation in 1874 he was Tui Rara (Town-crier); in the heathen outbreak two years later, he was naturally found upon the winning side, and his services as guide and spy were so useful that he rapidly rose in Government favour. I was present at the council when his appointment to the highest office open to Fijians was announced. In an impassioned speech to a cold and hostile audience he suddenly burst into tears that coursed down his cheeks and impeded his utterance, and his most inveterate enemies seemed to be affected. As we left the council-house he turned to me, with the tears still wet upon his cheeks, and said, "How then? Didn't I do that well?" It is unnecessary to add that he was an eminent local preacher.

The kalou-rere was one of the few offences which, under British law, was punished with flogging, a harsh provision if the rites were as innocent as Williams represents. The truth is that they have changed sadly for the worse. The rites are still occasionally practised in secret, but though the ritual is much the same, it may be doubted whether any of the votaries believe that they are alluring the "Little Gods" from the sea. A few lawless young chiefs get a band of roysterers together in a secluded place, and there go through a travesty of the rites as an excuse for nocturnal raids upon the hen-roosts of the neighbouring trader. Usually an equal number of girls are induced to visit them by night under the pretence of practising heathen dances, which are, in reality, mere orgies of debauchery. In one of these cases, reported in detail by the late Mr. Heffernan, stipendiary magistrate of Ba, the frenzy of the votaries was quite genuine, but it found vent in sensuality, the dancers having access to their partners in a set measure controlled by words of command.