Despite its modest size Bau Island played a key role in the history of Fiji. Up until the eighteenth century, Verata, 10km north of Nausori, and its rival Rewa had ruled the archipelago, the latter being the head of the aristocracy of Burebasaga, one of the three founding clans. In 1760, a tiny island named Ulu-ni-Vuaka (“the head of the pig”), barely 300m from the shore of Viti Levu, was settled by warriors of Verata lineage and in time became known as Bau. The island’s first chief erected sea walls to protect it from invasion and built stone canoe docks, making the island a powerful seafaring base. In 1808 a Swedish “beachcomber” named Charlie Savage – who five years later would end up in the cannibals’ pot – visited Bau and brought with him firearms, until then never possessed by Fijians. Using these new, terrifying weapons, the ruling chief, Naulivou, fought a series of wars with Verata, 15km to the north. When Verata was weak Rewa grew in strength and between the two, they battled the upstarts from Bau for supremacy. Bau grew more powerful under the rule of the brutal cannibal chiefs of Tanoa and later Cakobau. The chiefs seized upon the right of vasu, claiming wide support from villages throughout Fiji. At its peak, the island boasted three thousand inhabitants and twenty temples.

By 1871, with the backing of the European merchants of Levuka, Cakobau had proclaimed himself King of Fiji. Three years later he ceded the islands to Britain. Today, the chief of Bau remains one of the most powerful in Fijian political life. As for Rewa, the aristocrats managed to retain their hold over their far-flung subjects and the Burebasaga Confederacy remains the largest and most powerful of Fiji’s three ancient confederacies.

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