Thurston Gardens – A Site of Old Disputes

Today It is at the centre of a New row. Two groups of landowning units and possibly more are claiming ancestral links to it.
26 Feb 2019 14:09
Thurston Gardens – A Site of Old Disputes
The site earmarked for the Indian High Commission complex.

There are many stories about the epic land battles between warring iTaukei tribes during the 1800s in the Suva Peninsula that are part of oral history.

They must be taken into consideration in order to understand the current debate over a piece of land at Thurston Gardens in Suva that has been earmarked as the new site for the Indian High Commission.

There is the story of this warrior clan that came down from deep in the hills of Naitasiri and conquered the coastal settlements of the Suva Peninsula before they settled at Kinoya, Nasinu.

One day the conquerors looked out to the sea past Laucala Bay and liked what they saw. They saw the white foam of the breaking waves.

It was the first time they had seen anything like it.

A reconnaissance team was sent to investigate and report back. It reported that it was a beautiful place – a nice beach.

It was then decided to move to the Rewa delta. After they arrived, they discovered that most of the delta was covered in mangroves. It was too late to go back.

Some years ago when the Government was building the road and the Bailey Bridge to connect Laucala Beach and Vatuwaqa, an earth-moving machine sank in the mud and work stopped.

Descendants of that warrior clan were called in to perform a traditional yaqona ritual that led to the successful salvage of the machine and the restart of the project until its completion.

Historian and photojournalist Kim Gravelle wrote that the modern city of Suva did not grow out of the original village.

“The city was created by removing and replacing the original village. The people of Suva village had originally lived in a place called Nauluvatu, a citadel on top of a steep rock cliff rising straight up from Walu Bay (close to where the Australian Embassy is today).

“This site was later abandoned and the people of Suva moved south along the peninsula and settled in the area that is today known as Thurston Gardens.

“A description at this time says that, ‘Suva in 1843 was a busy growing village, its bure and temples surrounded by a moat’.”

That year was important because it was when the Siege of Suva took place.

This was one of the most tragic battles that occurred in the history of Fiji. It saw the clubbing to death of 400 women and children of Suva by the men of neighbouring Rewa. The cause of the conflict between the two sides was the stealing of a pig.

The siege also marked the beginning of one of the longest wars in Fiji between Rewa and Bau.


Thurston Gardens.

Thurston Gardens.

Before Suva was proclaimed capital of Fiji in 1877, the people of Suva and their village were moved to an alternative location.

It was reported then that the move was linked to the accidental burning of the American Consul’s house on Nukulau Island.

The local villagers who lived on the nearby coast were held responsible.

The British paid for the compensation and later leased the island from the traditional owners.

For a number of years the island owners were receiving lease money. Then one day it stopped.

The landowners did not ask any questions because they could survive without it. They lived off the land, sea and river and the use of cash, in those days the British pounds, shillings and pence, was minimal. The British colonial rulers at the time, must have discovered what happened, and sent the “Buli” (provincial administrator) back to Britain. It was alleged that he was part of a conspiracy that amended the lease arrangement so that the lease money was paid to one of his drinking mates.

But the battle for the Suva Peninsula has continued from the dark days of cannibalism.

Today, it’s between two groups, and it has gone to court and back.

One group represents the Mataqali Vatuwaqa and Mataqali Tuirara and it supports Government’s move to allow the Indian Government to occupy the site.

The other group claims to have the support of three yavusa (tribes) and 11 mataqali (clans) and is led by Acting Tui Suva Solomone Kinitavaki.

The group members claim the disputed area is their historical village site and they would continue the struggle to have the land returned to them.

The struggle has taken a political twist.

Some SODELPA MPs are backing it.

The way it is going, we are going to hear more about this issue in the coming months.

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