Danfords – Going Back To Their Roots

Eight generations later, the Danfords make a homecoming ceremony (solevu) to the people of Namosi Village, who cared for and sheltered their forefather, John Humprey Danford.
20 Feb 2021 15:03
Danfords – Going Back To Their Roots
The Danfords with relatives of Namosi Village on February 12, 2021. In the background in the Namosi highlands setting is the third highest mountain in the country – Mount Voma. Photo: Lusiana Tuimaisala

February 12, 2021 was an emotional day for Lionel Danford and his family. They returned to the highlands of Namosi, tracing back their roots where their ancestor, John Humphrey Danford, once lived 200 years ago.

The Danford family made a homecoming ceremony (solevu) to the people of Namosi Village. They presented tabuas (whale’s tooth), kerosene and bales of cloth to symbolise the relationship the late Tui Namosi Ro Kuruduadua, and John Humphrey Danford forged long ago.

John Humphrey Danford was the only Englishman who lived for a length of time in the highlands of Namosi in the early 1800s.

He managed to throw a halo of mystery around himself.

It is recorded in the Fijian Government archives that John Humphrey Danford was formally admitted and recorded as such, as being a member of the chiefly Nabukebuke tribe. This for his great and invaluable service to the then chief Ro Kuruduadua and the Namosi tribe. There was a solevu made for him in Namosi.

According to Lionel Danford the people of Namosi carried his great great grandfather on their shoulders and made merry because they had a white man.

“He had a gun with him and slept with it all the time. He was so close to Ro Kuruduadua. He used to fix all the guns used by Namosi during the war that time,” Mr Danford said.

“Namosi was a very powerful province then. He planned all attacks for Namosi in their battle against some of the villages and provinces in Fiji.

“Namosi was very successful with him. He was Ro Kuruduadua’s right hand man and adviser during the war,” he said.

Because of this, John Humphrey Danford was given a piece of land in the highlands of Namosi before he was duly adopted into the mataqali Nabukebuke of Namosi Village. Under whose line the current Tui Namosi, Ratu Suliano Matanitobua, falls from.

The people were told by the chief that whatever protocol and respect they had for a chief shall be accorded to John Danford as well.

After so many years of living in the highlands of Namosi with Ro Kuruduadua, John Humphrey Danford decided that it was time to return to his homeland in England. Many requests were denied by Ro Kuruduadua who then offered him to have one of his own wives to keep for himself.

Ro Kuruduadua summoned his 40 wives in the village green and lined them up for selection.

John Humphrey Danford twice chose Ro Kuruduadua’s traditionally married wife Kalara Taulawa of the Yavusa Vanuaca, who was pregnant at the time to Ro Kuruduadua’s first child.

As a token of the immense and great assistance to the hierarchy and province, Ro Kuruduadua offered the pregnant Kalara Taulawa to John Humphrey Danford.

There was so much trust between the two that Ro Kuruduadua agreed and told John to take care of the child as his own. At the same time, a solevu was held to offer him land at Waisoi (Namosi Highlands) where he later settled with the warrior tribe to guard and protect the entrance into the province.

Ratu William Danford was born in Wainiseidamu, Waisoi Village, Namosi on January 1, 1843.


John’s story is full of adventure. Born and bred in London, John tried his hand apprenticing at different trades, and finding fault with most of his employers, he finally decided to take to the sea.

His journeying brought him all the way to the South Pacific, where he discovered that the captains of the vessels he undertook were as disagreeable as his London employers. This prompted him to disembark and stow away in Tongatapu, Tonga.

It seemed that John would find no reprieve in Tonga, when, after living there for a year, the island was battered with hurricanes and a famine. This impelled him to board a canoe and search for better fortune in the Fiji Islands.

When John and his crew mates arrived in Fiji after navigating a torrential sea, their canoe was seized in Kadavu and John found himself and his company on the wrong end of dinner. That is, they were to be baked in the traditional oven and served as the main course.

One can only guess as to how he managed to escape, as he succeeded in fleeing to Rewa and took up residence with other white men, including one Charles Pickering, whom he sold a Pinchbeck watch to, before sailing off to distant islands.

Unbeknownst to Mr Pickering, the watch only worked so long as it was carried, and it was this incident, coupled perhaps with the wily strategies that John had to employ to survive a tumultuous life, that earned him the name ‘Harry the Jew’.

In his travels he met one ‘Flash Bob’, for whom he acted as a type of agent – John arranged the selection and purchase of a lady love for Bob from a chief.

These events somehow led him back to his famous christener, Charles Pickering, with whom he commenced a backheeled establishment with. After a few months in business together, it is said that a quarrel broke out regarding the purchase of Flash Bob’s wife, and the establishment was set on fire by a party of locals.

Pickering, enraged at the destroyed property, left with everything, leaving John once more at the mercy of the newly converted Fijians.

The new Christians, however, having translated his infamous nickname, were inhospitable to someone whom they associated with the ‘people who killed Christ’.

This final straw in a series of misfortune is perhaps what compelled John to accept an invitation to live with Ro Kuruduadua (Tui Namosi) in his mountain home, where the next part of his adventure begins.


After all the merrymaking in Namosi, John wanted to move down near the coast in the mid 1800s.

This was when Ro Kuruduadua gave him land at Raiwaqa, Navua, which is today a 10-minute drive from Navua Town.

Ro Kuruduadua then also sent some of his people from six different tribes of Namosi to accompany John, as he came to reside in Raiwaqa.

The descendants of the six tribes are now residing at Nakavu Village, which is located further up from Raiwaqa Village.

At Raiwaqa he was near other Europeans where he could get his supplies in clothing, medicine and food.

While at Raiwaqa, his wife Kalara Taulawa then gave birth to three more beautiful children – James, Charles, and Caroline.


Today, there are eight generations of the Danfords in Fiji.

The family’s patriarch lived at Raiwaqa since then and was eventually buried there.

John’s sons and daughters later married into neighbouring villages and to other parts of Fiji.

Raiwaqa has grown from what it was then to what it is now; home to eight generations of the Danford family. Today, there are 30 households in Raiwaqa with what started with only a few houses sheltering the Danford family.

The Danford family continues to live in the location that the late John Humphrey Danford settled in.

The Danford family with the bale of cloth on February 12, 2021. Photo: Lusiana Tuimaisala

The Danford family with the bale of cloth on February 12, 2021. Photo: Lusiana Tuimaisala

Mr Lionel Danford said today there were about 200 members of the Danford family living in Raiwaqa and many more around Fiji and abroad.

The Danfords now run a successful ecotourism business along the Navua River. The family members take part in traditional activities organised for tourists when they visit their small Raiwaqa community.

It is no doubt that not only are the Danfords using their natural resources and beautiful surroundings given to their forefathers, but they are also boosting economic opportunities to people within the province through their family operated business.


Mr Lionel Danford said tracing their roots was the greatest feeling ever.

“It is a big day for us with the greatest feeling ever to be accepted back into our village Namosi to reconnect with the tribe and step foot where our ancestor once lived,” he said.

He said this was something they had been longing to do more than 30 years ago – to reconnect with the people of Namosi Village.

“Two of my older brothers have passed on, while we continued in this great work,” he said.

Mr Lionel Danford said the Namosi people were so welcoming and he was touched by how they were accepted when they arrived on the day.

He was pleased to have learned that the people of Namosi were well versed with their connections and traditional understanding of their history.

“We felt like we were home, and it was heart-warming. There was so much to be shared and listening to stories of John Humphrey Danford’s life in the highlands with the people of Namosi,” he said.

The Danfords presented gallons of keresone and bales of cloth as they made their home coming ceremony at Namosi Village on February 12, 2021. Photo: Lusiana Tuimaisala

The Danfords presented gallons of keresone and bales of cloth as they made their home coming ceremony at Namosi Village on February 12, 2021. Photo: Lusiana Tuimaisala

“We are also happy that we managed to visit and see my forefathers’ ancestral site (yavu) in Waisoi on the same day.”

He said about 25 years ago it was approved in the Veivatuloa Tikina Council meeting held at Raiwaqa, Navua, for the Danfords to be entered into the Vola ni Kawa Bula (VKB).

“The issue was brought up in consecutive Bose Vanua and council meetings, but that decision rested with the current Tui Namosi, Ratu Suliano Matanitobua,” Mr Lionel Danford said.

Abaramo Bakaniceva, 74, from Namosi Village said what the Danford family did was historical.

“We were not expecting the visit from the Danford family, and what they brought with them to show their love and respect to their forefather, John Humphery Danford,” Mr Bakaniceva said.

During his young days, Mr Bakaniceva said he always heard stories about John Humphrey Danford from his late father, Eliseo Nadaku, on how he was part of the chiefly family in Namosi.

“I wish our forefathers were still alive to see this historical occasion. We are happy that we managed to reconnect again with the Danford family,” he said.

The Danford family will be attending the Namosi Village fundraising on July 31.

Edited by Naisa Koroi 

Feedback: lusiana.tuimaisala@fijisun.com.fj

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