Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau (1815-1883) was a Fijian chief and warlord who united part of Fiji's warring tribes under his leadership
A Name forged in Battle
The Vunivalu and the sacred Chieftain, the Roko Tui Bau, had many power struggles during the course of nearly a century. These eventually led to the exile in the early 1800s of Seru's father, the Vunivalu Tanoa Visawaqa
, after he slew the Roko Tui Bau Vuaniivi Ratu Raiwalui Near Vanuabalavu
along with his warriors, amongst other murders and reprisals.
Seru, however, was allowed to remain in Bau during his father's exile. He gained power by persuading the Lasakau people to plot and execute an overthrow of the Roko Tui Bau Vuani-ivi clan lead by Ratu Ravulo Vakayaliyalo in 1837. Seru then reinstated his father as the ruling Vunivalu ni Bau.
Seru was given the name “Centipede” (in Fijian, "Cikinovu"), "because he moved silently and struck painfully". Later, he was called "Cakobau" ("destroyer of Bau"), because he had destroyed what was Bau; but Seru also built a new Bau, under the supremacy of the Vunivalu.
The last, brief rebellion of chiefs against King Seru’s rule culminated in the Battle of Kaba (a village in Bau Tikina, next to Bau Island). King Seru crushed the rebellion with the aid of the king of Tonga. Having become a Christian, Seru on the battlefield pardoned all the captives; in accordance with pagan Fijian customs, the defeated men would have been ceremonially humiliated, killed, and eaten.
The Rise of Cakobau
Cakobau succeeded his father, Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa
, as the Vunivalu
(Paramount Chief) of Bau
on 8 December 1852
. Claiming that Bau had suzerainty
over the remainder of Fiji, he asserted that he was in fact the King of Fiji. However, Cakobau's claim was not accepted by other chiefs, who regarded him as merely the first among equals
, if that, and he engaged in constant warfare for almost nineteen years to unify the islands under his authority. In 1865, a Confederacy of Independent Kingdoms of Viti
was established, with Cakobau as Chairman of the General Assembly. Two years later, however, the confederacy split into the Kingdom of Bau
and the Confederation of Lau
, with Cakobau assuming kingship
of the former. Supported by foreign settlers, he finally succeeded in creating a united Fijian kingdom in 1871, and established Levuka
as his capital. He decided to set up a constitutional monarchy
, and the first legislative assembly met in November of that year. Both the legislature and the Cabinet
were dominated by foreigners.
Trouble with America
The United States
government had recognized Cakobau's claim to kingship over a united Fijian nation, long before his claims were accepted by his fellow chiefs. In the long term, however, this was not to count in his favour. The American government held him responsible for an arson
attack against the Nukulau Island
home of John Brown William
, the American Consul
, in 1849 (before Cakobau was even the Vunivalu, let alone King), and demanded $44,000 compensation. Unable to pay the debt caused by the Rewan Chiefs, and fearing an American invasion and annexation, Cakobau decided to cede the islands to the United Kingdom. He was also motivated partly by the hope that British rule
would bring civilization and Christianity
to Fiji. Cakobau, a former cannibal, had himself converted to Christianity and renounced cannibalism
An Honoured Name
He retained his position as Fiji's paramount chief as Vunivalu of Bau, and lived quietly until his death in 1883, The Cakobau
name is an honoured one in Fiji today, as many of the country's leading figures have been direct descendants of Cakobau's. His great-grandson, Ratu Sir George Cakobau
, served as Fiji's first native-born Governor-General
from 1973 to 1983. Another descendant, from the female line of Adi Litia Cakobau Ratu Epeli Nailatikau
, is the present Speaker
of the Fijian House of Representatives
. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara
, modern Fiji's founding father, is also a descendant of Cakobau's, though not through the male line. Fiji's political, academic, and military elites are dotted with high-achieving Cakobau descendants.
- Rabuka No Other Way, by Eddie Dean and Stan Ritova: Cakobau mentioned on pages 32, 36, 71.
- Men of Mana, by Kathleen Hancock (numerous references to Cakobau).
- Matanitu the struggle for power in early Fiji by David Routledge 1985 – published by the Institute of Pacific studies and the University of the South Pacific Fiji, Chapter 2 Struggle between the Chiefs 1760 to 1842 Page 40,56
- Tukutuku Raraba – History of Bau – Chapter 1 Page 1, records tabulated by the Native Lands and Fisheries Commission, the book The Pacific Way – A Memoir by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara published by the University of Hawaii press Honolulu refers to the ‘Tukutuku Raraba’ as the ‘registrar of land owners rights and customs’
- Oceania By University of Sydney, Australian National Research Council - 1930, The battle of Lomaloma established Ratu Tanoa once and for all in the position of paramount chief; it also gave him complete control over the priestly ...
- Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding History as culture and Vice Versa – pages 27, 52, 63, 162, 198, 211, 216, 233, 249, By Marshal Sahlins, Reference to the sanctity of the RokoTui Bau and also the battle near Vanuabalavu. Also the continued friction between the Roko Tui Bau and The Vunivalu.
- The Cannibal Within By Lewis F. Petrinovich - 135 details on Cannibalism in Fiji
- Fiji and the Fijians By Thomas Williams, James Calvert - Page 213, 214 details on Cannibalism in Fiji