The Lost Island of Burotu

Mon 17 Sep 2018 19:48

The Lost Island of Burotu

In the southern waters of Fiji

You may recall, dear reader, a few blogs ago I mentioned a lost island which I read about and we discussed with Chico the chief of one of the seven villages in Matuku, Lomaji while we stayed there for a short time.

The name Matuku is relatively recent and before it was introduced by migrants from Vitilevu the island was called Burotukula or Burotu.

The name Burotu has become synonymous with ‘paradise’ a place of luxuriant vegetation and wildlife and beautiful women. As far as the flora and fauna is concerned this was true of many Fijian islands before the arrival of Europeans and in the early days of human habitation when the birdlife was prolific. Many of the woman are beautiful today, by the way.

The English, in particular daughter Emily, value diamonds, the Incas and Aztecs valued gold, the Chinese value Jade and the Fijians value ‘kula’ and one of the meanings of kula is deep rich red, or crimson. Note the kula ending of the original name of Matuku, Burotukula.

The original Fijians used to border their pandanus sleeping mats and formal clothing with kula, the bright red feathers of the musk parrot and the collared lory, one of the birds we had seen on our Sunday bird spotting tour with Alison and Randall in Savusavu. These red feathers became a major trading item between Tonga and Samoa and Fiji because the birds are not found in the first two island groups.

This is why they became extinct on some Fijian Islands and forced the Polynesian traders on to Matuku where they can still be found. For centuries the island was the centre of the trade in kula feathers until the increasing value and declining supply led to a war after which some Matukuns fled to Samoa and Tonga.

Imagine their arrival, decked out in warrior clothing bordered with these beautiful feathers, they would have appeared as the messengers of the Gods and they set up ruling families in Tonga and Samoa maintaining their status to this day. It is still believed that the souls of the chiefs of Tonga and Samoa return to distant Burotu in the west. As we have found before, letters in words get changed between languages and to the Polynesians Bulotu is referred to as Pulotu.

But what of the theory that Burotu was an island that disappeared and occasionally reappears, sometimes after a long kava session (!) The volcano at the summit of which lies Matuku, is very big and there is a submarine platform that shows up using sophisticated echo imagery around ten miles down its south western side. From Zoonie there was no evidence as we sailed past, which is not surprising as it lies just short of 2000 metres below the surface, which makes its occasional reappearance more of a legend than a likelihood.

Having said that there is a stone causeway that leads in the direction of the sunken island from the south west of Matuku and it brings to mind a road on the north coast of the Isla of Wight, where I once lived, that appears to go straight into the Solent, the stretch of water between the Isle and the mainland.

It was once a Roman road that crossed over a packhorse bridge astride the Solent River, and it emerges up a track on the other side near Lepe. In the last two thousand years the water level has risen making the roadway and bridge unusable. So the causeway of Matuku must have led to some significant place and at that time they would both have come under the same name of Bulotu.

But we like such stories don’t we, Loch Nessy Monster, Camelot, Atlantis and in some of them there are elements of truth. Since all land is sinking through tectonic movement and erosion the slipping down of this island is quite likely. The location of the platform is 19*18’S and 179*34’E.

Most of the historical and oral evidence suggests that these warriors arrived in Tonga and Samoa around 1000 years ago at the start of oral tradition recollections. Woman living in the two villages to the south west of Matuku, Makadru and Levukaidaku are still able to teach the unique ‘meke’, dances from Burotu, as they have themselves been taught by their mothers before them, and they claim that when Burotu reappears it does so in the passage through the reef near them named Davetaidaku, although this a long way from the submarine platform favoured for the lost island’s location.

Fortunately for the red feathered birds the arrival of Europeans brought brightly coloured wool which replaced the diminishing supply of feathers and who knows, maybe some of the parrots and corys whose song filled the air around Zoonie in her anchorage are descendants of their Burotu ancestors.

I like myths and legends not only for the fun of trying to find what is true and what is made up but also for the questions that are left unanswered and hopefully always will be thus preserving the mystery.