How did Fiji get its nameFiji, how did he get his name?
Chapters II - Discovering the Fiji Isles
One of the first Europeans to see one of the isles of the island was Abel Janszoon Tasman, who was in search of Verradors and Cocos in 1643, but who was far to the south. From there he went via New Zealand to the Friendly Isles.
At Nanuku Reef Tasman headed towards the top of the pass (now Tasman Straits) between Taviuni and Ngamia and eventually felt his way through a net of coral cliffs to Thikombia-i-ra. There were good grounds for Tasman not to land on any of the Prins Wyllems Islands: the wheather was harsh and misty; he could not find a proper mooring, and with a maze of cliffs around him, the whole thing was too dangerous to concede a retard.
For more than 130 years, no commanding officer from Europe has been visiting one of the Fiji Isles, and the next explorer, who certainly would not dare, has stayed as far away from the clusters described by Tasman as possible. This is betrayal, though, coming from an Australian and a local in New South Wales!
Following a visit to the Friendly Islands on his second trip, Cook headed westward and on 2 July 1774 came across a small low-lying islet, which he named Turtle lsland. Whether Vatoa or Turtle lsland and the southern cliff are the only finds Captain Cook made in Fiji; and it is very likely that he was recounted by the Friendly Islands not only of the islands existance, but also of the way he must head to find it.
Tongataboo and the Lau Group of Fiji have had a lot of traffic since the mid-eighteenth centuries. After crossing the open ocean between the two archipels, the boats are generally intended for the Ongea - Vatoa route or further northern on the way to Lakemba, their primary destination, to reach safe waters under the 1st lake of the isles.
Tongans would know about the existance and location of Vatoa or in 1774. In his diary of the second journey, dated 3 July 1774, when he was off Vatoa, Cook told us that the humans he saw "may have come from an ocean to catch turtles; so many were seen near the shore that prompted page 18 to give the name to the islet.
When I visited in 1929 I was told that it resembled a tortoise not only because of its form, but above all because it was cavernous like a tortoise. Was it possible that Cook called her by the name of the island short before he abandoned Tongataboo, or did the locals find their own reason because Cook was there for the name he gave her?
But the indigenous people are glad that such a renowned man as Toote has made their little isle known to the big wide globe, and they have managed to connect it with the indigenous name Vatoa in a way that benefits their resourcefulness, even if it leaves a shadow in the historian's head.
It means four birds, and the locals of the islands confirm today that among the gifts that Toote sent ashore were four birds! In 1789, fifteen years later, Captain Bligh embarked on his famed journey from southeast to northwest through the islands to take off from H.M.S. Bounty.
While Bligh was no gentlemen when he was being tried by defining the term Chaucer gives in his prologue to the Canterbury Tales, it is also clear that Fletcher Christian had no guts of sympathy for his enemy who fell. Bligh left Tofoa Island and traversed the open waters and stepped into the Fijian archipelago through the arcade between Mothe and Yangasa Levu, which from afar has a peak that seems as shallow as a saucer.
He saw eight isles here and a few more soon after. He was plagued by the danger of hiding shallows and persecuting the indigenous people, but he escaped safe and returned to the open sea via Round Island. However his spirited flaws may have been, Bligh was without a doubt a navigator with very extraordinary abilities.
Having tested his orientation at three different wards, I listened to the commanders say: "Excellent work given the handicaps under which Bligh made his observation. "The same words were used by Captain J. Mullins of H.M.C.S. Pioneer when we tested his camps near Nairai and later in Makongai.
The explorers of the Fijian archipelago will be discussed in detail in a publication which I will hopefully be publishing when my research on the issue is complete. Suffice it to say that the merit for the discoveries of the greatest number of Fiji isles, even the greatest of them, belonged to Captain Bligh.
His next explorer was Captain Wilson of the mission vessel Duff, who in 1797 abandoned the Friendly Islands for China. Obviously he had decided to step into the arcipelago near the pass through which Bligh had gone; but he was a little bit northerly of it.
Sailing northwards to a point just beyond the Vanua Mbalavu parallel, he turned westwards between the Look-out Reef and the Sandcay at Duff's Reef,2 then south, until he had crossed the northerly end of Vanua Mbalavu, near which are the Three Brothers, to which he makes particular mention in his diary.
He was near the northwestern end of this riff, and not at Duff's reef, that he hit the cliff; and for a quick and determined swing of the sail he would have sunk. Captain Wilson has the merit to have discovered a large number of indigenous island and cliffs of the Lau group from Vanua Mbalavu to Naitamba.
In the UK, Australia or Fiji little is known about this excellent browser, as his guide has never been published in English. Bellinsgauzen marks the end of the Fijian archipelago exploration age. Seeing the Yasawas in the north of Yahara in 1789, during his 1792 journey, as he moved south on page 23, he collapsed with some rock islands and "dangerous crushers stretching 6 miles north".
There is no question in my mind that these "dangerous crushers that extend 6 miles north" have delineated the easterly rim of Astrolabe Reef. On the 1st and twelfth Bligh set course southward, near enough to see a small islet" southeast of the mountain" (Mount Washington) at the southerly end of Kandavu.
It is certain that on his third trip Captain Cook conducted interviews with several Fijians in Tongataboo and gave them special heed. Capt. Fabian von Bellinsgauzen remembers Cook's observation of the Fijians in vol. ii, pp. 74-5 of the Journal of his own 1819-21. However, he thought the term "nasty" (no question Peejee) specifically related to the people of Ono (which he had just discovered), whose kings were named Fio.
Capt. James Wilson (London, 1799) under the date September 13, 1797. 4Usually the name is written Bellingshausen. He later wrote to me that Bellinsgauzen is the name of the Baltics in Russia and that both shapes are the same.