C. W. Whonsbon-Aston’s 1937 sea journey, to visit to Maafu at Loma Loma

By C. W. Whonsbon-Aston in Levuka Days of a Parson in Polynesia in London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1937 reported on a visit to Maafu, as he was about to end his term in Levuka.

Stars of the Southern Cross overhead: Long hot tropical days, in a turtle boat, aided by a miserable breeze, sliding lazily over the waves, quietly dipping and rolling along; nights when one lay on the hatching and watched, between slight snatches of sleep, the stars above, with the welcome Southern Cross, which saved one the trouble of craning round to see if the helmsman had fallen asleep. No awning to protect one from the strong sun’s rays, no convenience of any sort–thus I returned from my visit to the isles to the windward, where my parish stretched almost half-way to Tonga. That trip was a great experience.

Ships that pass in the nightThere is a touch of romance in lying back on the deck of a small boat away out in the Pacific to hear a distant “chug, chug, chug,” and then to see in the half light of the early morning a huge white figure appear from the gloom, pass over your bows with but little illumination beyond the navigation lights, as swiftly to disappear, its “chug, chug,” apparently divorced from the silent wraith–a Matson liner passing in the night. . . .

Historic last trip on the steamer: But all this was on the way back to Levuka. The Exploring Isles or the Lau Archipelago is not an easy place to get to, but the getting back is a greater gamble. My plans were simple: merely to go by the steamer, which was making its last trip under the scheduled arrangements and was not to be replaced, calling at such places as the boat would touch at, then to go further afield in a private yacht and by that means return to Levuka: but l’homme propose et Dieu dispose.

Arrival at the pretty lagoon at the island of Mango: A jovial company kept us all on deck after we left Levuka that evening, though the path we traversed was a particularly “rocky” one. Next morning, around ten o’clock, found us in the pretty lagoon at the island of Mango. The sun shone brilliantly and there was not a ripple on the sheltered waters. I was among the first to be put ashore, in the process of which the ship’s boat passed over beautiful patches of live coral trees with all their myriad richly coloured fish darting about below us.

Visit to a planter on Mango: Later we visited the planter and his wife and son at their home away inland on the edge of a pretty crater. We spent the whole day at Mango and in the early morning were once more on our way out of the lagoon into the still heaving waters until, at about 8.30 a.m., we entered the Tongan Passage in the long reef and bore down on Loma Loma, the main centre, on the big, long island of Vanua Mbalava.

Dear old Loma Loma: Dear old sleepy Pacific island Loma Loma had awakened from its accustomed lethargy to greet us. It was a scene of great activity: the two small stores (one included the post office) were opened, men, women and children shouted, and the village dogs, fowls and pigs added their quota of joy at this new diversion. Three-quarters of an hour later the smoke of the vessel was barely to be seen on the horizon, the ship’s carpenter returned to the caulking of the Tui Matefele on the beach, the stores were closed, the livestock once more asleep, the human participants in the welcome had effaced themselves and I was sitting in a house in Maafu’s old compound enjoying the hospitality of the District Commissioner and Roko.

Remarkable figure of Fijian history: Maafu was a really remarkable figure of Fijian history. A Tongan prince of goodly lineage, he had settled on Lau in the early days as the base for his military operations against Cakabau. But for the intervention of the British Consul in those wild days, it is not improbable that he would have been in a premier position in the overlordship of Fiji. He was one of the signatories of the Deed of Cession in 1874. The Lauan people are very charming folk, inclining probably more towards Tonga in their fairness of skin and their culture”.


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