1865: Tongan, Joeli Bulu came to Fiji with James Calvert; Bulu was later, “ chaplain to Cakobau”

1865: “Joeli Bulu came to Fiji with Calvert. He was with John Hunt at Rewa, and later on Viwa at the time of the revival and the conversion of VaraII. He spent eight years on the small island of Ono in Lau where he was ordained and put in charge. ` I used to think Ono was a little heaven, ‘ he said. He served twice at Nadi in western Vanua Levu, where his dual allegiance – to his own Tongan chiefs and to the mission – made it hard for him to avoid suspicion of entanglement in the wars of Ma’afu’s ruthless Tongan henchman Wainiqolo”
Between 1863 and 1866, following the death of his first wife, he was in charge of a training institution for Fijian pastors and evangelists at Waikava (Fawn Harbour) on Vanua Levu. He trained Fijian catechists to carry forward the circuit work he knew well in many parts of the group. Some conception of the brotherhood between early Tongan and Fijian missionaries in Fiji is conveyed by the names of a group of thirty of them who in 1869 signed a message to their departing chairman, William Moore.
In 1865, when Bulu was at Waikava, 100 villages, with about 10,000 people, accepted Christianity in Fiji. Much of the hard work at local level was done by the kind of catechists he trained. The catechist (uakatawa) remains today an important figure in village church life; his name describes him as the sentinel of the lotu.
Bulu’s second wife, Akesa, was a Fijian from Vanua Balavu in Lau, Ma’afu’s headquarters, where Tongan influence was strong. By the time he remarried he had become part of the Fiji scene. When he described how two heathen chiefs made peace with him by the traditional presentation of a whale’s tooth (tabua) he said: “They kissed my hands, sniffing at them, after our fashion in Fiji and Tonga. ‘
His arm bore the scars made by a shark during his early ministry at Rewa; the shark bit him on the thigh when he was swimming in the river after playing with a group of boys and a young chief, who were diverting themselves by pushing toy canoes. The shark transferred ; its jaws from thigh to arm. Bulu roused himself to anger and fought it. He pushed his hand down its throat, raised it out of the water, dragged it ashore ‘ and collapsed unconscious.
Bulu recovered from the shark bite to live on into mellow later years on Bau as chaplain to Cakobau. There Miss Constance Gordon Cumming. a guest of Gordon, “a very tall, plain woman, a regular globe-trotter,” rhapsodized about him in 1875: His features are beautiful, his colour clear olive, and he has grey hair and a long silky beard. He is just my idea of what Abraham must have been, and would be worth a fortune to an artist as a patriarchal study.
Miss Gordon Gumming was present during Bulu’s last days and at his funeral in May 1877 . ` He has been the old king’ s special teacher ‘ she wrote. “- and many a difficult day he has had with him and all his handsome; strong-willed sons and daughters. They are al lvery much attached to him; and some of them are generally with him now, fanning or just watching beside him. Lady Gordon, the governor’s wife, sent him a parcel of jujubes and acid drops. He was buried beside his friend John Hunt on Viwa. Many other Fijian and Tongan ministers and teachers who were his friends have grave-sites effaced by hurricanes or lost in scrub. When Bulu died some of Fiji’s most able evangelists were going to New Britain. At home in Fiji the ardor of a second generation was cooling off. The mission met problems in the mountainous interior of Viti Levu, a region suspicious of the influence of Bau”.
John Garrett, “To Live Among the Stars”(book reviewed in the Journal of Pacific History, Sept, 1998, by Roderic Lacey) . Geneva/Suva: World Council of Churches in Association with the Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific. 2-8254-0692-9
Image for levuka in about 1865 by Brenchley, Julius L. Jottings during the Cruise of H.M.S. Curacoa among the South Sea Islands in 1865 London, England : Longmans, Green, and Co, 1873 Facing page 145 Freshwater and Marine Image Bank  University of Washington Libraries  http://content.lib.washington.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/fishimages&CISOPTR=41413
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2 Responses

  1. Hello. I’ve just been reading Garrett’s book and he says that Joeli Bulu went to Fiji in June 1838. He arrived around the same time as Calvert, but came on a canoe from Tonga with 6 other Tongan teachers to serve the Fiji mission (pages 103, 105).

    • Hello Kathleen; your comment make date-sense and perhaps the source quoted here had the dates wrong? I will check and correct as needed. Thanks for your feedback

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