Lau Islands

Lau Islands

The Lau Islands (also called the Lau Group, the Eastern Group, the Eastern Archipelago) of Fiji are situated in the southern Pacific Ocean, just east of the Koro Sea. Of this chain of about one hundred islands and islets, about thirty are inhabited. The Lau Group covers a land area of 188 square miles (487 square km). While most of the northern Lau Group are high islands of volcanic origin, those of the south are mostly carbonate low islands.

The Lau Islands comprise one of fourteen Provinces in Fiji, with its capital at Tubou, at the southern end of the island of Lakeba. The Province forms part of the country's Eastern Division (which also includes the Provinces of Kadavu and Lomaiviti), and of the Tovata Confederacy, a traditional hierarchy of chiefs from northern and eastern Fiji.


The British explorer James Cook reached Vatoa in 1774. By the time of the discovery of the Ono Group in 1820, the Lau archipelago was the most mapped area of Fiji.

Political unity came late to the Lau Islands. Historically, they comprised three territories: the Northern Lau Islands, the Southern Lau Islands, and the Moala Islands. Around 1855, the renegade Tongan prince Enele Ma'afu conquered the region and established a unified administration. Calling himself the "Tui Lau", or King of Lau, he promulgated a constitution and encouraged the establishment of Christian missions. The first missionaries had arrived at Lakeba in 1830, but had been expelled. The "Tui Nayau," who had been the nominal overlord of the Lau Islands, became subject to Ma'afu.

The Tui Nayau and Tui Lau titles came into personal union in 1973, when Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who had already been installed as "Tui Nayau" in 1969, was also installed as "Tui Lau." He had inherited the former title from his father, Tevita Uluilakeba III; the latter title had been left vacant from his cousin, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, in 1958.

The Northern Lau Islands, which extended as far south as Tuvuca, were under the overlordship of Taveuni and paid tribute to the "Tui Cakau" (Paramount Chief of Cakaudrove). In 1855, however, Ma'afu gained sovereignty over Northern Lau, establishing Lomaloma, on Vanua Balavu, as his capital.

The Southern Lau Islands extended from Ono-i-Lau, in the far south, to as far north as Cicia. They were the traditional fiefdom of the "Tui Nayau," but with Ma'afu's conquest in the 1850s, he became subject to Tongan supremacy.

The Moala Islands had closer affiliation with Bau, Fiji and Lomaiviti than with Lau, but Ma'afu's conquest united them with the Lau Islands. They have remained administratively a part of the Lau Province ever since.

Culture and economy

Since they lie between Melanesian Fiji and Polynesian Tonga, the Lau Islands are a meeting point of the two cultural spheres. Lauan villages remain very traditional, and the islands' inhabitants are renowned for their wood carving and masi paintings. Lakeba especially was a traditional meeting place between Tongans and Fijians. The south-east trade winds allowed sailors to travel from Tonga to Fiji, but much harder to return. The Lau Island culture became more Fijian rather than Polynesian beginning around 500 BC. [] However, Tongan influence can still be found in names, language, food, and architecture. Unlike the square-shaped ends characterizing most houses elsewhere in Fiji, Lauan houses tend to be rounded, following the Tongan practice.

The island of Vanua Balavu hosts the Yanuyanu Island Resort, built to encourage tourism in what has been a less accessible area of Fiji. An airstrip and a copra port are also located on Vanua Balavu, at Lomaloma. There are guest houses on Vanua Balavu and on Lakeba, the other principal island.

The Lau Islands are the centre of the game of Cricket in Fiji. Cricket is the most popular team sport in Lau, unlike the rest of the country where Rugby and Association Football are preferred. The national team is invariably dominated by Lauan players.

Notable Lauans

The Lau Islands' most famous son is the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (1920-2004), the "Tui Nayau" (hereditary Paramount Chief of the Lau Islands) and the founding father of modern Fiji who was Prime Minister for most of the period between 1967 and 1992, and President from 1993 to 2000. Other noted Lauans include Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna (1898-1958), who forged embryonic constitutional institutions for Fiji in the years that preceded independence, the former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and Attorney-General Qoriniasi Bale. Recently young leaders like Roko Jonetani Waqavonovono (Pita), Roko Liwaki Uluilakeba, and Jackie Koroivulaono have risen through the ranks. Given its small population, the Lau Islands' contribution to the leadership of Fiji has been disproportionately large.

In terms of Business, many are owned by Lauans. The Lauan Provincial Councils Yatu Lau Limited is a successful enterprise that has sticks, buses, and real estate. HOT BREAD KITCHEN is a franchise also owned by Mere Samisoni a Lauan Lady. Other business persons are Laisa Digitaki, Joji kata, Sikove Ratabacaca and the Gucake Family.


* [ Islands of History] - Page 75, by Marshall David Sahlins - 1987 - 200 pages

* 20th Century Fiji, edited by Stewart Firth & Daryl Tarte - 2001 - ISBN 982-010421-1

* [ Fiji] . - Page 237, by Korina Miller, Robyn Jones, Leonardo Pinheiro – 2003, Published by Lonely Planet

Further reading

* Lau Islands, Fiji, By A.M Hocart, Berenice Bishop Museum Bulletin 62, 1929

* [ Islands, Islanders and the World] : Colonial and Post-colonial Experience of Eastern Fiji. By T.P.Bayliss- Smith, Published by Cambridge University Press.

* [ World Atlas of Coral Reefs] - Page 344, by Corinna Ravilious, Mark D. Spalding, Edmund Peter Green, World Conservation Monitoring Centre – 2001, Published by University of California Press

* Tovata I & II By AC Reid, Printed in Fiji by Oceania printers Fiji (1990)

* [ Cyclopedia of Lau] Illustrated, Publisher Pure Blue Fiji Ltd.

* The Lau Islands (Fiji) and Their Fairy Tales and Folklore - by T [homas] R [eginald] St. Johnston, Published 1918 by The Times book co., ltd.Original from the University of Michigan, Digitized Dec 15, 2006.

External links

* [ Lau group (with map)]
* Ethnography of the [ Lau Islands]
* [ Vanua Balavu Information]
* A Newspaper article with General information on [ Lau]

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