June 24 - July 18, 2006
The Lau group is comprised of 60-some islands scattered over 44,000 square miles of ocean in eastern Fiji. These islands have a total land mass of 178 square miles, and all but eight are very small. Most of these islands are east of the international dateline, but like all of Fiji, they operate within a single time zone west of the dateline. Most of these islands are also closer to Tonga than to Suva, and a Tongan influence is common in most of the group.
Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Lau group was three individual groups - the northern Lau, the southern Lau, and the Moala group. The northern Lau had previously paid tribute to the chiefs of Vanua Levu. However, a Tongan, Ma'afu, gained sovereignty over the northern group around 1855. The southern Lau had been under the chief of Lakeba, and the Moala group was affiliated with Lomaiviti and Bau rather than Lau. However, Ma'afu united the Lau and achieved a level of peace and prosperity previously unknown in those islands. They have since been administered as a unified group.
Today, the provincial capital of the Lau is on Lakeba which is one of the islands more highly influenced by Tongan culture. Consequently, the Tongan influence continues to permeate much of the group.
The people of the Lau islands live a lifestyle more traditional than those regularly exposed to international travelers and tourism. In 1992, the Fijian government decided to protect the Lau way of life from outside influences, and they stopped issuing permission to travel to most parts of the group. They completely stopped issuing permits for cruising boats to visit any part of the group. An occasional boat has received permission to visit a few islands, but it has been an infrequent exception. So when we were asked if we would be interested in visiting there, we replied that we definitely were.
We were told that the Lau Provincial Council is the only body that could grant that permission. Our friend, Joe, whom is from the Lau island of Totoya, went with us to the council and requested permission for us to visit Totoya. Joe explained his belief that we posed no risk to the islanders, and he believes that we have knowledge and skills that would benefit the islanders. At first, the council would go no further than to consider the request.
Joe is from the village of Tovu on Totoya. Tovu's chief died a few months prior, and the 100-day mourning period was about to end. Simultaneously, a ceremony would be held through which the new chief would assume power. The spokesman for the chief, Cama, is Joe's cousin, and the chief himself is an uncle. So when the chief and his spokesman traveled to Suva, they met with Joe and Bud at the offices of the Lau Provincial Council. They were in favor of us being allowed to visit, and the permit was granted. We were given specific dates to arrive ("Never sail to a schedule"), and we were given up to two weeks to stay there. For reasons unknown, we were also given permission to visit Moala for up to two weeks. Both of these islands are in the Moala group.
So we planned on arriving on June 24 for the ceremony planned on June 26. That meant leaving Kadavu on June 23 and sailing overnight. We would travel to Moala afterward.