Clockwise from left: Josese Draya and his relatives in front of the caves; The Sawa-i-Lau caves; Nabukeru girls Matelita Loalase and Naomi Sukanaivalu; Cave keeper Josese Draya.
THE locals here often say that Sawa-i-Lau Island is the heart of Yasawa and Fiji.
It is where the mana of this country is hidden.
The people of Yasawa believe that you have not been to Yasawa if you have not set foot on Sawa-i-Lau.
The island - a distinctive limestone mass rising 1000 feet above sea level - is the object of Fijian legends and sacred Fijian mythology.
This island off Nabukeru Village is owned by the people of Tokatoka Koro and Mataqali Koro of Nabukeru.
According to Josese Draya, the cave keeper, the island is riddled with caves.
Relaxing on the rocks on the beach in front of the caves, Draya explains the caves are the popular attractions on the island.
There was something about this place that made it eerie. The silence was just so unnatural. The cool breeze sent shivers up my spine, goose bumps a constant reminder that I was venturing into something dark and mysterious.
On the entrance to the main cave, there are inscriptions on the walls, which have long puzzled archaeologists.
Draya recalls that a team of archaeologists visited the caves some years ago to see the writings.
This Nabukeru no nonsense villager explained that a lot of people visited the island to just dip in the pools inside the caves.
"They say this is the source of the seas around Yasawa," he said.
The island is internationally renowned as one of the locations for the popular movie Blue Lagoon which was shot in the 70s and featured famous child actress, Brooke Shields.
But apart from that, Draya said a lot of people believe the site was the resting grounds of the legendary 10 headed god, Ulutini.
Expanding on stories passed down from elders, Draya said each chamber of the caves was supposed to represent each of the god's nine snake heads. The 10th resembled a human head.
Allaying fears of myth-struck visitors, Draya reassured the island was free of snakes.
"Until now, no snake can live here," he said.
Draya recalled this statement of fact was tested by villagers who introduced a small snake from Tamusua to the island.
"We put that tiny snake in a bottle and took it to the island," he said.
"Just before we reached the island, the snake died in the bottle."
But in a twist just as dramatic as the myths itself, Draya reported that while villagers were steadfast in the belief that there was no snake on the island, a late uncle - Laisenia Taulele - is said to have seen the great 10 headed god in person.
"His plantation is here on the island," he said.
One day while farming, he claimed he saw the snake sunbathing.
After the snake revealed himself to Taulele, the Nabukeru villager reportedly acquired the gift of healing - but on the condition he did not sleep with women.
"After that encounter he was able to heal people," said Draya.
News of this magic healing travelled all over the Yasawas and the province of Ba and thus he began travelling. Later he moved to Korovou in Tavua and lived there for a while.
While there he composed a meke about this 10 headed god.
Today, the women of Korovou perform a special meke known as the manu. The lyrics of the song for this particular meke are derived from the legend of the snake god.
The story goes that it was in Korovou that Taulele broke the condition set by the snake god. It cost him his life.
While Taulele might not be around to testify to what he saw, Draya said that the stories had gotten around.
I did not get to go deep into the caves but legend has it that the snake god's central human face possesses angelic beauty that is almost too much for any mortal's gaze to behold. Added to the mystery is the belief that embedded in the god's forehead is a shimmering diamond like stone, which is the source of the great mana.
The villagers also claim that the caves are home to Dema Leka and Damu Balavu (two fish), as well as Donu (eel). In this case, the story goes that they have lived there forever without ever breeding, changing, growing or dying.
Draya said that one of the chambers within the caves was said to be the pregnancy cave. "That cave can be entered by everyone of any shape or size except a woman who is pregnant and is hiding it," he said.
"Even the slimmest pregnant woman will get stuck there."
So for women who want an alternative pregnancy test - the caves could be the place for this.