by Paula Tagivetaua03 April 2011
MEMBERS of the Hickes family strengthened their ties with the Tui Namosi, Ratu Suliano Matanitobua on March 25, on a once-in-a-lifetime visit that included the traditional boka and cara sala.
Veivatuloa Village in Namosi was full with members of the Hickes family which has branched to the Pickerings and Johns families. It was a big reunion. There were different colours but one big family. The men had matching bula shirts and the women had matching sulu and jiaba. Some came from Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America and they said other relatives residing in Canada and England could not make the trip to Fiji.
For many, it was the first time they had retraced their roots. Fred and cousin George Hickes, a former Nadroga soccer star, went back four generations as they retraced their family's history to Edward George Hickes who started the family tree in the late 1800s. The story goes that Edward and his brother Samuel left their home at Yorkshire in England to discover the world.
They came by boat to the Pacific where they parted — Samuel went on to Australia and on to America while Edward decided to board a schooner to the Fiji Islands. He arrived during the time of tribal warfare in Fiji and the boat he was on was captured by warriors of the Tui Namosi then — Ratu Suliano Matanitobua — at the mouth of the Navua river. Ratu Suliano was one of the chiefs who ceded Fiji to Great Britain in 1870. As the Tui Namosi's warriors were in the process of taking the schooner up the Navua river to their chief, the Tui Cakau then, heard about it and approached the Tui Namosi.
"Give me the boat because you do not need a boat big like that on the river. I need the boat for the open sea. "You can keep most of the crew but give me some." The Tui Namosi agreed and they shared the crew and spoils but the schooner went to the Tui Cakau. "That is how the Tui Cakau and Tui Namosi have vasu kai loma," said Fred Hickes.
One of the crew who was taken up to Namosi happened to be Edward Hickes. Edward was more than a seaman. He was like a jack of all trades and knew about firearms and he was the one who made guns and bullets for the Tui Namosi's army. The Tui Namosi's army became strong now that they had guns and to repay the favour, the Tui Namosi gave his daughter Adi Lusia Buliyaragi to be Edward's wife. Adi Lusia was so named Buliyaragi after what Edward did — make weapons. That was how the Hickes family tree branched off from the Tui Namosi. Edward and Adi Lusia had six children — Ned, Frank, Maraia, Fred, Ema and Tomasi.
"Down the line, the Hickes women married to the Pickering and Johns and they all stayed in Fiji," said Fred. "It was our grandfathers who migrated overseas and that is how the Hickes changed colour to be like Europeans but their maternal bloodline flows back to Namosi. "Now, we have Hickes who look like Europeans, Chinese and there are the Hickes who are kai loma but look more like a Fijian but we are all one big family."
Most of the Hickes settled in Nadroga, Nadi and Vatukoula. Fred said some time ago, some Samoans arrived in Fiji and were taken in by one of the Hickes. "He adopted the Samoan family and gave them the family name but the spelling was Hicks, without an e." George said they prepared for months for the reunion and raised a substantial amount of money.
"The Tui Namosi was the one who instigated the reunion. "He was instrumental in the organising and getting in touch with family members. "If it wasn't for for him, we would not be here. "We are his vasu and we thank him for our being able to come for our reunion." Fred said only the descendants of Ned and Fred were able to attend the reunion.
George recalled the time he was playing soccer for Nadroga and Ratu Suliano for Suva. "When I see Ratu Suli on the left side, I would go and play on the right so that we did not meet in the field. "When he switched, I switched also and our coach and team manager would ask me why I was switching positions and I would tell them I could not tackle Ratu Suli because he was my chief."
George said it was not the first time the Hickes family organised a reunion with the Tui Namosi. "We had our first reunion some years ago but we were conned," he said. "We had prepared really well, a lot of money and i yau — gifts, for the occassion.
"We were on our way to Namosi when we were intercepted by people of one village before Namosi and they told us it was all right, we could do our presentation to them because it was the same as going to the Tui Namosi in the interior. "So, we did everything at Lobau and not to the Tui Namosi. "Those people thought we were just kai loma and could easily deceive us but then they got it, like a curse. "After some time, their first-born sons started dying — some got sick, some died in accidents and other kinds of sickness but they continued to die one after the other. It seemed they were being penalised for lying to us and taking what should have been taken to the Tui Namosi.
"It reached the stage when a man told them to go and soro to the Hickes family. "We got a shock one day when the people of Lobau appeared at Kadrakulu and crawled across the village to us and begged for forgiveness. "We accepted the tabua they brought and the curse or whatever was lifted. "It was then they came to know that we were not only simple kai loma but we were vasu turaga, to the Tui Namosi and what they did to us, they were also doing to the Tui Namosi."
The reunion at Veivatuloa that Friday did not last the day. After the traditional ceremonies, there was music and the grog flowed. The women and children went to have lunch while some came back to enjoy the music blasting from a stereo and join the men at grog. A Hickes lady picked Ratu Suliano and the others joined in the dancing with men. George said from Veivatuloa, they would all head for Kadrakulu where they would farewell their relatives from abroad. For the Hickes family members, it was the trip of a lifetime.