By now, the Fijians’ numbers on Levuka’s foreshore had grown to several thousand. Despite their numbers, they were strangely quiet. There was an air of tension. The ratu, or chief, overseeing proceedings stepped forward to address the assembled. A huge man even by Fijian standards, he raised his hand skyward. Two hundred naked warriors fell to their knees before him. He ordered them to their feet. They stood and the ratu circulated among them, offering words of encouragement.

Like the ratu, many of his warriors sported hairstyles similar to those of the warriors of Momi Bay. Some hairstyles were two feet high or more, while others were almost that wide, and many were brightly colored. Their owners wore them proudly while, to any European looking on, the effect was comical.

The warriors’ faces shone with pride at the great honor they believed awaited them. Their ratu reminded them of the rewards in store for them in the Spirit World. He then raised his hand a second time and the warriors turned and solemnly began walking up to the drua. The crowd parted to make way for them.

All two hundred warriors lay down in two rows that extended from the drua’s bow to the water’s edge. It was evident to Nathan and the others watching aboard the Rendezvous that the warriors were about to be sacrificed as human rollers. Other warriors grabbed hold of ropes dangling from the drua’s deck. The onlookers began singing while those holding the ropes began pulling. The drua held firm in the sand.

As more natives pulled on the ropes, it slowly inched forward. When its hull rolled over the first of the naked warriors, it gathered speed. Screams of agony and grunts of pain rang out as the nearest warriors were crushed to death in this centuries-old tradition.

Now moving at walking pace, the mighty drua rolled inexorably down toward the sea. Beneath her hull, more sacrificial warriors were crushed. Their mangled bodies were left half-buried in the sand behind her. Miraculously, one or two survived, albeit badly injured. They were quickly finished off by club-wielding natives.

As the death toll rose, the singing was replaced by the wailing and chanting of loved ones. Their loss was assuaged slightly by the knowledge their dearly departed were already on their way to a better place.

Now only a few paces from the water’s edge, the drua gathered momentum. One of the last warriors in the sacrificial line-up, a teenage boy, suddenly lost his nerve and rolled out of the way. An armed warrior ready for such incidents clubbed him unconscious and rolled him back into position. The boy disappeared beneath the hull as the drua finally slid into the water.

Behind the vessel, two lines of broken, mangled bodies marked its bloody passage to the sea.
A huge cheer erupted from the onlookers. After several years of effort, and many, many sacrifices, their sacred drua was now afloat.

More natives appeared carrying a mighty mast and sails. These were hoisted on board, and still more men were sacrificed as the mast was assembled and the sails rigged. These sacrificial volunteers were killed by spear-wielding warriors who expertly stabbed them through the chest or back, killing them quickly. The sea around the drua was soon red with blood. It wasn’t long before the sinister fins of ocean predators appeared.

Fiji: A Novel

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