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Seru Epenisa Cakobau

Seru Epenisa Cakobau
King of Fiji
6th Vunivalu of Bau
King of Bau
Reign 5 June 1871 – 10 October 1874
Successor Victoria
Born 1815
Natoloa Nairai, Lomaiviti
Died 1883 (aged 67–68)
Spouse Adi Litia Samanunu
Issue Children by Adi Litia Samanunu:
Epeli Nailatikau I
Timoci Tavanavanua
Josefa Celua
Adi Arieta Kuila
Adi Kakua
Adi Vuikaba
Adi Kawanavere
Father Tanoa Visawaqa
Mother Adi Savusavu
Religion Methodist
The Vunivalu of Bau, lithograph portrait in the possession of Henry Mangles Denham, c. 1858.

Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau (occasionally spelled Cacobau or Thakombau) (c.1815 – 1 February 1883) was a Fijian Ratu and warlord (Vunivalu) who united part of Fiji's warring tribes under his leadership, establishing a united Fijian kingdom.[1]


  • Background 1
  • Rise to power 2
  • Cession of power 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Titles 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


He was born to Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa, and one of his nine wives, Adi Savusavu.

The Vunivalu and the Roko Tui Bau (sacred chieftain) had had many power struggles during the course of nearly a century. These struggles led to the death of Seru's paternal uncle, the Vunivalu of Bau, Naulivou Ramatenikutu and the installation of Tanoa as Vunivalu. However, after he slew the Roko Tui Bau, Ratu Raiwalui, near Vanua Balavu, amongst other murders and reprisals, Tanoa was exiled in 1832.

Ratu Seru Cakobau was born on Nairai Island but raised on Gau Island. In his early twenties, he returned to Bau. He subsequently gained power in 1837 when he persuaded the Lasakau people to overthrow the Roko Tui Bau Vuani-ivi clan led by Ratu Ravulo Vakayaliyalo. Seru then reinstated his father as the ruling Vunivalu in Bau.

Seru was given the name Cikinovu ("Centipede"),[1] "because he moved silently and struck painfully". Later, he was called Cakobau ("destroyer of Bau"), because he had destroyed what was Bau; but Seru also built a new Bau, under the supremacy of the Vunivalu. After he converted to Christianity, he took additional name of Epenisa (Ebenezer).[2]

Rise to power

On 8 December 1852, Cakobau succeeded as Vunivalu of Bau.

Cakobau, a former cannibal, was converted to Christianity by the missionary James Calvert[3] and renounced cannibalism in 1854.

Claiming that Bau had suzerainty over the remainder of Fiji, he asserted that he was in fact the King of Fiji. However, Cakobau's claim was not accepted by other chiefs, who regarded him, at best, as the first among equals. Cakobau consequently engaged in constant warfare for almost nineteen years to unify the islands under his authority.

The last, brief rebellion of chiefs against Cakobau's rule culminated in the Battle of Kaba (a village in Bau Tikina, next to Bau Island). Cakobau crushed the rebellion with the aid of the King of Tonga. Having become a Christian, Cakobau on the battlefield pardoned all the captives; in accordance with pagan Fijian customs, the defeated men would have been ceremonially humiliated, killed, and eaten.

In 1865, a Confederacy of Independent Kingdoms of Viti was established, with Cakobau as Chairman of the General Assembly. Two years later, however, the confederacy split into the Kingdom of Bau and the Confederation of Lau, with Cakobau assuming kingship of the former.

Supported by foreign settlers, he finally succeeded in creating a united Fijian kingdom in 1871, and established Levuka as his capital. He decided to set up a constitutional monarchy, and the first legislative assembly met in November of that year. Both the legislature and the Cabinet were dominated by foreigners.

Cession of power

The United States government had recognised Cakobau's claim to kingship over a united Fijian nation, long before his claims were accepted by his fellow chiefs. In the long term, however, this was not to count in his favour. The American government held him responsible for an arson attack against the Nukulau Island home of John Brown William, the American Consul, in 1849 (before Cakobau was even the Vunivalu, let alone King), and demanded $44,000 compensation. Unable to pay the debt caused by the Rewan Chiefs, and fearing an American invasion and annexation, Cakobau decided to cede the islands to the United Kingdom. He was also motivated partly by the hope that British rule would bring civilisation and Christianity to Fiji.

Cakobau retained his position as Fiji's second most senior chief the title of Vunivalu of Bau, and formally ceded the highest and most precedent Chiefly title of Tui Viti or Paramount Chief of Fiji to the person of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. This title is currently held by her descendant, Elizabeth II. He lived quietly until his death on 1 February 1883.[1]


Several of Fiji's leading figures were direct descendants of Cakobau. His great-grandson, Ratu Sir Governor-General from 1973 to 1983. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, modern Fiji's first Prime Minister and second President, was also a descendant of Cakobau's, though not through the male line. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, the grandson of Cakobau's daughter Adi Litia Cakobau, became President of Fiji in 2009. A number of other political figures are also descendants of Cakobau, including Roko Tupou Draunidalo, President of the National Federation Party and a Member of Parliament since 2014.


Preceded by
Tanoa Visawaqa
Vunivalu of Bau
Succeeded by
Epeli Nailatikau I
Preceded by
none (new office)
Chairman, Viti Confederacy
Succeeded by
none (office abolished)
Preceded by
none (new throne)
Tui Bau (King of Bau)
2 May 1867 – 1869
Succeeded by
none (throne abolished)
Preceded by
none (new throne)
Tui Viti (King of Fiji)
Succeeded by
Queen Victoria

See also


  1. ^ a b c  
  2. ^ Thornley, Andrew (2002). Exodus of the I Taukei: The Wesleyan Church in Fiji, 1848-74. Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific. p. 176.  
  3. ^  
  • Eddie Dean; Stan Ritova (June 1988). Rabuka: no other way. Doubleday. pp. 32, 36, 71.  
  • Kathleen Hancock (2003). Men of mana. Steele Roberts.  
  • David Routledge; University of the South Pacific. Fiji Centre; University of the South Pacific. Institute of Pacific Studies (1985). "Chapter 2 Struggle between the Chiefs 1760 to 1842". Matanitu: The Struggle for Power in Early Fiji. Institute of Pacific Studies in assoc. with the Fiji Centre Extension Services, Univ. of the South Pacific. pp. 40, 56. Retrieved 25 June 2011. 
  • Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara; Pacific Islands Development Program (East-West Center) (1997). The Pacific way: a memoir. University of Hawaii Press.  
  • Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown; Raymond William Firth; Adolphus Peter Elkin (1977). Oceania: a journal devoted to the study of the native peoples of Australia, New Guinea, and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. University of Sydney. Retrieved 25 June 2011. 
  • Marshall David Sahlins (2004). Apologies to Thucydides: understanding history as culture and vice versa. University of Chicago Press. Reference to the sanctity of the Roko Tui Bau and also the battle near Vanua Balavu. Also the continued friction between the Roko Tui Bau and The Vunivalu.  
  • Lewis F. Petrinovich (2000). The cannibal within. Aldine de Gruyter. p. 135. Includes details on cannibalism in Fiji.  
  • Thomas Williams; James Calvert (1858). Fiji and the Fijians. A. Heylin. pp. 213–214. Retrieved 25 June 2011.  Includes details on cannibalism in Fiji.
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