A Brief History of Naigani Island
Naigani Island was first inhabited almost 3,000 years ago, when the prehistoric Pacific Ocean faring Lapita people, the ancestors of the Polynesian and Micronesian races, settled on the south eastern tip of Naigani Island.
Foundation work for the Resort uncovered pottery sherds that were identified as Lapita pottery. These artifacts were removed off site by the Fiji Museum, and carbon dated to c.800 BCE. The nearby island of Moturiki was another of only a few Lapita settlements in Fiji.
The history of modern iTaukei Melanesian Fijians, as recorded by the 19th centuary colonial missionaries from the oral histories and traditional dances (meke) of that era, tell of one of three forebears, Lutunasobasoba, arriving near Vuda (between Nadi and Lautoka) aboard the great ocean canoe Kaunitoni, after journeying across the Indian and Pacific oceans from Lake Taganyika (in Tanzania) c.1000 CE, almost two millenia after the Lapita settlements.
Naigani Island oral tradition credits the establishment of the Island's village to Lutunasobasoba's group, when they were stranded for some time after the ketch of their canoe broke near Canabuli, hence giving the bay its name. Lutunasobasoba's wife Nai, an Egyptian woman, is said to have died whilst on the island, and was buried on the summit of the Nasolilailai (the small gift) Islet directly in front of the Resort.
THE PRE-COLONIAL PERIOD
Abel Tasman is said to have accidently discovered Fiji c.1643 CE, and Captain James Cook sailed through the Fiji group in 1774. Captain William Bligh in his rowing boat, passed through "Bligh Water" (Vatu-i-ra passage area) to the north of Naigani island, after being cast adrift following the infamous mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. This passage through Fiji by Bligh, firmly placed Fiji on naval charts, and marked an increase in the frequency of visits by Europeans.
By the early-to-mid 19th century, numerous Eurpoean missionaries and Australian settlers (some say escaped penal colony convicts), had settled in the areas of Verata and the Lomaiviti group centered around Levuka, on the island of Ovalau adjacent to Naigani Island, which became the first colonial capital of Fiji.
George Riley (na bete Riley or "old Riley") an Irish lay-preacher, arrived in Fiji from Australia c.1800 CE. George's son Mathew Riley formed a profitable alliance with the high Chief of Verata. Riley used his superior knowledge of European weaponry and methods of warfare to assist the Chief of Verata successfully defend against Bauan incursions c.1840. Riley married the Chief's daughter, and acquired land holdings including the whole of Naigani Island, as a "bati" or border defence. The Riley family's place in Island history was solidly written by the four generations of Rileys that were born and buried on Naigani Island.
Descendants of the Riley family have long since migrated from Fiji, however the shell of the original Riley homestead, last occupied c.1950, still stands today. This building has been retained on it's original site in remarkable condition, forming the core of Naigani Resort's Bar and Restaurant complex - named of course, "Riley's".
THE COLONIAL PERIOD
The signing of the Deed of Cession at Levuka on the neighboring island of Ovalau on October 10th 1874, brought Fiji under the protection and Colonial rule of Queen Victoria's Great Britain.
Levuka Town was established as the first Capital of Fiji in 1874, however despite the Town possessing the highest concentration of Europeans in Fiji, it was quickly realized that the geographical features of Levuka were too restrictive, for it to remain Fiji's Capital.
The seat of Government was transferred to Suva on Fiji's largest island Viti Levu, in 1877. Suva was a strategic and sheltered sea port with a large harbour and safe entrance, and ample land for the development of future capital City,
The population and consequently the economic base of Levuka and the Lomaiviti group of islands, slowly dwindled following the transfer of the seat of Government, and once proud farms, plantations and homesteads in the area struggled to maintain operations.
Fiji emerged as an independent nation in 1970, and the ownership of the Riley's copra plantaion on Naigani Island changed hands a number of times until the present owners acquired the property in the 1970's. The developement of Naigani Island Resort on the site began during the mid 1980's.
Naigani has throughout its history been frequented by sailors, warriors, whalers, and sandalwood traders. As well as the odd scoundrel or two. With its fresh water springs, young green coconuts, and superb fringing reef fishing, Naigani Island has always provided, as it does today, a welcoming stop to all its visitors on their epic voyages and World adventures.