Litia (Lydia) Samanunu

Photo of Adi Litia Samanunu in front of a neutral backdrop, Fiji (1870s). Image Credit: British Museum.

By Gabby Storey

Wife of the Fijian Ratu (chief) Seru Epenisa Cakobau, Adi (female chief) Litia was the daughter of Turaga na Roko Tui Bau, the leader of the Kubuna Confederacy on the Fijian island of Bau.

Alongside her sister, Salote (Charlotte) Qalirea Kaunilotuna, Litia married Seru in the mid nineteenth century.

Together, Litia and Seru had five children: Adi Arieta Koila, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau I, Adi Asenaca Kakua Vuikaba, Ratu Timoci Tavanavanua, and Ratu Josefa Celua.

Seru assimilated much of Fiji under his leadership after a protracted struggle, with the kingdom of Fiji being united in 1871, though this was only recognised by a minority of rulers. This was not to last long as although Seru established a constitutional monarchy, he ceded Fiji to Queen Victoria of Britain in 1874.

Litia’s exercise of power, as with much of her life, is not known to us: her last child was born c. 1855. It is plausible that she would have held forms of soft power and influence over her husband and ruling sons, however living during a time of expansion and colonialism her activities may have been more muted than her predecessors.

Her date of death is unknown, her legacy survived by her children who ruled Fiji after her husband’s death in 1883.

Recommended Reading

David Russell Lawrence, The Naturalist and his “Beautiful Islands”: Charles Morris Woodford in the Western Pacific (Canberra: Australia National University Press, 2014)

Mary Wallis, Life in Feejee : five years among the cannibals (Boston: William Heath, 1851).

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