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Lau Group


The Lau Islands (also called the Lau Group, the Eastern Group, the Eastern Archipelago) of Fiji are situated in the southern Pacific Ocean, just east of the Koro Sea. Of this chain of sixty islands and islets, thirty are inhabited. The Lau Group covers a land area of 487 square km. While most of the northern Lau Group are high islands of volcanic  origin, those of the south are mostly carbonate low islands.

Administratively the islands belong to the Lau Province. The British explorer Captain James Cook reached Vatoa in 1774. By the time of the discovery of the Ono Group in 1820, the Lau archipelago was the most mapped area of Fiji.

Political unity came late to the Lau Islands. Historically, they comprised three territories: the Northen Lau, Southern Lau, and the Moala Islands. Around 1855, the renegade Tongan Prince Enele Ma’afu  conquered the region and established a unified administration. As the Tui Lau, or King of Lau, he promulgated a constitution and encouraged the establishment of Christian missions. The first missionaries had arrived at Lakeba  in 1830, but had been expelled. The Tui Nayau, who had been the nominal overlord of the Lau Islands, became subject to Ma'afu.

The Tui Nayau and Tui Lau titles came into personal union in 1969, when Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who had already been installed as Tui Lau in 1963 by the Yavusa Tonga, was also installed as Tui Nayau following the death of his father Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba III in 1966. The title Tui Lau was left vacant from his uncle, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna.

The Northern Lau Islands, which extended as far south as Tuvuca, were under the overlordship of the Tui Cakau  (Paramount Chief of Cakaudrove). In 1855, however, Ma'afu gained sovereignty over Northern Lau, establishing Lomaloma, on VanuaBalavu, as his his Capital.

The Southern Lau Islands extended from Onoilau, in the far south, to as far north as Cicia. They were the traditional chiefdom of the Tui Nayau , but with Ma'afu's conquest in the 1850s, he became subject to Tongan supremacy.

The Moala Islands had closer affiliation with bau and Lomaiviti than with Lau, but Ma'afu's conquest united them with the Lau Islands. They have remained administratively a part of the Lau Province ever since.

Since they lie between Melanesian Fiji  and Polynesian Tonga, the Lau Islands are a meeting point of the two cultural spheres. Lauan villages remain very traditional, and the islands' inhabitants are renowned for their wood carving and masi  paintings. Lakeba especially was a traditional meeting place between Tongans and Fijians. The south-east trade winds allowed sailors to travel from Tonga to Fiji, but much harder to return. The Lau Island culture became more Fijian rather than Polynesian beginning around 500 BC. However, Tongan influence can still be found in names, language, food, and architecture. Unlike the square-shaped ends characterizing most houses elsewhere in Fiji, Lauan houses tend to be rounded, following the Tongan practice.

The Lau Islands are the centre of the game of Cricket in Fiji. Cricket is the most popular team sport in Lau, unlike the rest of the country where Rugby and Football are preferred. The national team is invariably dominated by Lauan players

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