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Lai Tei Dalo – History behind the song


In 1863 English sailors started labour recruiting from many South Pacific Islands including the New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands to work in farms in Australia, Fiji and Peru. This recruiting programme a form of slavery was termed blackbirding – derived from, “blackbird shooting”, which referred to recreational hunting of Australian Aboriginal people by early European settlers.

Recruits were often lured onto ships and then kidnapped and whisked away from their family and sold off to farms as cheap labourers. A notorious incident of the blackbirding trade was the 1871 voyage of the brig Carl, organised by Dr James Patrick Murray, to recruit labourers to work in the plantations of Fiji. Murray had his men reverse their collars and carry black books, so as to appear to be church missionaries. When islanders were enticed to a religious service, Murray and his men would produce guns and force the islanders onto boats. During the voyage Murray shot about 60 islanders. He was never brought to trial for his actions, as he was given immunity in return for giving evidence against his crew members. The captain of the Carl, Joseph Armstrong, was later sentenced to death.

Blogger Peceli interviewed retired Labasa sugar mill worker Jale Marata. This was his story

At 15 years of age I came from the Solomon Islands with a group of men from my Island Marata (Malaita). A trader ship was on the shore. All men were called in the ship to come to get tinned corned beef and biscuits – the palagi food. I happened to go with them so as we were inside the ship in the first deck eating and drinking then the top of the deck was closed by the palagi. And they said this was because it was raining. Then the ship turned around and sailed to Sydney and then to Fiji.

Those who fought against this were roped and a sugar bag was put over their heads and many died on the way to Fiji they were thrown aboard the ship. They told us that you going to Fiji to work for 5 years and then you can come back to your islands.

This is the history behind the song ‘Lai Tei Dalo’

Lai tei dalo ko tamaqu (My dad went to the plantation)
Lai qoliqoli ko tinaqu (My mum went fishing)
Au gade ki Serea (I visited Serea)
Au gade ki Serea (Serea seems to be reference to Sydney)
Votu mai
Votu mai na sitima ni meli (A ship appeared on the horizon)
Sa qai voce mai na velovelo (A small punt came ashore)
Na velovelo me daru mai lele lele (Lets go back to the ship)

Tauri au na kaivalagi (The palagi took me by force)
Tauri au na kaivalagi
Au sa vesu ena dali (He tied me with ropes)
Sa bi na noqu tagi (I was crying and tears flowed)
Votu mai na sitima ni meli (A ship appeared on the horizon)
Sa qai voce mai na velovelo (A small punt came ashore)
Na velovelo me daru mai lele lele (Lets go back to the ship)

Au sa tawa ena taga (I was put into a sack)
Au sa tawa ena taga
Au sa kau dina ga ki Viti (Iam being taken to Fiji)
Sa yacaqu dina ko Bili (My name is Billy)
Sa qai voce mai na velovelo (The punt took me back to the boat)
Na velovelo me daru mai lele lele

Please listen to the song and share this post with your friends. Use the share buttons at the top or bottom. Vinaka.

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29 comments to Lai Tei Dalo – History behind the song

  • Tokasa Thompson

    My mother taught me this song when I was 4 years of age. Thank you for sharing this history.

  • Dovena Barai

    love this song, but was feel sorry for the labor.

  • Joasa Natakalevu

    I love this song.I always use this song to make a dance..

  • Kolinio

    Was one of our favorite meke during primary school. Little did i know the meaning of the song.
    Thank you for sharing

  • Poasa Veidreyaki

    Vinaka vakalevu Fijian lyrics for sharing the history behind this famous song I sang while in Primary. Never knew what the song really meant until today.

  • Laisa Matairakula

    Grandmother and aunt sang it to me and my siblings as a rhyme – usually to put us off to sleep. Did not know the history behind it. Thank you for sharing this!

  • EMI

    I learn this song from my mum, what she told me that my grandfather composed this song, which he mention his village that is Serea Village, he was a teacher too..that was way back on the 40s..

  • …i’ve always sang this song as loud as possible when i was in primary school. But the story behind is much historical than i expected.

  • Jenny Naidu

    Isa, I never knew the realy story behind this song.
    I started singing along to the song a few moments ago and it all came to me …how familiar the tune is…like it’s in my blood…..Growing up in Lakeba, Lau, this song was frequently sung…
    Thank you for the enlightening history of this song…although sad to know that there are evil people in this world…but God Rules.

  • Ravuama

    Isa i remember my great grandmother teaching me and singing along with her to this song!

  • admin

    A comment that Serea appears to be a reference to Sydney.

  • A.T

    i didn’t know that. Thanks for enlightening me.

  • Vuda kid

    I learnt this song a Vida district school in Veiseisei

  • Mary Blakelock

    I did not know until my Mum told me two years when we were discussing a piece I was writing on the Impacts of the Early European Contact in the Pacific. I sang this song as a primary school student and wondered why the child was crying when the white man took him to Fiji, because white men were good people and Fiji is a nice place. One thing I did not understand was that the person said ‘Au gade ki Serea’and later said he was being taken to Fiji when Serea was a place in Fiji. I asked one of my friends from the Solomon Islands if Serea meant anything to her, or ifit was a place in the Solomons. She said it sounded like a word from one Solomon Islands dialect which means ‘beach’. Then it made sense that this young man was at the beach when the boats came, and his mother was away fishing while his Dad was in the plantations. I never taught this song again to my Year 1s after realizing that it was about lies, kidnapping, and the slavery of our Pacific people. The song was always enjoyed by students of my class in the past especially the lelelelele part where they place their hands on their hips and shake, but I just stopped liking it ever since I learnt of the sad truth behind it.

  • Em-4rd-generation

    4tg generation Malaita descendants, and pround of my great grandpas for making Fiji a beautiful place to live in. Hard laborS for the Roads, Churches, Hospitals…. We are going back home tracing our roots as elders “kawa ni Qase” because they were the one snatched from the shores…. the younger siblings remained at the village. isa! May their souls rest in peace…

  • Tommy

    I had Eminem rapping this song

  • Neini Curulala

    Thank you for sharing. Pretty sure all who attended Fijian schools sang this song at primary. Unfortunately it is now global as Fijians living abroad teach it to their little ones too. Agree that the honourable/Sensible thing to do is to get rid of the song completely. Let others know. May those “captured” souls RIP.

    • Eremasi Cama Tamanisau

      The song describes an important phase of Fiji’s history. Why should we try to erase it from living memory! Continue the singing and playing of this memorable piece of music.

  • Kesaia

    My mom always tell me sad, sad stories about how my great, great grand father who was one of the survivors of this historical news. My mom remembered how they dig up the Suva City, dig up roads etc…..
    they were given more work and less money. Because they are hard working people thinking and dreaming to go back to their respective land.
    I remember going to high school in the 80s. Being a Kai SolomonI will be always looked down on. I remember people would criticize us. Little that they know it was that same people that build roads and the city with their bare hands. That was before diggers and instruments thats used now days. I’m glad now people can respect all humans no matter what color and where they come from. God brought us all here on earth for a purpose.

  • Michele

    Thank you so much for sharing this major part of Soloman Is and Fiji history I had not known about before. What an eye opener! Although I didn’t know this song personally, I tend to agree with some here that it is what it is–a telling of the history through song. Part of what I take from this is how the Soloman Islanders along with others contributed to the beloved country we know Fiji to be–a wonderful mix of cultures come together. There is clearly something to be learned and embraced from every people.

  • Memcy

    No living witness to tell us what really happened.Whoever composed this song must be proud of what happened back in the days.Whether it was composed to inject or drive fear and hatred into us,or whatever it was,it worked out for this great course we have now. God indeed allowed that to happen.Always be positive no matter what.I do sympathize with the victimized families but however we r also proud and forever owing you the same thing for the betterment of Fiji.

  • Isa, Vina’a Va’a levu for this piece of information and the history behind this song which i have not heard in well over 4 decades ..but , i still clearly remembered my grandad who used to tell us stories how we came to Fiji, how we got to Fiji etc etc The stories weren’t very pleasant as to how grand dad’s father was treated by the colonialists in the mid to late 1800’s etc but a truly special one – i still hold very fond memories of those special moments i did spend with him and just listening and observing how we went about doing stuff.
    Vina’a va’a levu for this piece of history certainly evokes many levels of emotions to me right now.
    May all our grand fathers ..Kai Viti , Kai Solomoni , Kai New Hebridisi ALL REST IN PEACE .

  • Josefa

    Singing it as a small kid I knew there something to this old song. Thank you for this sad piece of historical fact. May their souls rest in peace.

  • Kathy

    Huh. I always wondered why there were Solomons and much darker skin toned people living in the back area of Laqere. They probably never returned to their islands. Thank you for this very useful historical information.

  • Ateca C

    It’s oral history.
    I shall keep singing this song and explain it also so my grandkids will grow up knowing part of the history of Fiji. My hope is that they will be curious enough to want to learn more about their grandmother’s country.

  • Kasilia

    I am one that teaches this song to young children and they love to dance to this song.
    Learning the background of this song is another level. Empowers me to teach the history of the song together with the song.

  • David George

    Performing this song this Saturday, for a meke.
    Like a lot of folk songs there are many versions and actual meanings.

    An awesome experience.

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