The pitter-patter of tiny, hairy feet filled the sweet tropical air one afternoon in July 1975. Several children at the Lautoka Methodist Mission School, Fiji, claimed they had seen and chased eight small hairy creatures in reeds near their school.
The story broke in the Fiji Times (Suva) of July 19:
‘MYSTERIOUS CREATURES REPORTED AT LAUTOKA
Students from the Lautoka Methodist Mission School have reported seeing about eight mysterious little figures, believed to be dwarfs, in reeds near the school. The figures, about 2ft in height and covered with black hair hastily moved away into nearby bush when the children began to approach them. The children’s excitement brought more students and teachers from the Methodist School and a nearby Lautoka Fijian School.
Scores of neighbours rushed to the scene as the news spread. The “dwarfs” seemed to have jumped inside a pit near the bush; but on investigation none of them could be found there, the Headteacher of the Methodist school, Mr Sadanand Narayan said.
Since the sighting on Wednesday afternoon, dozens of people have been gathering near the pit in the expectation of the dwarfs reappearing some with the fear that the “little men” might be harmful, sat there for hours armed with touches and stick. Mr Narayan told a Fiji Times team which went to the site, that he threatened the children they would be prosecuted if they told made-up story “But they remained firm in whatever they have said about the mysterious figures” Mr Narayan said.
The students who actually saw the figures are Paras Ram (14) a form ii student, David Keshwan (14) also a form ii student, Viliame Kuilamu (10), Ruci Muricubu (11) and Naumi Tuyakaya (10) all class six students. The students were returning home after school Ruci said. “I saw his white gleaming eyes and black hair. I was frightened”, Naumi said. “One showed me his teeth and then ran away.“ David who clearly saw nearly eight of the little people said he wanted to speak to them but he neared “the little ones ran away.” A Viseisei villager, Mr Peniasi Tora, who went to the scene after hearing the news, said he had heard from his forefathers that when they first came to Fiji, they saw little little men already living here.’
Local media suggested the creatures may have been the legendary ‘Leka’. The descriptions certainly tallied. The Leka was said to be about two feet high, dark with black hair similar to the European stories of dwarves. Fijian lore has it that Leka’s were there when the first Fijians arrived in the islands.
The Lautoka Lekas hit a media nerve and the story went global, but there was little follow up. Few Fortean researchers in the mid-70s had the time, energy and money to visit far-away Fiji for what seemed like a ‘one-off’ case.
That is, except for one man.
I met Tony Healy in 1981. Bigfoot legend John Green had written to me about Tony and our shared interest in the big hairy guys (Bigfoot, that is). We hit it off immediately. We had so much in common; when it came to weird stuff we were both obviously credulous, suggestible and gullible. It turned out Tony also possessed a keen intelligence, razor-sharp wit and inexhaustible sense of humour.
Tony’s interest in cryptozoology had been sparked by a stint as logger in the forests of British Columbia in the late 60’s. In that place, talk was cheap and life was tough. Men were men – even the women were men. That still wasn’t hard enough for Tony, who returned to Australia to pursue a career that would push him to his physical, mental and spiritual limits. The Australian Public Service.
Tony’s fascination with monsters drove him in the late-70s to set-off on a global crypto-tour. His trip in search of Bigfoot, the Yeti, Nessie and many other less well-known cryptids ended up in an as-yet unpublished manuscript, Monster Safari. Tony is a great writer, and his tale of the people and places that made up the 70’s monster scene is hugely entertaining and often laugh-out loud hilarious. Its like Hunter S. Thomson meets Ivan Sanderson. Monster Safari is perhaps the greatest crypto-adventure never told.
Monster Safari’s second chapter covers his 1978 visit to Fiji and investigation of the Lautoka little people:
‘A most unprepossessing spot, the pit was almost totally overgrown with bushes. About three to four feet wide, it was, sure enough, filled almost to the top with rubble. I took two or three photos while workmen looked down curiously from the roof of yet another newly constructed house. Some lucky suburbanite was going to have leprechauns in his own backyard.
In the High School yard I talked with David Keshwan, now a tall, clean-cut boy of 17. Unfortunately he was so shy and quietly spoken that I had great difficulty in understanding him. Perhaps he was nervous because of the proximity of bevies of nubile, dark-eyed, giggling schoolgirls.
David didn’t seem over-keen to discuss the Leka incident, and unfortunately, what he say did nothing to strengthen the story. He said that when he’d arrived at the pit there were dozens of kids already there. Some were throwing things down the hole. All David saw were some small black figures which came out of the side tunnel on all fours and scurried back again.
This clashed badly with the Fiji Times of 19 July 1975 which said: “…David, who clearly saw nearly eight of the little people..” and the July 24 issue which quoted him as saying:” I wanted to talk to them, but when I neared them, the little ones fled towards the pit”. I thanked David and headed back into town. I was, of course, not too happy with what he’d said. A good, tight little story had become slightly unglued.
I had to leave Fiji the following day, so that was the end of my first “monster” investigation. A little story about little monsters, little was told and little was learned. The stopover was well worth it though, because of the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the country.
I suppose there are numerous city dwellers who will entirely disregard the Leka stories simply because they are told by unsophisticated people in a remote and tropical land. To keep things in perspective, I should point out that since Fiji I’ve interviewed scores of people of many different races who claim to have seen things considerably weirder than two foot tall dwarfs. Far from being simple native folk, most of the interviewees were very “western” and very “rational”, and some were very highly educated indeed.
I didn’t have that broader perspective at the time though, and as I flew away from Viti Levu I was thinking that the “little men” outbreak was probably an example of group hysteria or mass hallucination on the part of the kids, prompted by folk tales of the Leka. Most readers will probably settle for that explanation. I was never completely happy with it though, and two years later I uncovered some strangely similar stories which seemed to suggest a somewhat different explanation. More about that later.’
Lets hope readers get the chance to learn more when Monster Safari finally surfaces. Maybe after our next Yowie book…