It seems the argument over the origins of the Pacific’s most famous tune won’t go away, but this weekend the Fiji Times quoted a Fijian chief as saying the music did indeed come from Tonga.

However, it quoted Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba as saying he wrote Fijian words for the song.

Tongans believe the song Viola Losehina  was composed by the late Tongan chief Tu’ivakano Polutele.

The chief and other sources claimed Polutele composed the song while he was one of the late Tungi Mailefihi’s singing group while the Prince Consort was governor of Vava’u in 1915.

The song was composed after the Prince asked each member of his group to compose a song for his wife-to-be, the late Queen Salote Tupou III.

In a radio interview Polutele said the song arrived in Fiji because of his very close blood connection with the Fijians.

One source claimed the song was taken to Fiji by a Tongan, Taitusi, a well known composer. He and a group in Fiji sang the song and Ratu Tevita heard it and asked Taitusi for the music so he could use it with his own Fijian lyrics.

Kaniva News reported in 2016 that Fijians believe Isa Lei was composed by the late Turaga Bale na Tui Nayau Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba. He was the father of the late Turaga Tui Nayau and Fiji’s First Prime Minister , Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. He is said to have composed the song at Tubou, Lakeba in 1916 for Adi Litia Tavanavanua.

The Fiji Times reported that in 1962 the newspaper interviewed the Tongan Crown Prince and Premier, Prince Tungi who supported claims by Lord Tuivakano that the song originated in Tonga.

Prince Tungi said Hon. Tuivakano was one of a group of singers who formed part of the retinue of his father, the late Prince Tungi, consort of Queen Salote.

The paper said that when Prince Tungi’s father became engaged to Queen Salote, Tuivakano wrote a song of love in honour of the occasion.

It was some time after this that Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba heard the song sung by the Tongan visitors.

The Fiji Times quoted Prince Tungi saying in 1962: “The story as I have heard it, is that Ratu Tevita asked Inoke Sateki, then a forestry assistant, to write Fijian words to the same tune in honour of a young woman of rank who was living in Fiji.

The Times said that Ratu Tevita admitted in a later interview the tune came from Tonga, but claimed that he had written Fijian words.

For more information

Origins of our Isa Lei

Is it Viola Losehina or Isa Lei? Confusion for singing Tongans at UN causes hilarity online