A J Thompson | Andrew Thompson, Rockhampton Australia

The Matriarch of Manatu ~ History, myths, and legends from the Kingdom of Irukandji

Irukandji Ministry of Heritage and Culture

The Matriarch of Manatu

Aboyo River at Manatu Island 2009

Following the massacre of the Tiamo peoples in 1260, the region was settled by the Aboyan tribes from the east. Nearly 600 years later, in 1853, the first Europeans arrived.

The British annexed Aboyo and all the tribal nations to the north in an effort to stem further French influence in the Pacific. The island chain was proclaimed a colony and named Irukandji.

Deemed a minor colony, it was placed under the command of a retired career politician and Lord of the Realm, Sir Ernest Recreant.

Favouring the islands of Aboyo, he set up his base on East Pearl Island, and established a garrison on the nearby atoll, Old Fort Island, the southernmost point of the new colony.

Journals of the time record Sir Ernest as a fair man, but in the modern day, ample evidence suggests that he has much to answer for; notably, his predisposition for very young girls, and of arguably greater concern, suggestions that he may have profited from the sugar slave trade which eventually wiped out many Irukandji villages.

In 1853, Sir Ernest, aged 68, was already in his waning years. He arrived in the islands with his juvenile ward, Ariadne, an orphaned great-niece whom he had raised from infancy. It had always been his stated intent to marry her once she came of legal age. Upon Ariadne's twelfth birthday in 1860, Sir Ernest, although six times her age, married her.

She conceived immediately, but nine months later, died while giving birth to their child, a girl whom Sir Ernest named Ophelia. The child lived until age ten then contracted fever, and she too passed away.

Freed of obligations to his ward, Sir Ernest sought a native girl to marry, symbolically to strengthen ties with the Aboyans. His eye fell on Uba Uba, the teenage daughter and heir of the Aboyan chief.

Sir Ernest could not have realised at the time, that his predilection for young girls would cost his empire dearly. In marrying the girl, Uba Uba, he would not only create a legend, but unwittingly set the Irukandji nation on the path of independence.

From Princess to Queen

Uba Uba, now a lady of the empire through marriage, bore Sir Ernest six children during their five years of wedlock, before his death at Savage Bay in 1877 at the hands of rebels.

Headstone of Sir Ernest Recreant

Largely believed to be complicit in her husband's murder, Lady Uba Uba never confirmed or denied claims about her involvement, however given her high status in the colony, coupled with her remarkable beauty and the general unpopularity of Sir Ernest, no attempts were made by the crown to substantiate the claims.

She wasted no time in mourning, for she had her children to care for. A handful of months passed and then her own father died. As his first-born, she was now elder of the Aboyans, their queen. Henceforth, the welfare of her tribe was her responsibility as well.

Blessed with a generous inheritance from Sir Ernest's estate in Wales, Uba Uba was now a woman of considerable means. She invested much of her wealth in Tamita Island, Irukandji's capital and commercial hub. There, she established Irukandji's first lending house, the Bank of Tamita, the profits of which she used to improve the lives of her subjects.

It was during her frequent excursions to Tamita Island that she met the new Lieutenant-Governor, the Australian-born Archibald Quintessa, who instantly fell besotted with the remarkable native beauty who had achieved so much during her tender 23 years of life.

Quintessa courted her and they married in 1879. She moved into his mansion on Tamita island, and so began the deep love that would dominate the rest of their lives.

During the last few years of the nineteenth century, freed slaves began returning to East Pearl, now named Manatu Island, from indentured servitude in the canefields of Fiji and Australia.

Incensed by their stories and hardships, and armed with the titles and rights which she had inherited as a Lady of the empire, Uba Uba took personal charge of locating survivors, whereven they might be, to help them find their way back to the Irukandji islands.

Uba Uba Quintessa 1879

This became her primary mission in life. Alongside her husband who was well respected despite being a colonial, the couple made an effective team and Irukandji enjoyed a new wave of progress and prosperity.

In 1915, however, after 36 years of marriage, her world fell apart. Archibald Quintessa, now a Captain, was sent to France where he died the following year in the Battle of Fromelles. His body was never recovered.

Uba Uba, shattered with grief, returned to her ancestral home, Manatu Island. With her immense brood of children and grandchildren by two fathers, and the steady return of Manatu's displaced natives from faraway lands, the island began to repopulate. She devoted herself to affairs of state and vowed never to marry again.

On Manatu Island, her descendents, given their mixed Aboyan-British heritage, and despite Uba Uba's station as elder of the Aboyans, regarded themselves as a separate tribe to their cousins in the east. This balancing act of loyalties would prove to be a lifelong trial for Uba Uba, as the elder of two separate tribes. Yet somehow, she succeeded, taking every challenge in her stride.

Now 60 and still a fine figure of wormanhood, Uba Uba's myriad successes placed her highly amongst her peers. She was a central figure in affairs of the islands, both native and colonial, and her opinions were revered well beyond her own tribal jurisdictions.

She found herself frequently in counsel with new Governors and diplomats, and the elders of other tribes. She listened to them, she learned from them, and she advised them. Amongst their number was the great Pinjarra who had returned to Irukandji full of hatred for the British after two decades of horrors in the Queensland plantations.

From Pinjarra's vitriolic rantings, Uba Uba gained his thirst for independence, and from his eventual death in a hangman's noose for treason, she learned that the colonials were terrified of an uprising. With patience and cunning, she devoted herself to the independence movement for the rest of her life.

In 1943, her journey finally ended when the Japanese invaded Irukandji at the height of the war in the Pacific. As a British citizen of rank, 88 year old Uba Uba was interned in a prison camp where she died of tuberculosis soon after.

Yet even in death, she found victory, for after the war, when Britain's strength was at its weakest, the seeds of independence she had sown in the hearts of her followers, began to bloom. The real war was about to begin.

Uba Uba's legacy

Savu, elder of the Tamita tribe, 1969

In 1975, Irukandji finally became an independent nation, with its first king, Daniel of Weta, elected by his fellow elders. Upon Daniel's death four years later, civil war erupted, and the Manatuans found themselves in an untenable situation.

Kebo Pinjarra, the grandson of old Pinjarra himself, and elder of the Pinjarra clan, wished to take control of the kingdom. The Manatuans were torn between their ancestral ties with the Pinjarrans, and fear of the powerful Tamita elder, Savu de Tamita, who raised an army to oppose the attempted coup.

The Manatuans opted for neutrality. They could not take sides, for they had interests with, and loyalties to, both men. To complicate matters even more, both Savu and Kebo had been devoted pupils of Uba Uba in their youth.

In Savu's eyes however, the Manatuans' stance made them cowards and untrustworthy. His fight was on behalf of the entire kingdom, not just one tribe. Every other clan throughout the islands had taken part in defending the democratic freedom of their nation, but not the Manatuans.

When Savu finally defeated Kebo, he made his disgust with the Manatuans clear. He declared Manatu a non-state, a conquered territory just like Pinjarra. As such, Manatu was deprived the right to place an elder on the Council of Princes or to have any say in the kingdom's future.

While Manatu's status as a non-state remains to the present day, the animosity towards its people has thinned in recent times, and one of Sir Ernest's direct descendents, Lemuel Recreant, now serves as Irukandji Police Commissioner.

Irukandji Village

Uba Uba's lineage by her second marriage is continued through her heir and great-great-grandson Tigra Quintessa, who perhaps with the passage of sufficient time, will become the first Manatu elder to serve as a Prince of Irukandji.

It is comforting though, that despite the tribal disputes of recent decades, none of that stigma has attached itself to Lady Uba Uba, who is remembered, both fondly and heroically, as the Matriarch of Manatu, and mother of the revolution.

Indeed, Irukandji's flagship submarine is named the HMIS Uba Uba in her honour.

Lady Uba Uba is buried on Manatu Island beside her first husband, Sir Ernest. The Quintessa mansion on Tamita Island is now a museum, and houses all of Archibald's personal effects exactly as they were on the day he left for war.

Recommended further reading:
The Tamita-Pinjarra War
Tale of the Twin Pearls

Andrew Thompson a.k.a. Xay Tomsen