Life on Fijian time
15.01.2006 33 °C
From the 12th to the 16th of January I headed out to a home stay on a village on Matacawalevu Island. The village was tiny with only about 120 people, no cars, one Methodist church and lots of beaches. The village was a traditional indigenous Fijian village and completely free of any Indian influence, it was like being in another country from the main island. Life was very slow and relaxed with people napping most afternoons away in the tropical heat.
They fed me 3 meals a day plus afternoon tea. Each meal was served in a very generoud portion and the food was great, lots of starchy root vegetables like Cassava and Breadfruit, fresh caught clams and crabs (I went with them on the foraging expedition for them) and fish with rice. All were always topped with a coconut milk sauce which was excellent. The main course was often accompanied with fresh fruits like pineapple, papaya or mangoes. One morning for breakfast I had roti's and cornmeal pancakes that were dyed with food coloring a brilliant blue. Here is my spot:
The most interesting traditional Fijian activity I was a part of were the daily kava drinking ceremonies. The ancient tradition is still a part of daily life for most Fijians and goes a little something like this; People gather into a room and sit cross-legged on woven mats around a massive wooden bowl filled with the Kava. The liquid kava is made from the powdered root of the kava plant, a member of the pepper family and water. It looks like muddy water and tastes about the same. One person is in charge of mixing the bowl and tending the kava all night. He (it is always a male) made from a coconut shell and fills it either "high-tide" to the brim or "low-tide" halfway and passes it to the first person in the circle. They accept by saying "Bula" the Fijian greeting, clap once, down it in one gulp then clap three times and say "vinaka" or thank you. Everyone else in te room claps three times while you are drinking to show you respect.
Then the cup is passed around until everyone has their fill. After which people sit around chatting, smoking and joking around in Fijian. The process of drinking kava is repeated every 10 minutes or so and can last for 6 hours or more. The effect of about 10+ cups of kava is a numbing of the senses and face, a bit of slowed reflexes and pretty much an overall groggy feeling. It is different than being drunk, and much more relaxed, but not as fun. Of the 4 nights I was at the home stay I participated in kava ceremonies 3 of them and enjoyed myself, but had no idea what was going on most of the time as everyone was chatting in Fijian and only spoke to me in English on occasion. During my longest ceremony where I lasted about 3 1/2 hours my host, Sitoki was trying to let them only fill up my cup to "low tide" but the village chief, "Joe" kept forcing them to fill it to High Tide and got a kick out of seeing how much this white boy could drink. After cup number 18 I had to call it a night. During that ceremony a band had come in from one of the cargo ships and they were singing and playing their island music all night, think Hawaiian, but slightly different.
During the day I went snorkeling or was taken by canoe on trips to other beaches around the island, including the "Blue Lagoon" beach where the movie was filmed. The villagers are understandably very proud of that fact that their idyllic spot was used in the movie.
Sitoki's 2 year old grandson formed an instant bond with me and we played a bit, but he could not understand why I did not know what he was saying when he would ask me things in Fijian, it was very cute. I played some volleyball with the younger folks and also went to the church service on Sunday. The village was converted by Methodist missionaries a hundred years ago and their Methodist Fijian service was beautiful. It was conducted all in Fijian, of course, but the highlight was their amazing island style singing during the service, the harmonizing b/n the men and the women was incredible. I was lucky to hear the choir sing every day while I was there as they were still celebrating the New Year in Fiji (they celebrate for the whole month of January) and so there was singing every night, not just in church.
On my last night I was treated to a sunset cruise which amounted to two of my 17 year old friends paddling me out into open water in a canoe (which we had flipped in into a coral reef the day before) with some good sea swells. We got some amazing shots, and it was quite a thrill being out in the open water in such a small boat.