.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Escape to Fiji

New Zealand winters were boring a hole straight into me. I decided to get out. So I went to Fiji...a much acclaimed and talked about island to the north where the sonorous South Seas lap at the ravishing beaches where palm trees stand stretching themselves happily in the hot Pacific sun. What I found greatly rivaled the pleasantries of the landscape and climate. This great competition being won, very respectively, by the people of these islands.

The Fiji Islands spread out and cover a considerable quantity. Here tourists pour in and bombard various resort localities on the many different islands which constitute the nation of Fiji. But, as for myself, not having hardly a cent to spare on anything luxurious, I had to settle for my entire visit on the main island of Viti Levu. The island that is most discernible from a map. The inhabitants of these islands are some of the most curious, if not altogether friendliest. The majority of the population is indigenous Fijian, that is of Melanesian stock. Which is a bit different than the Polynesian traits which are common in the Pacific Islands. No, Melanesians are dark and have big bushes for hair. And broad noses and mouths. They look more in common with Africans than with Hawaiians, Tahitians, or Samoans. And another interesting fact is that once upon a time these inhabitants were known the world over for being notorious cannibals. But fortunately for myself and all the other Western visitors, they have given up that practice and took to a very sincere Christian faith that noble missionaries brought with them some 200 years ago.

The other inhabitants that make up a large portion of the population of the nation are, curiously enough, straight from India. Here, only a few generations stretch back to when their first ancestors trod on these islands. This was due to the sprawling British Empire of the 19th century which held its sway over Fiji and India, and who transferred Indians into Fiji as indentured servants to till the land for the promising sugarcane fields. And yet these Indo-Fijians still trace their culture, beliefs, and values from that distant land of India. Many Hindu temples tower above the palm trees. An occasional Mosque is also spotted. All of this is very exciting for me, no matter how much it may bore you. But I used to want to be an anthropologist as a kid, so I take my time in these descriptions.

These islands have known coupes and strife among the various types of people, several very recently, but for the most part, the two main ethnic groups get along amicably well. Occasionally, I could spot a difference or maybe even a concealed tension between the two. But I would suspect that any talk of persecution between the two would be incorrect.

I first arrived in Fiji on a tropical Sunday night. Immediately at the airport I befriended this British fellow from London named, Tom. We both were directed to downtown Nadi to a cheap backpacker and found our lodgings in a typical bunkhouse atmosphere.
I tried sleeping but all in vain; Perhaps I was too excited about being in this strange, exotic land. But about 4:30 or so, I grew fed up with laying in my bunkbed. I went for a little romp around the town. The streets were empty for the most part. And as far as paranoia about crime, I knew that Fiji could be dangerous as far as petty thievery, but as far as anything horrible, it was pretty safe.

Besides, the streets were asleep. I kept walking until I perceived a group of Fijian men seated on the sidewalk in front of some gated stores. They sat on cardboard and in any American city would have been conceived as being homeless. “Bulah!” they cried out to me and waving their hands in the air. This was the Fijian “Hello” which is amplified from the shops and streets at all times of the day and night.
“Bulah”, I yelled back to them and began to approach them. All of them were indigenous Fijian. They are stared at me as though I was some great white phantom floating through the vacant streets. They had this bowl before them. And it was with this bowl that I was introduced to my first kava partaking. “Come and have some kava with us.” They said. I approached shaking hands with all of them. And sat down.

Kava is what the Fijians live by. No trip to Fiji is really taken if one does not partake of this murky stuff. It’s this drink, really a type of tea, that they extract into a powder from this root of a type of mint tree. They mix the powder into water, stir and then drink. It is non-alcoholic. Though, does deliver a slight buzz to the unaccustomed drinker. The effect usually makes one very relaxed, almost sleepy. It is this drink that is the fabric of their society. All their gatherings revolve around this drink. If all addictions are harmful, then this is the least offensive and most innocent. These men had been drinking this grog since 6 the previous evening. It was now 5 the next morning.

Also the thing about drinking kava, is that it can only be imbibed in a certain ceremony. There is half a coconut shell used as the cup. And the group surrounding the bowl drinks one at a time and only in between intervals. There is one server and before one can drink his portion, everyone claps 3 times. The drinker smiles at everyone and says, “Bulah.”
Then in one drink, the drinker throws back his head and consumes the entire bowl without hesitation. To westerners this is difficult because both the looks and the taste of kava resemble a bowl full of muddy water. That is why ample concentration is needed to down the stuff. After one’s bowl is quaffed who says “matta” and everyone again claps 3 times. And next, the bowl is passed back to the server who fills the shell for the next drinker. Usually the eldest present is always the first to be served and then it goes around the circle and finally, the coconut shell rests in the bowl while everyone talks for awhile, discussing this and that until it is time for another round. For hours upon hours Fijians can sit and do this. While my 2 or 3rd bowl my tongue or lips become numb.
By the end of my stay in Fiji, I got to the point where I enjoyed drinking kava. In one day, I think I almost had about 20 coconut shells full of the stuff. Which is quite the accomplishment for any tourist.

I sat with these guys for maybe 2 rounds of kava. And then departed, looking for what other interesting things I could get into as the dawn was approaching. Before I took part in this kava ceremony, I began to suspect that my visit to Fiji was a mistake, but shortly after, realizing how friendly and open the people here are, I just knew how much fun and how many adventures I was soon to have on this exotic island. At which, I’m just now kicking off the many stories that occurred there.


Post a Comment

<< Home