Day 3: Suva to Nananu-i-Ra Island
Thursday, again a 7am start, quick breakfast, and on the road inland to visit another village, Wailotua. This event on our whole itinerary is my most-memorable (so far). We participated in an age-old Kava ceremony.
Part of the Fijian way of life is to ceremoniously receive guests. When you go to a region, you must first visit the village and when you do, the village receives you with a ceremony that includes drinking kava - a powder made from crushing the dried root of the peppermint tree. The taste is not all that bad but you get used to it. If you drink enough, you will have trouble standing or even talking. It is classed as a narcotic, though not an illegal one, and is a muscle-relaxant. Apparently, you can buy it in capsule form from pharmacies these days.
The ceremony was amazing. We walked up the path to the village's meeting bure (a large, semi-open hut) and yelled out a special greeting which means "I am here", or something like that. The villagers yelled something back and we filed into the bure.
As I was designated "chief" of our "tribe", being the eldest, I led the way followed by John then all the boys then all the girls. As chief, I sat in a special spot a few feet in front of their chief with my tribe in a semi-circle behind me - on an huge intricately-woven grass mat.
The chief performed a special ritual that was effectively opening and blessing the ceremony and I had to respond by touching the kava bowl, clapping three times, and saying "vinaka" - which means "thankyou".
Then we drink; again me first as chief, and with a liberal helping followed by their chief then John then each member of my tribe. (Interestingly, none of our hosts drank except their chief - meant to ask John about that.)
After about seven or eight bowls, I was starting to feel the effects but thankfully I could still walk once the ceremony was over, although talking was a bit slurred - the back of my throat had actually gone numb.
The ceremony has a three-fold meaning; permission, protection and forgiveness. My tribe was asking permission to enter the tribe's lands as we afterwards went bamboo rafting on their river. Protection from anything like accidents. And forgiveness in case anyone unintentionally does or says anything that offends the tribe.
Staying on rafts made of ten-metre lengths of bamboo lashed together at three or four points was challenging to say the least. Had a go at driving the raft too - eventually got the hang of it though. I can do anything! ;-)
A group of us played volleyball in the river and the chief from the tribe joined in - he even knew how to play! What was even more interesting was that one of the young men from the tribe was opposite his chief and he would not tackle anything the chief hit over.
We finish up on the river, file back onto the bus and an hour and a half later we are loading up onto a ferry to Nananu-i-Ra Island; that ferry was chockers - people everywhere except the roof.
Twenty minute trip and we are being shown to our dorm at the hostel on the island. Again, I am impressed at the facilities that seem to be the norm at "backpacker" accommodation in Fiji; they are all very resort-like.
A huge volleyball game developed that evening before dinner and drinks well into the night. Sat on the beach with a few of the others and watched Fijian fishermen in the distance. Called it a night about 1am.
"Fijian Markets" - This group of stalls was a typical fruit/veg market. Everything is a dollar; I pay one dollar for a single banana and a dollar for a pineapple yet the bags of produce were labelled $1.
"Accident on the main road" - On the main road up to the village, we encountered a blockage due to this vehicle having turned over. Poor buggers had a hell of a time trying to right the tractor again - and in the rain no less.
"Village's meeting bure" - the semi-open hut where the villagers welcomed us with the kava ceremony.
"Me big chief!" - Me as chief accepting the first kava offering. As chief, every kava bowl was a liberal helping! I wanted to say "no more" after about six, but wasn't sure I could, but fortunately, John said enough at seven.
"Great photo subjects" - The kids in the school were quite enthusiastic and attentive towards the visitors and loved getting the picture taken and see the results on the camera's LCD window.
"Not happy Jan!" - At the time of taking this photo, I was laughing because the only kid in focus (well almost - at the back) originally approached me to take his photo and this brought on an onslaught of other kids wanting to be a part of it. Poor bugger was not happy. Don't know why he didn't try again though.
"The Crew" - This started out as a pleasant group shot including some of the kids from the school behind us, until about 15 cameras were laid out the feet of the volunteer photographer! My camera was second-last and by now the novelty had worn off as you can see on some faces.
"The main road" - Took me ages to get this shot of the bridges typical on this road we were travelling on all day. Believe it or not, this is a main road through the region. You cannot see the edge of the bridge through the bus's windows!
"Tea anyone?" - When I saw this vehicle in front of the bus, it immediately symbolised everything about the Fijian attitude to life. Sitting on the back of a moving, open truck, drinking tea, because it suited them to do so - hang the consequences. I love it!