We began this trip in Fiji, jet lagged and unambitious to do more than enjoy the area around our resort. Now we have returned on the ship to see and do what this country has to offer. We are lucky to be here. Our ship has been coming here for weeks, but recent typhoons prevented docking and the ship just bobbed around. One week it could only land in one port in a week. Frustrating!
Our tour guide talked incessantly during the drive to and from the Navua River. He talked about the early days when Fiji was settled by waves of Polynesians and Melanesians from New Guinea. Its location at the crossroads of the Pacific made it a frequent stop for other Melanesian groups that floated around looking for new spots to live. Frequent battles ensued, exacerbated once Europeans added guns to the mix. Missionaries had their work cut out for them as the local priests and chiefs resented their intrusion to their power base. Cannibalism eliminated the threat for a while, but today Christianity is a dominant religious force in the islands. Today was Sunday and Suva, the capital city, was quiet as all the good people were at church. Fijians from India who were brought in by the British to work the sugar plantations are a major force here today and 30% are Hindus. They are resented by the "real" Fijians and numerous coups have occurred in recent history to sort out who really is in charge. It got so bad Fiji was kicked out of the British Commonwealth, although recent stability has caused them to be readmitted.
Outside of town, most folks live in what we call shacks, corrugated pieces of metal stuck together helter skelter. In a less temperate environment this would be a much more serious problem, but here it’s nice to be outside anytime it’s not raining.
Most indigenous Fijians live in villages in extended family groups and acknowledge a hereditary chief, usually a male. In the old days the chiefs had many wives and the eldest son from the first wife was always the successor. Today village life is supportive but also conservative. Being too different or too ambitious can threaten the village’s stability. Traditional gender roles continue to be the norm. The consumption of kava remains an important social ritual.
Fijians have much to worry about as the seas continue to rise. The government has moved all the residents of one small island to another, before their homes were consumed by the sea. On our trip today we saw many homes on stilts. On the wet side of the island 120” of rain fall annually, three times what we get at home. Two thirds of Fiji’s reefs have experience significant coral bleaching as the temperature of the water rises.
Today’s tour found us in a long boat riding up the Navua River to a waterfall. The current was swift and the depth of the water varied greatly with every twist and turn. We were glad that they have us plastic bags for our belongings; we were splashed every so often. We rode past farmland, villages, pristine rainforest, deep gorges and numerous waterfalls. Every so often we passed people bathing in the river or just enjoying its refreshing temperature. Without fail they waved and shouted “bula!” You couldn’t ask for friendlier people. At the landing, we climbed on a narrow path that used to have railings up into the forest to a thundering waterfall. The current it generated was powerful, but the pool below prevented people who were brave enough to swim in it (me) from being washed away. Treading water while masses of water crashed around me was a thrill. I could have stayed for hours. As we climbed back down to the river, we shared the narrow path with other tourists climbing up. It was a set-up that would not be acceptable at a at park in the US, but was OK here.
Then we went to a village for lunch, which began with a welcoming kava ceremony. Kava is made from the roots of the yagona plant and the drink has sedative, anesthetic, and euphoriant properties. You can buy it powdered at the store the way we would buy instant coffee. People in our part of the world that are not fans of traditional medicine, use it to treat anxiety. We were welcome to try it, but our ship warned us that whenever they leave Fiji they have problems with people having tummy problems. It just didn’t seem worth it. For lunch the village served food that any Westerner would recognize and more traditional things for those brave enough to try them.
By the time we returned to town, church was over and the sorts of shops that would interest folks like us were open. Now that we don’t have to worry about suitcase weight, we feel more free to acquire, but then there’s the question of where it will sit or hang at home. There isn’t even room for the Fiji coffee cup I bought. What country should I demote?