Fiji – Part 1 – Bula!

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First (proper) blog post. This better be above average.

I went to Fiji and noticed some things I thought were interesting.

The edges of a fleshed out and dried coconut-bowl are circular in general, yet the edge itself is rough and uneven. This provides a pretty good analogy from which to begin an observation about Fijian society: community in the Fijian sense is circular in structure, and everyone is more or less equal. Sort of. They’re a bit relaxed about the whole thing.

Firstly, what the mediocre travel guides say is true; these are the friendliest people on the planet, at least out if the parts I’ve been too. They are humble, light-hearted and thrive on an endearing sense of community. Walking down the street in Suva, Fiji’s capital, looking lost, I was stopped by a tall, well built native Fijian (there is a smaller Hindu community on the islands which we brought over from India to grow sugar when it was a colony of ours), who checked my searching gaze and commented ‘There’s not much to it is there?’. It’s true, this was no high street by our standards, but what proceeded was a some incredibly pleasant conversation of little note or importance.

This is not a great story. I know this. But would the same thing happen on the streets of England? Would we be so welcoming here? Would we not negotiate away from any sort of conversation with a stranger in the street? It could be said our green and pleasant land is limited to the aesthetic qualities of our hills, and does not transcend into our social skills. One must also take into account the average Fijian male. Just take a look at their rugby team: ”There are three things wise men fear: the sea in a storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man”. Take note of the latter. Or should I say, the anger of a gentle, powerfully built man, with a beaming smile on his face. These are a proud people, but friendly, and hungry. Cannibalism was still practised just over one-hundred years ago.

This relaxed attitude towards their fellow man is pervasive in almost all aspects of society. Indeed, even a relaxed almost laissez-faire attitude towards economy and politics (more to come later). Take our hostel for example, and our 16 bed dorm. To say the employees worked would be an overstatement. To say they had to perform functional duties for us to have a good time would be one too.

I will try and leave you with one final image that I feel sums up Fiji. A Kava ceremony traditionally took place at the end of every evening at this hostel. Kava? It’s a root which is ground up and filtered through a Hessian sack with the assistance of water. What is left is what looks like a pleasant blend of grey and brown pond-water. If it were on a wine list, the description would read something like this: ”Bland in the nose. Peppery and muddy on the palate with a slightly minty finish. Hints of bark and soil linger in the mouth.”

It is relaxing, and can make your mouth go a little numb. The effects seemed minimal, but we were told after playing rugby with some of the staff on one island that they were banned from drinking it for a week, so in stronger doses we assumed its effects were a little more potent, and it seemed Kava was preferred to alcohol for the majority of Fijians.

Kava-Bowl4This is where the hollowed out coconut bowl comes into play, as this is what Kava is supped, or rather downed from (I have indeed, been a fresher, and have downed). If you can’t ‘see it away’ in one, however, you do not become ‘a shit lad’. They merely laugh, and hand you another bowl and give you another go. However, this will occur until a whole bowl is seen away. You must also clap before you receive the cup, shout ‘Bula!’ a word in Fijian that simultaneously means hello, welcome and life. Its truly is a superb word, say it now and those three meanings will amalgamate into the most life-affirming greeting in the world.

Just like the coconut-bowl, the Kava bowl is circular. Just like the Kava bowl, so are the sound holes on acoustic guitars. These are the melody-making weapons of choice for Fijian’s. A few tatty but much-loved old acoustics were passed around the circle of travellers, for any German, Fijian, Scandinavian or Frenchman (we met one who had not been home in four years, had riotous ginger dreadlocks, and carried a diving knife at all times) to try his or her hand at playing. Local songs mixed with western classics as we sat on a weaved rug and sang songs ranging from Pink Floyd to a local number called ‘Please Don’t Eat My Papaya’.

The hostel had created a family indeed, which started with the employees and their own families, and transcended to each person that passed through the hostel – Fijians trade in community, and create it wherever they can.

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