Interested in experiencing the much toted traditional Fijian culture and customs, we looked for an out of the way village for our first encounter with indigenous Fijians. What we found was Nabouwala bay briefly mentioned in a very out of date 1985 cruising guide that said the villagers were really friendly...it seemed perfect.
Arriving at Nabouwala bay and Village of Ono Island in the early afternoon we took some time to plan our visit to the village to ensure we committed no social morays. Traditional Fijian customs require very modest attire and that a gift be presented to the Chief of the village upon arrival. Modest attire for men is long pants and a shirt and for women an ankle length skirt and top that covers the shoulders. The gift is typically about one pound of Kava root specially wrapped for presentation.
Donning our best clothes we unwisely chose to head for shore at LOW tide and since a river enters this bay its bottom gently slopes toward shore over several hundred yards and the bottom is gooey mud in places. We struggled to keep clean and dry in as we pulled the dinghy through the shallows and mud. I might add that the sun was blazing, humidity high and I was sweating just a bit in my best clothes and inadvertently shot mud on Kathy's shirt when my flip flops did a flip in the thick mud.
Once ashore we were warmly greeted by a group of men with "Bula! Bula! all around. The frequently used term "Bula" is more or less Fijian for hello. One young man stepped forward to lead us to the Chiefs' home for introductions and the "sevusevu" or chiefs gift. The gift presented to the Chief is called a "sevusevu" and in return for the "sevusevu" the Chief ensures you will want for nothing during your stay. The Chief also grants permission to requests such as: May we anchor in the bay? Visit the village? Walk on the beach? Visit adjoining islands? etc.
Fijians views on property boundaries are very broad and extend to everything from a coconut tree a mile from the nearest home to fishing rights well offshore. Literally everything is owned and respectful visitor always asks for permission first.
Greeting the Chief we entered his home and were seated cross legged on the grass mat floor. The "sevusevu" ceremony, much of which was spoken in Fijian, remains a mystery and took five minutes or so and then we were invited to attend a school fund raiser and dinner later that evening. In the interim our appointed guide took us on a tour of the village of sixty or so inhabitants and then for a nice walk up the river to a bubbling hot spring. Back at the village we were invited to drink some Kava with the group of young men we first encountered ashore. Kava is made of dried ground Yaqona root,a type of pepper plant, and mixed with cool water in the fashion you would make tea in a steeping bag. The concoction seemed to be very benign, but apparently it's a mild narcotic of which the only distinct effect was a slight numbing of lips and tongue.
The tide was now rising and the dinghy was well away from the high tide mark so we headed back to the boat for quick nap prior to our evening engagement.
Heading back to shore at now high tide about 1/2 hour after sunset we were greeted by our guide and led to the community house. Inside the community house was a small circle of men surround a 30" wide Kava bowl. The men greeted us with friendly "Bulas" and we were seated in the place of honor next to the chief. The Kava drinking began as the mixture was served up in half coconut shell. The chief first, then important elders, then honored guest. When presented with the Kava you are first to say "Bula" clap your hands once, then take the coconut shell and drink the Kava in one gulp while bowing your head at the same time. Not exactly easy. Once you have the chalky dirty tasting drink down your gullet, you then hand the cup back and clap your hands three times. The cup is then refilled and passed to the next person of importance in the group. This is a great activity to pursue if you're interested in experiencing all contagious diseases present in the village! Still feeling fine at the moment, but half expecting to come down with something in the next few days.
After a few rounds of Kava we were led to the Chiefs house for dinner by one of his many daughters. The village has no electricity so we walked a grass path under rustling palms and a brilliantly lit star filled sky. The Chiefs home is one room about 10' wide by 14' long with crude doors on three sides and a few window openings (no glass) with basic shutter doors. The building is wood framed with no interior finish, just 2x4 walls and open rafters above. The room is lighted by the glow of the fire and supplemented perhaps for our benefit by a kerosene lamp. In one corner is the cooking area raised about 6" above the main floor and comprised of coral gravel. Numerous pots, pans surround the open fire and two concrete blocks support metal pipes that stretch across the fire on which the cooking pots are supported. Their is no chimney or opening in the roof to exhaust the smoke so the home is quite smoky and the walls are jet black with soot of many meals. On a wall near the raised cooking hearth is a rough hewn board serving as a shelf for oils, spices and food stuffs. The remainder of the room is covered with grass mats and sleeping mats, blankets and pillows are piled in one corner furthest from the cooking fire. As we are seated in the middle of the room cross legged on the floor as seven children ranging in age from 2 to 14 look on with a palatable curiosity. The food is served and is comprised of three whole fish cooked in coconut cream, taro leaves boiled in coconut cream, taro root and other unidentified vegetables. The food was delicious although it was a bit strange to have all these children and the chiefs wife stare at us as we ate. Various other villagers stopped by to chat including the Methodist minister. The meal ended with a nice lemon tea made simply with hot water and a few lemon leaves. After our meal we returned to the community building to rejoin the Chief for another Kava session. Then back to the boat before we were stranded on the beach by the outgoing tide.
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