¿What happened to Monday? – part 2
Author’s note: This is the second part of the tale “¿What happened to Monday?” You can find the beginning of the tale by clicking here.
If you have ever envisioned lolling about in a grass hut on the beach of a tropical isle…well this is the real thing! On a natural terrace about 10 meters above the beach, the village has a half dozen buhrs for visitors. Thatched-roof and woven palm frond panels for the walls and a wood-planked floor. There are thin beds with mosquito nets hanging from the rafters; a single bare-bulb light is usable a few hours in the evening when the village runs a generator, and there is a commode and sink in one corner, the communal showers are located nearby. On another terrace above the buhrs, is a community house or village buhr, with kitchen and huge deck overlooking the village and lagoon.
Life on Waya Lai Lai is easy and laid back, one of simple enjoyment. Villagers are very open and gregarious, well except for some of the children who at first play coy; but next you know, they are in your lap. The villagers spend most of their time with friends and family, which is pretty much one and the same on such a small island. The outlying islands of Fiji are still very much traditional tribal societies, typically comprised of 50-200 Kai Fiji in a village who garden in small family plots, gather from the surrounding rain forest, and fish. As a visitor to their village, you are welcomed into their daily life and routines. During my stay on Waya Lai Lai, I helped gather bananas, coconuts, and other fruits that grow wild in the jungle. I dug kumala (very large yams) and dalo (taro) roots, and picked palusami (a spinach like green) in the gardens. One afternoon I was invited to go hand fishing with some of the men in the straights between Waya Lai Lai and the neighboring island Kuata. Some of the women in the village tried to teach me about making masi or tapa cloth, a native art form where you decorate cloth made out of mulberry bark fibers with dyes. Mine looked like, well a Rorschach test; however, the women in Fiji create beautiful and intricate geometric designs on their masi. Besides joining my hosts in daily tasks, there were opportunities to hike, snorkel, canoe, or float languidly in the warm sparkling waters of the lagoon, catch some rays or maybe not, in a twine hammock strung between a couple palms.
Meals for the visitors are served in the community buhr with many of the villagers attending. The women incorporate a few items imported from the market in Lautoka, non-native staples such as pasta, rice, and potatoes, with the native fruits gathered in the rain forest and vegetables from the gardens. Fish is of course their primary source of protein. On the third night, we were treated to the village Lovo; a special celebratory feast with meke (music and dance) followed by the traditional sevusevu and yaqona ceremonies, this formally welcomed us into the village.
The lovo is a daylong preparation. Fish and free-ranging chickens are caught, vegetables dug and prepared, and fruits gathered. The men dig a deep pit in the sand; a roaring fire started and allowed to burn down to glowing embers. Mid afternoon, the lovo pit is loaded with the prepared ingredients, swaddled in leaves and palm fronds, and buried to bake in the heat of the hot sand and embers of the fire. The feast will include baked palusami, kumala, dalo and sweet uto (breadfruit) and duruka (tender young shoots of cane), vakalolo (small fish and prawns in coconut milk) and kovu (whole chickens wrapped in banana leaves). The centerpiece of the meal is a huge fish – ikamiti – about a meter and half long, stuffed with citrus fruits, bathed in coconut milk spiced with chilies and oranges, and wrapped first in banana and citrus leaves then woven inside a basket of palm fronds. The lovo is left to bake and is uncovered just before dusk. Then the party begins!
The lovo feast begins with the setting sun and the entire village turning out. The air is festive and joyous, which is really something to experience considering how happy and joyous Fijians are to begin with! The food is delicious, a slight smokiness from the embers mingling with the citrus juices and oils of the leaves. Hot tea, a remnant of Fiji’s British colonial past, and fresh juices accompany the meal, some juices are mixed with coconut milk, and others slightly aged and fermented have a little kick. A few of the musicians that welcomed us on the beach are playing and singing softly in the background. As the eating winds down the music comes forth and is joined by dancers, both men and women, as the meke is preformed. The villagers tell tales of lore through their songs and dance, highlighting triumphs, natural phenomenon, and their village family. We were taught the tralala, a side-by-side dance of shuffling steps that is rooted in the era of European missionaries who among many traditions tried to forbid the Fijians from dancing close together face-to- face. Then the dancers and musicians lead a procession, taking the celebration to the beach and lighting a fire. We learn village songs, children’s songs, and sing around the fire with the waves lapping up the shore next to us, while a few who stayed behind ready the community buhr for the sevusevu and yaqona ceremony.
The tanoa, the ceremonial kavakava bowl, was prominently situated on the deck of the communal buhr. The footed bowl of the tanoa typically range upwards of a meter in diameter and is carved from a single block of vesi wood, and often decorated with carvings and shells. The ceremonial preparation of kavakava is one of the most time-honored traditions of Melanesian life, spanning the south Pacific archipelagos of not only Fiji but also Tonga and Samoa. The koro mataqali a village leader, or the Tui if present, sits west of the tanoa, hence legend holds the first canoes arrived in Fiji. The rest of the village sits in a semi-circle facing the tanoa and Tui. The sevusevu began with me approaching the Tui and presenting with both hands my waka of yaqona wrapped in masi and introducing myself, “dua oo, Ni sa bula yacamu MrBill au lako mai America.” (dua oo – special greeting to a Tui or other high-level leader, and telling him my name and where I come from) A hundred years ago, if the Tui refused a visitor’s sevusevu and waka you would most likely become the next evening’s dinner…thankfully, the Tui accepted my sevusevu with a smile and “bula vinaka vakalevu,” then placed a croton leaf lei across my shoulders inviting me to sit across the tanoa from him.
From a wooden mortar the Tui scooped handfuls of previously pounded yaqona into the tanoa, and with the musicians playing and singing, the Tui chanted a prayer while pouring in water and mixing the kavakava. He clapped his hands once and took a polished and etched half shell of coconut, the bilo, and dipped into the tanoa. Drinking the whole bilo of kavakava at once, then saying “BULA!” the Tui ended with three claps. The Tui dipped the bilo in the tanoa again and reaching out with both hands offered the bilo of kavakava to me. I clapped, taking the bilo I sculled the full cup of kavakava, and trying not to gag or spit, I shouted “BULA!” as I handed back the bilo and clapped three times. Bula’s rose up behind me from the rest of the villagers, I was now a member of the koro. The Tui and I shared another round of kavakava in the same fashion, and then it was time for others to take their turn at the tanoa.
Settling back with the main group, I savoured the experience. I also took a long tug on my Fiji Biji (Fiji Bitter the national beer) to clear my mouth, the tanoa of kavakava looks a lot like a bowlful of dirty dishwater…and an equally soapy taste! I noticed my lips and tongue were tingling becoming a tad bit numb…yaqona is non-narcotic, but has some mild but similar effects. Yaqona is calming and induces mildly talkative and euphoric behavior, and is used in the west by “traditional” healers for anxiety and sleeplessness; however, in greater amounts…well, you probably will not see the gods, but you might talk to ‘em! The tanoa empty now, the Tui prepared another but with less formality than the first, and later another, until the entirety of the freshly pounded root was consumed. The circle closed in as some villagers retired to their homes for the night. The tanoa and bilo were moved into the middle, the musicians began playing and singing the hypnotic village song; which seems to have no beginning or end, it just continues, with others joining in and singing their own verse. During a lull in the song, as the bilo was being dipped and more Fiji Biji’s passed around, one of the guitars was handed to me and my hosts requested I sing a song from my village. I started picking Ripple from the Grateful Dead and they quickly fell in with the melodic rise and fall and shuffle tempo, really getting into the final chorus; and with the other players we got the song going in a round. Having finished the last of the yaqona and the hour so late, we made back to our buhrs.
The rest of my days in Waya Lai Lai were filled with enjoying my hosts and the beauty of their island home, snorkeling and fishing, and the occasional excitement of a visiting boat from one of the neighboring islands. The morning of my departure was filled with tearful bula’s and hugs as I prepared to leave. I did leave a small yaqona-laced western mark on the village musicians...they adopted the syncopated shuffle and final Do-Dodo chorus of the song Ripple I played and sang for them that one night, into their never-ending call-and-response village song. I could hear it wafting across the water as I waded out to boat for the return trip to Viti Levu. I am still not sure what happened to Monday, but by word of my hosts it is only, ‘bout half hour away. Ni sa Bula! - MrBill
MrBill, Gather Essentials: Travel Correspondent
published twice monthly to Gather Essentials: Travel
"¿Where the heck are You?" is the usual greeting I receive from friends and family since they are never quite sure just where I have been. "Where the heck are You?" is a traveler's column. Come with me for a journey to foreign shores, tropical locales, and places you may not have even heard of. Along the way I will introduce you to people; their cultures, art and cuisine, and together we will share an adventure. MrBill wanders and ponders. He is an avid traveler and photographer. He has extensive experience in the fields of Information Technology, Culinary Arts and Hospitality. Originally from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, MrBill now resides in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe. Keep up with all of MrBill's adventures by joining his network.
You might enjoy these other Travel & Adventure articles by MrBill on Gather:
Me Tarzan Conquering heights swinging through the jungles of Guatemala
Crossing Te Rua Manga A trans-island trek of Raratonga in the South Pacific
Adventures with Uluru Tales and adventures told thru the eyes of a tiny Koala