Fiji, our home for a year
18 March 2015
We just realized it has been a year since our last update, time does fly. In the interim we have sailed from NZ to Fiji, flew back to Chicago for 3 and 4 months, and dodged cyclone Pam which just devastated Vanuatu, 450 miles W of us. The end of our 1000 mile voyage from New Zealand was celebrated with our oldest son Jon and grandson JJ joining us for 10 weeks shortly after we arrived in Fiji.
Fiji has a reputation as the friendliest of nations and we can believe it. Of 300+ islands about 100 are populated by 850,000 Fijians, approximately half native Polynesians and half East Indian. The Indians were originally brought here by the British as indentured servants, sort of a politically acceptable form of slavery. Despite several coups over the last 2 decades the people seem to get along well with each other and the government. Last fall Fiji had it's first democratically elected government in more than 2 decades. I think it is mostly the same military people who now are officially the elected government.
Outside the bigger cities the islanders still tend to live by traditional ways. Each village has a chief who is the final arbitrator in community matters. It is a hereditary position. In more remote area visitors, tourists as well as Fijians, are expected to present a give of kava ( a root to make their native drink from ) to the chief's spokesman. If the chief accepts it you are welcomed into the village as part of their community and under their protection. The most traditional villages require the women to have skirts down to the knees, and covered shoulders. Men wear a sula, like a skirt wrap, no hats or sunglasses, and shirts. The chief is always the first person you need to go see. You are also expected to respect the traditions of the culture even if they seem a bit outdated or arbitrary. For some reason it is taboo to touch the top of another persons head. I had to stop myself many times when I went to pat some young child on the head. No one could tell me why that is, must be very tough for the barbers.
Until recently the more remote outer islands were off limits to cruisers. Apparently a few visitors chose to ignore local customs despite being told about them and gravely offended the islanders. After complaints by the chiefs the Lau Group of islands was made off limits for many years. It could take several months to get written government permission to go there and only if an island family invited you in writing. It has opened up again which we were grateful for. These were our favorite areas of Fiji and many places we went had not seen a cruiser in over a decade.
For divers Fiji is known as the soft coral capital of the Pacific. Diving is one of our favorite activities and we were not disappointed. Most of the reefs are in excellent health, unfortunately this is not the situation in much of the Pacific we have cruised.
We liked Fiji so much we changed our plans to sail N for cyclone season last year and stayed here another 6 months. We hate to leave this beautiful place but it is time to move on. We will be heading W through Vanuatu or possible New Caledonia, and N Australia in route to Indonesia and Thailand where we anticipate spending up to a year.