Dalaconi Village - Northern Lau Group, Fiji
17 June 2012
Here is a short story about the last 24 hours here on the Fijian Island of Vanua Baluva. It is also known as the Exploring Islands - a massive coral reef that encircles a least 8 major islands. Vanua Baluva is located in the northeast corner of Fijian waters and is one of the most northerly islands of the Lau Group. This area was previously off limits to cruisers as the government wanted to preserve their traditional culture. Fortunately, for a small fee we are now able to visit these areas.
We arrived at the well marked pass yesterday at noon and followed the range markers through the reef to the inner lagoon. We also followed a series of GPS waypoints that we obtained from an experienced local cruiser named Curly - last name unknown - who hangs out in Savusavu and offers regular seminars on the perils of Fijian waters! At any rate, his waypoints worked well and guided us to the anchorage at Dalaconi Village without incident.
Within a few minutes of our arrival friends on a Swiss sailboat approached us in their dinghy and advised us we were in luck - tonight there would be a pig roast and dance show in the village - to be put on just for the 4 yachts in the anchorage. It sounded like fun so we quickly launched or own dinghy and prepared to go into town to meet the local people.
There is a tradition in Fijian Villages - the formal greeting process of sevu sevu - or gift giving. Upon arrival at a village for the first time one seeks out the village mayor or head man, as well the chief of the village. They usually watch you arrive so this is not too difficult to figure out. You are then taken to the chief's home where you explain the reason for your visit and how long you plan to visit. A gift presentation of a bundle of kava roots is from us to the chief, along with some other small gifts. The chief graciously accepts the gifts and the welcomes you to the village and tells you that their village is now your village and that all doors are open - we are welcome to go wherever you want!
The mayor then took us for a tour of the small homes, the church and the community all, all laid out along a sandy beach with lush hills rising up behind. About 150 people live in the village so there is also a small elementary school. Older kids ride a truck to the high school in the larger town across the island.
It was about this time the dinner party started. Everyone was dressed in their finest clothes - the men all wore their sulus - their man skirts. The kids were thrilled with the balloons brought by one of the cruising boats and later really went crazy when they were all given plastic bracelets that glowed in the dark - such fun!
Getting back to adults, we were first all presented with beautiful flower chokers, followed by a Fijian feast - all local food. Delights include the roasted pig, stuffed crabs, baked fish, palusami - taro leaves soaked on coconut milk, taro root, fish cooked in lemon and coconut milk and lots of other good stuff. As we ate, we were entertained by singing and dancing and even tried cups of kava, served by the mayor from a giant carved wooden bowl. This was an interactive evening so from time to time we were pulled out of our chairs to dance with the locals. When we all had enough and our eyes were weary we were sung a goodbye song by an ensemble of almost the entire village - beautiful voices and beautiful harmony.
The next day we went to the large Methodist Church in the middle of the village to get another fill of the great singing. It was fantastic! After the service we were invited to the home of the minister for lunch with the pastors who walk from village to village on Sunday. We all sat on the floor along a reed mat covered with the delights of the region. This time the menu included fresh barracuda. Yummy!
The local Fijians are wonderful people. They are warm, friendly and always smiling. Their English is excellent allowing us to have good conversations about many things. It's only been 24 hours since we arrived but we already become immersed in the local culture. How great is that!