09 July 2019
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We have only been to a few island but so far this one is my favorite for a variety of reasons.
We arrived into a small and deep anchorage, around 65 feet. There was a catamaran leaving that told us the town men were meeting so we would have to stay aboard until after lunch. It was close to lunch time for us as well so this was no problem. We got anchored, had some lunch and headed into meet the town chairman.
We were greeted by a young local man that said he did not know if we needed to speak with the chairman and we were welcome to walk around. We weren't sure what we should do because earlier we were told to ask permission to interact with the island people and their shores before making ourselves at home. There is no "book" so to speak on the customs and what is expected in each island.
There is a pepper plant called Kava that some of the islands want to have given to them as a gift. Upon your arrival to shore ladies must first put on a sulu, or a wrap, no bare legs or arms and nothing on your head including a hat or sunglasses. You will ask for the Tura ni Koro who is the village headsman. He will do all of the talking to the chief on your behalf. Once you present your Kava there may or may not be a ceremony, called sevusevu, of drinking the kava with the village men. The root is ground up into a powder and mixed in a beautiful hand carved bowl with water. A coconut shell half is used to dip the kava and everyone present must drink their cupful. There is a process of order to drinking the kava that starts with the chief and ends with the visiting female. The ladies of the islands do not drink the kava. There is some clapping involved before and after the drinking of the kava. We did taste the kava in Tonga and it tasted like the dirty water that runs off of a potato but we hear it taste different in each area. After cyclone Winston a few years ago, kava has gotten very expensive. We paid 120 Fijian per kilo and each chief would prefer 1/2 a kilo. The US dollar is about half the Fijian dollar so as you can see, this can be an expensive part of seeing the Fijian Island. The trick is figuring out which islands require the sevusevu because they will all take it if it is offered. We have not been required to participate in the ceremony so far, only the giving of the kava. Steve did drink the kava with the locals and other cruisers in Viani Bay. I am perfect ok with missing the entire drinking part of the process. Drinking the kava does have some effects on the body. The lips and tongue can tingle and there is a relaxing of the muscles and arteries. We did give the kava to the chairman of Kioa Island. We weren't sure if we needed to because the people of this island are from Tuvalu.
The elders of Tuvalu many years ago were worried that global warming would cause them to lose some of their lands. So in 1947, they purchased the free hold Fijan island of Kioa. A small number of people came to Fiji to see if they could make a go of it. Some stayed and some returned home. The island is very neat and clean. We met one local named Nauti (not sure of how to spell his name) We met him several times while walking in the village and we had several chats. Once when he was retuning from farming his 75 acres on the island. The homes in the village are close together but the families are given land to farm all around the island. The men take their outrigger canoes around to their property to harvest and weed. Anyway, Nauti was very informative and told us the younger generation is keeping some of their old customs but they are embracing some of the Fijian customs and language. They speak their own language from Tuvalu, English and Fijian whereas some of the older people may only speak broken Fijian, English and their native language. The people work as a tight community and stay very busy. We arrived on a Tuesday and this is the day that the women, as encouraged by the Fijian community nurse, have games and activities day. Normally, the ladies are taking care of their families and many have large families, homes with cooking and cleaning and weaving baskets and mats to sell to the tourist that come over from Taveuni or to sell in Suva. This is a way of making an income for the families. The men were in various meetings sitting on the floor under a thatched roof for most of the afternoon the first day we were there and then fishing or taking care of their farms on the next day. The children start school early with a drum beat to get them started. Lots of singing and activities, then a drum beating to head home for lunch and the same for a return to class. The children start to learn English when they are very young. There were several other drum beats during the day that had something to do with ladies devotion time and family devotion time. There were fishermen fishing during the day and others that headed out at dusk. We also saw someone in the water with a flashlight both nights looking for lobster or crabs. They seem to eat fruits and vegetables grown on the island. There is an abundance of breadfruit right now and we were told how to make breadfruit chips. Not on Dr Furhman's plan because it is fried in oil, but we did try it and it was good. We were told the children like the chips raw. They also had pineapple, taro, cassava, kava, mango, papaya, soursop, cucumber, squash, coconut, lemons and mandarins. We are not sure what else they may be growing on the farm land. They had chickens and puppies everywhere. We saw one cow and a pen full of pigs.
The village is extremely clean and neat. Sidewalks lead to most of the houses. The first settlers here have homes along the water and as the families grew the homes moved inland. The village doesn't look near as big as it is from the water but it does go far back away from the water. We were told that once a week the ladies come around and inspect the homes and the properties and give instruction on what needs to be cleaned up. Next week all of the men will work on rethatching the roof on the building where the meetings were held. If a new home needs to be built or a home needs repair, a group will do the projects. There are two churches in the village although we only saw the one. It is basically a Methodist Church. Every afternoon just before dinner we could here the women or the children singing in the pastors house.
We met an elderly lady that had some trouble with her knees. She was very sweet and took me to her house to see her baskets. They were lovely and I bought a few. She is the one that gave me the breadfruit and told me how to make the chips. The next day she saw me again and wanted to give me bananas and more breadfruit. She was very kind and an interesting lady to talk with. She was born in Tuvalu so remembers her original island.
The children here were really a highlight. I am glad we were there when they were out of class for one of our visits to shore. When we walked by the school we felt a little bad because they were all so distracted waving at us from their classroom. The other times we were ashore they were outside jumping rope, running around and singing. They have such big smiles and love having their picture taken and saying "Bula" which means hi in Fijan. They also like saying hi and asking your name. The children here have a very Polynesian look to them, different than the Fijians, or at least what we have seen so far.
We really enjoyed this island and the very friendly people on it.