13 November 2009

A Polynesian Spree

Colourful village life.

The South Pacific has always held a huge amount of fascination for me, ever since hearing the haunting minor key of “Bali Hai” in grade nine band class (I love musicals – ALL musicals. My close friends call me a gay man in a woman's body and I tend to agree, sister.) Growing up, something about the idea of the sand, coconusts and grass skirts (on women and men – hello again sister!) mixed together in my brain with the scent of Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion and frangipani and I figured that that must be what Polynesia was like. Turns out I am not too far off the mark.

Eighteen months ago, right before departing on this trip, I attended a big Global Ball/Conference for my company in Honolulu, and even though I was excited I was a little bummed at what I viewed as a slightly more pedestrian destination than, say Dublin where the event was held the year before, or Capetown where it is next year. Nonetheless, when I packed my bags (oh the luxury of being able to pack a full suitcase of clothes, make-up and shoes for six days!) and I landed my old fascination popped back into my brain. It did smell like Hawaiian Tropic, people were eating macadamia nuts and poi and hell, I even learned the hula.

The whole time, though, I knew that I was in a pre-fab, Americanized Hawaii – a faux Polynesia meant for tourists and Americans who want desperately to pretend that Hawaii is actually part of their nation and not just a particularly pretty spoil of nineteenth-century conquest (colonizers? The US? Never!).I managaed to mostly escape the feeling when I ventured to Haliewa on the North Shore of Oahu and ate lunch from the iconic shrimp trucks, followed by a huge cup of Hawaiian shave ice (hours after braving the depths to swim with Reef Sharks...) but the cloying feeling that I wasn't really experiencing Polynesia still remained.

Shake it like a polaroid picture.

After a week in Fiji I can put that feeling to bed for good. Though it was been overcast (the planet knew a Vancouverite was approaching) for half the time, the softly swaying palms, the crooning local music accompanied by a plinking ukelele and the fresh flower smell in the air fulfilled my expectations completely. While Viti Levu (the main island) remains split between ethnically Fijian people and Indo-Fijians, the islands are more traditional with villages existing as they have for centuries.

I ventured to the village on Waya Island a few times last week, the first for Sunday morning church service. Though an atheist myself I wanted to see the local customs in action - people here are overwhelmingly Methodist and at their services mix local tradition with fire-and-brimstone preaching. It was all in Fijian of course, but I think I got the gist (screamy man with bulging eyes pointing and probably telling us how hot hellfire is.) The choir was really the highlight – somewhere between gospel, Boney M and ceremonial Polynesian. I was moved to happy tears listening to the beautiful singing.

Such amazing singing.

A few days later I walked down to the village to attend a local craft market prepared by the women for the resort's tourists. The sand lined lanes and corrugated metal buildings reminded me of small villages in the Maldives – here the main industries are also fishing and resort work. The small clutch of buildings was teeming with small children, the older ones having been sent away to a larger island during the week for school, and these little ones love to ham it up for the camera.
ahh, mild narcotics.

We were treated to a long kava (a slightly narcotic powdered root mixed with water) ceremony with the chief and the mayor. The procedure is simple but must be followed – and if you are offered kava it is unthinkably rude to turn it down. Your host will pass you the small coconut bowl containing a few healthy slurps of the murky water and you clap once and shout “BULA!” (the all purpose greeting of Hello in Fijian.) Everyone else also shouts “Bula” and then claps three times. As you finish your cupful you hand it back and clap three times, and it is on to the next person. This is repeated until the kava is gone, with subsequent rounds following almost the same procedure – the saying of “Bula” is omitted. After each cup your mouth feels filled with novocaine and numbness envelops your lips, tongue and throat. Apparently the locals drink enough that this numb feeling spreads all over their bodies. While it tastes...interesting, to say the least, I found it more and more pleasant with each round. I am brought S a packet home.

Local kids mesmerized by the pale folks.

Music, dancing, tightly knit village groups and staunch Christianity mixed with local beliefs – Fiji is at once similar to Hawaii and completely unique. Every person that I met was genuinely kind and friendly, from the gardeners eager to have a chat about the island plants to the local women who greeted me by name every time I walked by. This is a place that is easy to love, and I can see myself coming back time and time again...

…...and that's not just the kava talking.

Chillaxin, Fiji style.


emily said...

hi i love your blog, and i also love traveling asia and beyond! keep writing!

Jonathan at Land, Air, and See said...

Great pics on this one!

Haddock said...

Enjoyed reading that.
All the pictures are so colourful.

Anonymous said...


montreal florist said...

It's good shot of polynesian people. It's very rare the photo like that.