Bula from Fiji,
Fijian men represent something of a sociological conundrum. This observation may well be the result of judging a book by its cover, with a western bias. I do have the advantage here of knowing many Fijian blokes from my rugby playing and refereeing days.
big and burly
Typically they’re big and burly, very strong and great rugby players, yet they speak in a deferential whisper. In a macho culture – is that where I’ve come from? – the two don’t go together. They present a bit like the snake with no venom, or the storm with no thunder. The circumstance leads to some intriguing exchanges.
I’m in Fiji for some rest and recreation, aiming for the island of Naigani, off the east coast of the main island. Travelling out to the pier for the boat to Naigani, there are plenty of these interesting encounters with the local menfolk. First, the taxi driver responds to the flag down with one of those typically Pacific nods; almost imperceptible. On route, a brief stop at a market for some provisions. This is where we’re encouraged to try the famous Fijian drink, kava. The countenances of the men offering the brown beverage says, “It’s a completely normal thing to do” but it doesn’t look normal. You take the kava in a half coconut shell, but it looks like dirty river water. And the taste doesn’t do a lot to dispel the thought that river water is what you are imbibing here.
Arriving at a tropical paradise, Naigani, we are greeted by a small band playing and singing those melodious Pacific ditties which always sound so positive, each of the group wearing a colourful lei. The reception group includes David (I never established how he acquired the name), who proves to be a wonderful host. Then on the very early morning when we’ve scheduled a fishing trip, a faint knock on the door accompanied by an even fainter, almost inaudible “Bula”. The human alarm clock is the village chief, a big man with a soft voice. It’s almost an apologetic whisper, “sorry to have to disturb you from your slumber” (even though it was your idea to go fishing at this hour).
The coconuts have eyes.
David is not as taciturn as most of his compatriots. Walking along the track (pictured) one day, we hear a substantial thud on the ground a few metres behind us. David doesn’t pause a moment to consider the near-death experience. “The coconuts have eyes,” he says. “They can see when it’s safe to fall.”
mangoes and bananas
Naigani is two square kilometres of paradise. There are great diving and snorkeling opportunities on the reef. There are kayaks for the circumnavigation. “Be careful on the southern stretch because the tide gets a bit stronger,” says David. There is a hangi once a week or so. And the island has an interesting history. In among the mango and banana trees, there are contour banks of immense basalt rocks. David tells us that at some time in the past, the islanders saw the need to defend themselves from marauders and the rocks were their ultimate line of defence: roll them down on invaders or hide behind them.
The Fijians are wonderful hosts in a beautiful place. The men are resplendent in their sulas and unfailingly respectful. On our last day in Fiji, they turn on a running rugby spectacular for us at Bidesi Park in Suva. And they neatly prove that liking flowers, wearing dresses and speaking softly are perfectly manly qualities.
Moce from Fiji