Discover The Lullaby of Coconut Palms and the Warm, Friendly Culture of Fiji
Listening to the rustling leaves of the coconut palms on Fiji, you get a sense of the people and culture. The leaves blow not rushed by civilization or worries. The swaying leaves are the island lullaby; fitting sounds for a lounging day in a hammock or strolling down the beach. They are just one of many welcoming and enduring sounds of a vacation in paradise.
Landing in Fiji in the city of Nadi, I stepped off the airplane to a slightly darkened sky greeted by three men strumming guitars and singing “My Fiji”. As I got my luggage, the locals waved saying, “Bula”. The word is synonymous with hello, so like the Hawaiian word Aloha and one which embodies the Fijian mindset, “No worries, be happy”, like Bobby McFerrin sang on another tropical isle.
Standing outside to board the Sun Air inter-island airplane, I heard the sounds of the morning birds. Their deep haunting voices mirrored the bird calls you hear on a CD of the rain forest.
I think I flew with the birds when I headed off to the island of Vanua Levu, although my plane ticket said, Sun Air. Only a bird can fly into a peach colored sunrise carrying me away from civilization and commercialism.
Landing in an airport with one terminal and three cows, I encountered a soothing island of immense peace and beauty, one I called home for too short a time, but which will always stay in my heart, My Fiji.
Whisked off in a van down a dirt road past lush green plants, the ever present swaying coconuts, papaya and guava trees, past chickens strolling in front of houses in bright turquoise, yellows, and pinks, my family arrived at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort, a five star resort and sister to the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur and the Hotel Hana in Maui.
The resort, located on a seventeen acre coconut plantation, overlooks Savusavu Bay. Each bure (hut) is built Polynesian style and decorated in understated elegance. The bure’s are ample-sized with a king size bed, armoire, couch, desk, large bathroom with mini bar, and an inviting patio with a hammock and lounge chairs; the perfect setting to watch the sunset, sip a tropical drink, and just get away from it all.
Sustainable Coral Reefs & Preserving Island Environment
As part of the Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society, Sustainable Reefs, a global initiative the words, “protect the ocean and you protect yourself” are taken to heart. You notice this in the video presentation about coral reef awareness, which brings the sea life up close. Seeing clownfish like Nemo and zebra and parrot-colored fish and so many others in brilliants shapes and sizes, my family couldn’t wait to explore.
Like the video explained, the wonder and beauty of the sea is a treasure to protect, the message came home in images showing dynamite tossed into the ocean for fishing, or tearing down a rainforest for logging. In talking with the staff I heard how fishing villagers used to put a poisonous native plant in the water. It hurt the sensitive coral reef environment and is no longer practiced.
In visiting with another guest of the resort, Duane Silverstein, Executive Director of Seacology, a non-profit group, dedicated to preserving the environment and cultures of the islands, I learned about their local efforts in Fiji. In Nadogo Village, Seacology provided funding for basic access road improvements in exchange for a protective covenant preserving a 2,000-acre rainforest. In Nasigasiga Village, which my brother and his family visited, Seacology built a kindergarten and medical dispensary. The village in turn created a 400-acre rain forest reserve.
The Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort offers eco-friendly activities and island culture events for families and couples. My family loved exploring the colorful fish in the underwater of Fiji by: snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, or walking along the tide pools.
Seeing a man walk up a coconut tree effortlessly and bring down a green coconut was a real treat. Learning how to shred a coconut and taste the freshest grated coconut meat ever and braiding a basket made from coconut palms, the local culture became a part of everyday life, albeit briefly. Visiting the open air market in the town of Savusavu, we talked to the farmers selling fruits and vegetables in vibrant oranges, reds, purples, greens, and yellows, the same vivid colors appeared in the sulus (skirt) they wore.
Long roots of brown Kava, the color of dirt, sat in the grass or wrapped in bundles, and packaged in small bags in a powder, for making the traditional Fijian drink, Kava. This drink is used for greeting and receiving, for celebrations and every day life. In the villages it is more traditionally drank by men.
In the evening at the resort, the Bula Boys sang Fijian songs, around a traditional kava bowl. Sipping from the kava bowl, I felt welcomed by the warmth of the people. This feeling continued all throughout my stay and is inherent in the heart of the Fijian people; my new friends invited me to walk with a medicine man, attend a traditional Fijian wedding, take a hike in a rain forest and visit with a chief in a local village.
Walking through the grounds of the resort, up a mountain where cows roamed, and along a rocky stretch of the beach the medicine man, Numaiya identified each plant and its medicinal use. Numaiya explained how the Fijian people rarely seek medical care that everything they need is in the plants, whether they have a cold, a stomach ache, diabetes, heart troubles, or an insect bite. He mentioned if someone breaks a bone, that they treat it the traditional way in four days by using touch therapy.
Fijian wedding ï¿½ A Resort Community
When you hear about a wedding in a local park at home, if you happen to walk by, you might admire it, but a part of you will likely feel like you’re intruding – after all you don’t know the people getting married. The exact opposite feeling happened in Fiji. At the resort, the staff told us, be sure and attend the traditional wedding. A couple of days later the bride and groom, both guests of the resort, also invited us to experience their wedding.
In the wedding, four warriors carried the bride on a raft to meet the groom. One person blew a conch shell and two drummers beat a wooden drum. The beat itself, is a sign alerting the villagers a celebration is coming.
Prior to the wedding ceremony, the local church sang hymns in Fijian and the resort community sang, hummed and shared in the couple’s joy. Under a flowery canopy the bride and groom exchanged their vows.
Waisali Rain Forest Preserve
Driving to Waisali, past the villages, an occasional rooster, pig, cow, horse, or family appeared, tending the land. Slowly the houses gave way to lush tropical vegetation then a grove of pine trees emerged, throwing the senses off, a reminder of logging activity. The rainforest itself provided a blanket of soft rain, a rigorous hike, walls of green plants, and an inviting waterfall.
Walking into the village out of respect, my family wore sulus (skirts) and did not wear sunglasses, hats, or sleeveless tops. Carrying Kava root, flour and rice, as gifts, I wondered if they would be well received and if there would be awkward moments when two different cultures came together.
Like the Bob Marley song says, “no worries, be happy.” Meeting the locals felt like visiting a friend of a friend with the extended warmth that only a friend can bring to a new social gathering. We presented the kava to the Chief; he thanked us and welcomed us into the village. Women placed leis made of leaves and flowers over our necks. A couple of men played guitars while the ladies sang and taught us a dance; three steps together and three steps back.
A part of the past mixed with the present world; like the dance three steps forward; three steps back. Moving to the beat of the strumming guitar and the whistling coconuts palms, I danced to Fiji.
Julie is a freelance writer. Short stories and essays have appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune, Mega Era Magazine, Millennium Shift, Orgease Journal, Alternate Species, Story South, Science Fiction and Fantasy World, Seven Seas Magazine, Word Riot, Universal Personality, Green Tricycle, All Things Girl, Ultimate Hallucination, The Glut, Somewhat, Dovetail Journal, Uber, Moon Dance, The Quarterly Staple, Opium Magazine, Journal of Modern Post, Rumble, and Cellar Door Magazine. Julie is working on her second novel.