When The Villagers Went Missing

The boat engine revved, pushing us with great difficulty over the waves and choppy current. D’Tui sat in Ro Mereani’s lap. Sala and I squealed, huddled together on the floor as we hit each wave with a loud thwack. Water poured over the metal siding, filling the bottom of the boat with a thin layer of water.

Fiji Ocean Water

Mereani wouldn’t let us sit on the bench and gave us a tarp to share. “You’ll bounce right out of the boat if you sit up there,” she cautioned. Continue reading

That Time I Bombed at The Fijian School

Mereani looked up from her paper as I walked through the front door. “Well? How did it go?”

Fijian SchoolChildren

I plopped down on the couch. “I’m not quite sure,” I said hesitantly.

She handed me a cup of coffee. “Tell me about it.”

I sighed, thinking back to the morning’s events. Continue reading

The Firewalkers, a Ceremony, and an Unexpected Guest

We walked into the elders’ house. I was sweating. Like everywhere.

The men were already gathered around the the tanoa, discussing news from the main island. The bundle of waka roots felt heavy in my hands. I knew it had more to do with its symbolic weight than its actual consistency (after all, it was just a plant).

Then seated villagers craned their necks to look at me and I froze.

Chietan ceremony

Holy hell, why couldn’t I stop sweating? Continue reading

Journey to Beqa- Land of the Firewalkers

Ro Mereani paid the cab driver. I stepped out of the vehicle and stretched. It took longer than expected to get to the village of Vanua— the port for all the boats leaving to Beqa— but we had finally arrived. We were one step closer to our destination, to the home of Talei’s people, and her final resting place.

Talei grave

I looked out past the shoreline to the ocean. There, only a few miles offshore lay Beqa- the island shaped like a sleeping dragon. Even on a sunny day like today it stood shrouded in mist. I had to laugh at nature’s ability to make its own metaphors. Continue reading

The Time I Flashed Fijian Chiefs

“If you need to get up and pass by the tanoa, you must pass on the left side. Make sure you crawl, kneel, or bow down as you pass the bowl. It’s a sign of respect to the service going on around you. Also, make sure you touch the bowl and say, Tulo, Tulo (pronounced chi-loh), as you go by. That means excuse me in Fijian. And it’s very important you respect the tanoa and its contents. They are thought to be mystical and powerful. You don’t want to abuse it.” Caroline smiled at me with her eyes and then tapped my notebook with her finger. “Write that down.”

I scribbled away in my tiny spiral notebook and gave a nod of thanks to the relative of Ro Mereani. She and the other women surrounding me laughed as I did this. This had become our bit. We’d sit at the back of the kava party (the customary place for women) and I’d ask elementary questions about the traditions I was witnessing and they would happily indulge me. They found my naiveté amusing and I guess I couldn’t blame them. My presence was very unusual for such a deeply ingrained tradition. Continue reading