A visit to a village in the mountains of Fiji continues to remain the most memorable experiences that I have had in a foreign country. Unlike the visits to the Karen and Akha Tribes in Thailand, this experience felt more authentic and natural, as if I were a member of the village for the day. This is partly due to the fact that the Fiji tour group, Sigatoka River Safari, visits a different village each day of the week to keep the experience genuine.
The tour starts with a jet boat ride up the Sigatoka River further into the island of Viti Levu. There are beautiful views of the mountainous country-side, scenery much different from the tropical Pacific Ocean views that one may only expect from the Fiji. Along the way, you encounter many villagers going about their day, washing clothes, swimming, or bathing in the river. They wave and shout a friendly, “Bula!” or “Hello!” from where they are, which gives you an immediate feel of being welcome.
Upon arrival to the village, you exit the boat and climb up stairs from the river to a path that cuts through fields and crops. Gathering by the church, the guides give sulas, or sarongs, to anyone who is wearing shorts, as women in villages are not allowed to wear pants.
After being greeted by children and smiling faces from the community, you are led to a house and instructed to take off your shoes, as you enter into one of the villager’s homes for a Kava ceremony. The Kava, a root from a plant, is taken and crushed, then mixed with water to create a drink. A person from the tour group, usually the eldest, is chosen to participate in the ceremony to drink the Kava and welcome the group into the village. After this ceremony, the villagers are friends with the members of the tour group.
You are then allowed to walk around the village and meet the men, women, and children. After exploring, a member of the village places white talc powder on your face and a lei made of leaves and flowers around your neck, to further welcome you into the village. After this is complete, you are welcomed into the community center for lunch: a spread of tapioca, meatballs, watermelon, potato curry wrapped in roti, corn, and various kinds of bread. We sat on the straw-mated floor, among the villagers and ate while they walked around making sure we enjoyed our meal, and it was delicious.
After lunch, the villagers played music and invited everyone to dance traditional Fijian dances. There was a lot of laughing at this point, especially due to some language barriers, but fun was had by all.
When our dance party was over, a good-bye song was taught to us and we all sang together, then we went outside to talk to the women and children and to thank them for our meal. We also took pictures with several of the children, and they were amazed to see their own image on the digital cameras. After a few hugs and high fives, we left the village and headed back to the river.
The next part of our tour was one you wouldn’t typically match with a cultural tour of a village. We loaded back on the boats for a jet boat ride down the river; one that included 360° turns. It was exactly what we needed to cool down after visiting the village in the hot Fijian sun.
Being able to spend an entire afternoon sharing stories and dancing with the local villagers was an experience that will last with me for a life-time. It brought to life the true spirit of Fiji, and gave me a better appreciation for the people and the culture of a country so far from my own.
This was a guest post by Erin Musich. You can follow her adventures on her blog the The World Wanderer.