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February 1, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                          Fijian Village Visit

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Ni Sa Bula! This week we continue our dream vacation to Fijiís second largest island: Vanua Levu. We begin by visiting a local village, drink some kava, then check into a moderately priced adventure resort as we follow the bands at the 2nd Annual South Pacific Music Festival.

The trip to the local village is always one of the highlights. You canít come to Fiji and not visit a village Ė it would be such a waste. It is a cultural treat, and a perfect place to buy Fijian handcrafts made by women. Donít worry if you forget your wallet. The Fijians have adapted to the 21st century Ė you can charge what you buy to your room. Is that crazy or what?

Fijiís population is 51 percent indigenous Fijians and 44 percent Indo-Fijians. The Indo-Fijians live in settlements, while most indigenous Fijians live in villages. The colonial rulers who brought the Indians over from India as indentured servants (now called Indo-Fijians) set up settlements away from the Fijian villages. Keeping the two races segregated was meant to maintain the distinct Fijian community and identity. Almost everyone in a village is related, and the chief is treated like youíd imagine a chief would be (no one ever turns their back on him, his food is brought to himÖ).

At the village, guests can meet the chief and participate in a yaqona (kava) ceremony. Kava, derived from waka (dried root of the pepper plant), is a nonalcoholic drink that numbs the tongue and lips. This ceremony is quite long, and because it is performed in Fijian I have no idea what goes on. However, I do know to be quiet. When visiting a village, some basic rules must be honored: Guests should be invited (any resort can get you an invitation), and bring a gift of kava to the chief. Wearing shorts, hats and shoes (inside a room) is a big no-no. Women should keep their shoulders covered. It is also important to speak softly, show respect, and never touch someoneís head. The most famous failure occurred in 1867, when Reverend Thomas Baker ended up as a meal after a tribal chief borrowed Bakerís comb and Baker snatched it out of the chiefís hair. The villagers were so upset, they even tried to eat his shoes. But rubber soles donít cook well, and they are now on exhibit at the Fiji Museum in Suva.

When my dad was picked first to meet the chief and drink the kava, I said, "Whatever you do, donít touch the chiefís head -- and be sure to clap." When taking kava it is customary to give a hollow clap once, hold up the bowl, say "bula," and drink. You then hand the bowl back, and do three more hollow claps. My dad did a fine job, although from his displeasing expressions it was apparent that he despised the taste.

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Pictures From

The Trip


The Chief


Public Bus






Drinking Kava


Feeling Good


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