If you spend any time at all on the main island of Viti Levu, the chances are good that you will get invited back to a local village. It can be a bit of a culture shock, for those not accustomed to the standard of living for most indigenous Fijians. Housing that looks similar to your typical garden shed, half starved dogs wandering around, shy children peeking at you from a distance.
On one hand, it can be a little depressing, to think that people live in these conditions. But on the other hand, it can also be uplifting - to know that the people can have so little and yet still be full of life, laughter, and happiness. To see how community and family are put ahead of all else. Perhaps we have something to learn from that?
I have visited and stayed in many Fijian villages, and feel honored to have done so. If you get your own invite, here are some of the things you should be aware of.
Unlike small western towns, there is a definite heirachy in all Fiji villages. And as you would expect, that starts with the village chief and the elders. If you bring a gift of kava when you visit (and it is generally expected), then this is presented to the chief, or his representative. Your guide will advise you of the correct time and manner in which to do this.
There are a few focal points to all villages. The community hall or meeting house, the church, and the school. Even the smallest villages tend to have a small primary school, generally run on a tiny budget by dedicated teachers. The children make do with very little, so if you can manage to bring any school supplies with you, they would be most gratefully received. Things like pencils, rubbers, balloons, exercise books, they will all be put to good use.
This is the focal point of any village. the meeting house (or Vale ni Bose in Fijian), is where all important topics are discussed, formal ceremonies performed, and is the place to greet distinguished village guests. If you are lucky enough to be invited in (please don't enter without an invite, and accompanied by your hosts), then there are strict protocols.
If you are taking part in a kava ceremony, then everyone will have their place. You host will advise you of where you should sit. Read a little more about the basics of kava ceremonies so you know what to expect.
Villages take pride in their schools. No matter how small their annual budget is (and it is invariably tiny), the teachers work long and hard to get the best education possible for the children. Some villages are too small to have anything but the primary school, so older kids aften have to walk several miles to the next village to attend secondary school.
Most Fijians are deeply religious, and all villages than can afford to build one, will have their own church. The predominant religion among indiginous Fijians is Methodist. On a Sunday, village activities revolve around the times of the church services. As an example, no Kava is drunk, or important village matters discussed until the afternoon service is over.
On a typical Sunday morning in Fijian villages, you will hear the lali (a wooden drum, carved from a log) summoning the local parishioners to worship. Even if you are not religious, attending one of these services is something you should try to do if you get the chance. You probably won't understand the sermon, but the choir will need no interpretation. Pacific islanders have some of the best harmonies that you will ever hear!
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