The essence of the Fijian culture is captured in a ceremony called "sevusevu." It is the name used for most ceremonies in Fiji from life cycle rituals, community gatherings, socials and healing services. For us however, it is the name used when we as visitors to a village, ask permission to enter and acceptance into the village. It is often combined with the making and drinking of "kava" (locally called "grog.") However, if the sevusevu is done early in the day, the kava drinking portion is often either postponed or not part of the sevusevu. Ours, being at 2 pm, did not include the making and drinking of "kava," though we hope at one point we will have the opportunity to participate in that particular ceremony.
You must be properly attired when attending to sevusevu. Women must wear something that covers their shoulders and a skirt long enough to cover the knees and calves. Men should wear the traditional "sulu" or skirt that also covers the knees. For formal ceremonies a long sleeve shirt and tie will get you extra points! However, a colored shirt will do. Michael bought a sulu in Savusavu, so he was properly dressed and the woman who met us commented on it in a very pleased fashion. Hats and sunglasses must be removed. This is actually the polite thing to do whenever you are in the village as is dressing in a modest fashion.
"Turaga ni Koro" is what we must ask as we enter the village. This is the request to see the "headman," an appointed village spokesperson who's job it is to meet you, greet you and ascertain your intentions for visiting the village and then present you to the chief of the village. We met Aaron in Daliconi, the "Koro" of the village. His wife actually met us on the beach and then presented us to Aaron. We had with us the required "yaqona" or "waka" - the plant from which the kava drink is made – about a half kilo worth. Aaron spent a little time with us learning our names and where we are from. He also asked what we planned to do while in the village and area. Then it was time to walk up the hill to meet the chief. A small chant was sung at the door announcing our arrival and asking the chief's permission for our entry. A chant is sung in response that allows us to enter. We took off our shoes as we entered the room and the chief was there already seated. Then Aaron sat and we were invited to sit on the mats. Men should sit cross-legged with their sulu covering the knees. Women can sit with their legs to either side, again knees covered. Silence from us at this point is key. Then Aaron, claps with cupped hands, three times which is called the "cobo." This means "I am about to speak, thank you for listening." in Fijian, he does a traditional monologue which ends in three more claps. Then our gift of "yaqona" is passed to the chief who can either accept or reject it. He accepted ours with a few claps, and then Aaron continued with some more Fijian which were the introductions and our intentions. We heard words like America, Florida, our names. The chief then accepted us into the village and Aaron translated that we were welcome to be here and stay in the area called the "Bay of Islands" and enjoy anchoring, snorkeling, fishing and walking around the village.
Then we left and said we would return to the village the next day for a visit. This particular village also asks for a donation of $30 per person and they have a sheet of paper that indicates what the money is being used for including the school, solar power, computers for the school, improved buildings and roads. They are quite organized and the village is very tidy.
That night, we slept well after the all night trip. The next morning, we went to the village to drop off our laundry and some garbage (part of the fee you pay includes the proper disposal of garbage which is a real benefit!) They also do laundry for a small $10 fee. When we returned that afternoon to the village for a short walk around, there were our sheets, t-shirts and underwear hanging from clothes lines all around the village!
We walked up to the school with the chief's daughter who is the kindergarten teacher. The school is a two building compound with several classrooms. There are 30 students from 4 to 14 years old. Because it was Friday, the students are allowed to wear "Bula" shirts (Hawaiian shirts and dresses) instead of the traditional uniform (sulus for the boys and dresses for the girls). When we arrived the students were practicing singing for Sunday church – it was very charming. It was also "garden" day and after choir practice was over the students changed into work clothes and started digging and planting and clearing an area that was to be the school's garden. Three schools in the area would have a competition for the best garden and the students seemed very into the process. The teacher explained that the garden was also a great lesson including all disciplines – english, science, math and biology. They were bringing seedlings from their parents gardens and plantations to help plant the garden.
We watched them work awhile and then signed the guest book. We had brought some books from NZ to give to the students and the teacher was grateful.
After our school visit, we walked back to the village and visited some women who were weaving mats and purses. We admired some orchids growing in the yard and they told us to pick the flowers – they are so generous – if you say you like something, they'll give it to you. We thanked them and told them the flowers look best on the plant for all to enjoy.
Everyone in the village is very friendly coming up to you to say "bula" and introduce themselves with a a handshake. They seem genuinely interested in meeting you and have warm smiles.
A lovely sevusevu and a wonderful village.
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