Formed 150-million years ago, in the not terribly distant geological past, the islands and Fiji were reported to have formed. Even to this day there is still geothermal springs which might be enjoyed upon some of its islands. While one might think that boiling water in tropical heat is an undesirable experience, I beg to differ. In fact, I felt not only rejuvinated but extraordinarly after my time within the murky waters. While the massage package was not much to write home about it was rather enjoyable at Hot Springs Fiji (1).
Fiji is truly one of those places in which time, serendipitsouly, feels as fresh as an early dawn breeze. Situated just West of the date-line it was a hub for migratory peoples for many thousands of years. It is said that the fated drua Kaunitoni arrived with its chief Lutunasobasoba at what is now Vuda. (1) Of course, there are many who remember different variations their arrival story therefore respect must be given to all of those other peoples. As such, any indigenous story shared within this text is but one version of the truth. Interestingly enough, Fijians have a story which seems to resonate even with the imported Indian's religion, Hinduism. According to some elders, there's a story about a snake which is worthy of receiving… (2)
While Fiji traditionally was not graced by the slithery presence of snakes but a few still believe that there is a massive snake, Degei, hidden a cave somewhere along their highest mounstain range, the Nakavadra's. Or was it in the sea cave upon the skin of Sawailau in the Yasawas? This snake, for some reason, decided to take it upon itself to guide the first Fijians to what is commonly believed to be their first home on Vita Levu at Viseisei. In fact, this slippery creature was supposed to be even involved with the traditional creation narratives. (2) After spending a fair amount of time upon a modern-day sailing yacht at Vuda Marina and drinking kava with Fijian brothers and staying with kaivalagi mates in Viseisei I have the feeling that the spirit of the place is but within the name; though it does inspire to some extent its inhabitants. Maybe the feeling of emptiness that I feel at what is reported be the first landing of Fijians to modern-day Fiji is because there is more to the story of Degei than such a simple migration story
It is said, that in the beginning of remembered time that "Degei lived alone on an island with only his friend, a hawk named Turukawa, for company. One day Turukawa disappeared, and when Degei went looking for her he discovered her abandoned nest with two eggs in it. Degei took the eggs home and nurtured them; after several weeks the eggs hatched, revealing two tiny humans. Degei raised these first people, growing crops for them to eat and telling them stories that explained the nature of things. According to the legend, these two humans and their children were the ancestors of all Fijians. Later on, Degei is said to have traveled through the ocean with them to the island of Lautoka where he established the village of Viseisei, believed to be the first Fijian settlement. This important snake deity also created the smaller islands such as Viti Levu before retiring from the world of humans. Degei is believed to live in a cave in the Nakavadra mountain range, where he passes judgement on the souls of the dead." (3) The range overlooks the modern-day village of Rakiraki in which some locals believe that their ancestry is related directly, both physical as well as metaphysically, with many of the natural features found within. (4) Upon passing through the village upon a bus bound for Lautoka, I found Rakiraki to be a fairly non-descript town though considering it's position within Fijians rich cultural history I'd like to spend some time there in the future to meet with and study with any surviving elders who continue to carry their people's stories, such as that of one magical box which involves both the aforementioned royal Lutunasobasoba and his general Degei. (5)
Katonimana, a magical case which bore sacred objects of the Fijian ancestors was nestled within the holds of Kaunitoni. The first peoples to this island met the oasis of islands which are the windy tropical deserts of the Yasawa. Interestingly enough, according to both the Fijian dictionary and the locals it is said that yasawa and heaven are readily interechangeable. Further exploration was fraught with a minefield of ecologically rich reefs just awaiting a duel with drua. As such, the Fijians had to sail South West along the outer reef in order to find a relative safe entry point where their hopes and dreams weren't shattered until a million shards over the breaking waves into the Koro Sea. (5)
After making a safe run through Momi Passage, a stretch of water which I have had the privledge of exiting upon a delivery of a yacht to New Zealand, Lutunasobasoba and Degei ran into unruly seas and howling winds further North inside the two barrier reefs within the realm of the Mamacuya. Suddenly, somewhere in in the eye of a storm rich in magic between Matamanoa, Mana and Malolo Islands the Katonimana managed to find it's way into the deep. It was believed by the cheif that this was indeed the work of their gods therefore anyone who returned to the site to retrieve the box would be surely cursed. Some time later, against his chief's wishes, the persistent general returned to retrieve their ill-fated box of blessings in a stretch of sea which, upon my own inspection, is but a lake amongst a sea. Treacherous, with many rocks and reef which has the continual aire of being deceptively safe; though when diving the many reefs one might say that the it's true box of blessings is what might be found beneath the surface of the waters. As such, I can almost relate to Degei's passionate endaveour. (5)
In his perilious search for the treasures of his people, Degei managed to but find a diamond. The power of the crystal that he found amongst waves of stand strewn upon the sea floor released the curse upon intentionally placed upon the Katonimana and its contents by Lutunasobasoba. Transformed into a snake with a diamond-shaped head, finding his way into the creation narratives of many Fijian peoples. Though what about the Hindu story of the Indian-Fijians which might serve to unite the ill-placed cultures? (5)
Present day Fijian citizens who are fully or partially of Indian descent are the product of "indentured labourers, girmitiyas or girmit, from districts of central and eastern Uttar Pradesh, as well as Bihar." (6) Apparently the British colonial powers that be decided that in order to make a profit from sugar cane, that native Fijians were not the one for the task. Apparently they felt somewhat protective over the Fijians and wanted to avoid, finally, the exploitation of the indigenous nor threaten the traditional way of life. Therefore, between the years of 1879 and 1916, Indians were brought in as the most suitable farmers for the task at hand. In matter of fact, it is said that this mass importation wasn't the first time peoples from the India transplated themselves to Fiji. (6) One might think that this ackward move might have been fated? In any case, having had to opportunity to roam the most Southern portion of the Indian sub-continent some years prior, it never ceases to amaze me how (at times) I feel transported to the transplant's ancestral home. In fact, I tend to frequent a particular Indian restaurant in Lautoka entitled Kruepa and within I regularly order classic chaats and dosas which instantly transport me to the cliff-tops hideaways in Kerala and the sand-stone paradise of Karnataka. So, but what of the spiritual traditions which they brought them?
The Hindu baseline for one's spirituality amounts to a total of 33% of the population in Fiji. While Christians are 52% of the religious make-up the remainder are likely Muslims or without a particular belief system. Considering that the Hindu practicing Indian-Fijians fill at least of a third of the population, I feel that it is appropiate to share a story from their own pantheon which relates similarly to that of the indigenous Fijians; that of Kaliya.
"According to Hindu mythology, Kaliya, a poisonous snake lived in the river in Vrindavan where Sri Krishnan spent his childhood among the cowherds. The water of the river became poisoned and when the cattle drank it they died. People lived in fear of Kaliya. So Sri Krishnan decided to solve the problem." (2)
"One day he climbed a big tree on the bank of the river, jumped in and started swimming. When Kaliya heard the noise he came up to check and saw what was happening. He told Sri Krishnan to get out at once. But Sri Krishnan ignored the warning and continued to swim. Incensed, Kaliya came up to Sri Krishnan and started to bite him but his bites had no effect on the little boy. Soon Sri Krishnan jumped on to the hood of Kaliya and started to dance. The rhythmic pounding with the feet caused Kaliya to vomit out all his poison. Still Sri Krishnan did not stop. As he continued Kaliya became thoroughly exhausted. Then Kaliya’s wives came and pleaded with Sri Krishnan to spare their husband’s life to which Sri Krishnan agreed on one condition." (2)
"The condition was that Kaliya should leave the river at once and go to a beautiful island, in the middle of the ocean, called Ramanaka Dweep (dweep means island). When Indians first came to Fiji they believed that was the Ramanaka Dweep where Sri Krishnan had sent Kaliya." (2)
As one can see, a relationship with classic elements of father-son, master-student or big-little brother relationships are again illustrated here through a strong teaching of respecting one's elders, a non-restrictive approach to learning and causitic warnings should the teaching not be followed. All in all it truly would have formed the basis for which their respective societies related to the surrounding world.
While investigating the ethno make-up of Fiji, experiencing day-to-day relationships with its inhabitents, downing heaps of grog, sailing its waters and exploring its mountains I've found both the more ancient as well as the mixed culture fascinating. At times I feel transported to India, others I'm paddling the waters of Polynesia as well as feeling the ancient knowledge of the Melanesian people through their Lapita ancestors.
The Lapita Peoples, who are believed to be a conglomerate of cultures spanning "Polynesia, Micronesia and some costal areas of Melanesia." (7) Through mastery of seafaring and navigating, they spread Oceanic languages throughout the South Pacific. They were master ceremanicists, making sturdy pots from the unique resources available to them wherever they landed. Of the vessels pieced together it has been determined that they were wood-fired "tempered with sand or shells." (7) Unfortunately, for the most part, only shards remain scattered throughout the land and sea to this day.
Unfortunately like the shards of the pot, so have the aancestral stories that I've explored which were originally passed down through a strong lineage. Today, the modern indigenous peoples of Fiji, live in a relativly colonised way; being so generally religious, driving cars, working within many industries. Yet they can be still found living a basic, yet comfortable life with very few hungry around. This is likely due to the fact that the minimum wage being $2.68 of the local currency as of later during the year of 2018. (8) This wouldn't be an issue if there wasn't a strong dichotomy of rich and poor in the country today. One can experience this if they walk off the beaten track to a colourful, yet simple cinder-blocked restaurant where a filling meal of meat, dalo and sometimes nama lessens the load upon the wallet by a rich $5.00 FJD. Fijian restaurants are one of the two places in Fiji where one tends to find the "salt of the earth" Fijians with the other being consuming heaps of grog around the tanoa though going to church, irregardless of your tradition, tends to be the best ticket into spending time with what I reckon are some of friendliest people (save to that of their Tongan brothers and sisters) with whom they share a strong connection through historical marriage as well as intense hisocral warfare.