Published on February 23rd, 2011 | by Ann Rickard0
Travel – Simple life in Fijian village
Ann Rickard visits a Fijian village and envies the simple life.
It isn’t often you’re asked your age when on a tour in front of 20 other guests. But in this case it was an honour, and fortunately, it wasn’t me the question was directed at.
“How old are you, sir?’’ our guide ‘Captain Jack Sparrow’ asked my husband.
Captain Jack Sparrow is the name Josh Ratukuna has given himself and he does look like a dashing Johnny Depp wearing his bandana.
“Is there any man older?’’ Jack Sparrow then asked the group on hearing my husband’s age. A white-haired man put his hand up.
We were on the banks of the Sigatoka River in Fiji, about half an hour drive through jungle-like landscape from the Coral Coast, about to board a fast boat, the Sigatoka River Safari, for a wild spin along the river to a village.
The package of roots, a worthy gift, was to be presented to the village chief from the oldest man in our tour group, himself chief for a day. The villagers along the river live by tradition, and if we were about to enter their village, tradition must be adhered to.
“I was taken to some of the villages by a security guard I met at our holiday hotel, and I was blown away with the simple but happy way the villagers lived,’’
The women tour guests were given sulus (sarongs) to cover their knees; both men and women were told not to wear hats, an honour permitted only for the village chief.
So we donned lifejackets and took off at thrilling speed along the winding river bordered by lush vegetation.
The Sigatoka River Safari operation is owned by young Australian Jay Whyte who simply had to take tourists to experience true Fijian village life after he visited Fiji as a young boy with his parents.
“I was taken to some of the villages by a security guard I met at our holiday hotel, and I was blown away with the simple but happy way the villagers lived,’’ he told us. “I wanted to come back here and show others what I had experienced. I went to the village chiefs and asked their permission to bring people here, then went through the formal channels. Then I went to the Bank of Mum and Dad, borrowed the money, had the boats custom-made for this river, and here I am.”
A number of tourism awards and many accolades later, Jay Whyte has a thriving business, taking groups to different villages on a rotation basis. Only one village per day is visited, but all receive their share of visitors who usually bear gifts of books, sweets and money.
After Captain Jack Sparrow had skimmed us around bends and curves in the river, stopping to point out villages amongst the green landscape, delivering information with knowledge and humour, we arrived at our designated village.
Women and children splashing in the water’s edge cried out ‘bula’ and beckoned us up the steep steps to the village. Our sulus firmly tied around our waists, hats removed, we were given a tour by one of the village leaders.
“We have no money, not even electricity but we have the happiest life of any people anywhere,’’ the leader told us. “We eat what we grow. We have some pigs and chickens and when we have a celebration we eat those. We share everything. If we want something, we can just walk into our neighbour’s house and take it. Everyone is safe, everyone shares.”
Five minutes into the village walk, we were all envious of this uncomplicated lifestyle; children romped over the grass, chickens ran and squawked between our legs, a pretty little girl peered at us through the door of her hut.
Then it was time for the presentation of the kava root by the oldest man in our group. Sitting cross legged under the shelter of an open-sided pavilion, the formalities began.
Captain Jack Sparrow took off his bandana and talked to the chief in respectful tones. The kava roots were handed over, pummelled in a wooden bowl and water added. A lot chanting later and much straining of the liquid through cloth, the kava was ready and passed to the highest ranking village member first. As each member drank there was chest thumping, singing and warlike shouts. Eventually we all downed some of the muddy liquid, and with our lips and tongues numbing, the dancing began.
It’s hard to stop a Fijian dancing. One sashay around the grass was not nearly enough, but eventually everyone sat down when the food came out: eggplant, yams and spinach all cooked on kerosene stoves, with tiny rounds of cold sausage and chunks of watermelon.
Some time later we were escorted back to the Sigatoka River Safari, and with joyful cries of ‘bula’ and exuberant waves we took off down the river feeling fortunate to have spent just this short time in the tranquil Fijian village.
Ann Rickard was a guest of Sigatoka River Safari.
If you go: