FIJI: Thursday July 18th to Monday July 22nd
Through the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program in 2012, I was introduced to Isikeli from Fiji, whom I would be hosting during his year at Boston University. He was later joined by his wife Litia and three boys, Gabriel, Saimoni, and Jedediah. They often came to my home to enjoy the town of Hopkinton in Massachusetts, to go swimming at the lake, and mainly to take some relaxing time away from city life.
Seven years later, I find myself in Fiji. While I only had a few days to spend here, Isikeli and his family managed to show me so many aspects of life in the Fiji Islands. With its many island groups, for example, this place is rich in variety for those who wish to escape to an island large or small, for beach party or exclusive retreat. There is shopping and dining, wonderful fresh food and clear island water. It is so relaxing that you easily adapt to “Fiji time”.
We also went off the beaten path to discover the “Sleeping Giant”, a natural outcropping in the mountains in the shape of a man’s face. There were the mudbaths of Sabeto, for treatment and relaxation as you dip in one pool to the next for cleansing. And along the way we saw free roaming livestock — cows, horses, goats, and more — while passing village after village and their many rugby fields with games going on all the time it seems.
The cities are impressive, as well, with Suva being the capital and host of the presidential residence, house of Parliament, government ministry buildings, and the central bank. In the city parks, I viewed statues honoring important Chiefs, especially the First Chief Ratu Seru Cakobau, who ceded Fiji to Queen Victoria in 1874, and Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, who developed the system of land division and governance amongst the chief-led villages. Fiji regained its independence in 1970, when Prince Charles returned with documents of independence and the scepter originally given to Queen Victoria.
But the most special time for me was our tour of Bau Island. This was the home of the First Chief of Fiji, Ratu Seru Cakobau, and is also the residence of the former President of Fiji and current Speaker of Parliament Ratu Epeli Nailatikau. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited the island in 1982, where the Queen opened a Council of Chief’s meeting at a grand meeting house located near the Methodist church.
We arrived at Bau wearing special occasion clothing that was handmade for us, and were heartily welcomed by Isikeli’s friend Joe and many members of Joe’s family. In the family home, we gathered around a large table for a feast of fresh fish and dishes including a curry, rice, and a selection of local vegetables and fruit. Joe showed us the fishing trap — a basket made of mangrove root, constructed in a traditional manner by his father Jacob who turns 87 this year. And we listened to Fijian music, including a song called Ko Bau Na Yanuyanu by Inoke Baravilala; this well-known song was written by the grandmother of Mary, one of the ladies attending this meal. With the history, traditions, and family bonds in evidence on this island, you can see that true royalty is not measured by crowns and jewels but rather though the family ties that bind forever.
What a magical start to this trip around the world, which begins and ends with islands as I travel from Fiji in the South Pacific to North Uist in Scotland. To prove this magic: just as I took a seat in the lounge at Fiji Airport, I stumbled upon the weekly radio program “The Road Continues”, a one hour program of all-Runrig music on Scotland’s independent TD1 radio station (I will be attending a party for Runrig fans in Glasgow, just before heading to North Uist). I thought I had missed this show, having been confused by the International Dateline. Ironically, the first song that I heard: Runrig’s “Road Trip”!
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