Bula, the Fijian national expression simultaneously means “hello” and “welcome” and is usually uttered with a smile on the lips.
In Fiji, all contact starts with her and friendship passes through kava, a kind of serum obtained from the roots of the homonymous plant. It didn't take us long to try it out.
Arriving at the mouth of the Navua, we join a group about to go upriver to the enigmatic Namosi Highlands. The first part of the expedition includes a visit to a scrub (typical village), and, as tradition dictates, includes a reception ceremony with sharing this drink.
On the village side, Chief Tui conducts the protocol. On behalf of foreigners, there is a leader of convenience chosen by the local guide, with the agreement of the rest of the delegation. The two are seated face to face, flanked by the other elements of their representation.
The Fastidious Fijian Kava Ceremony
There is, then, an endless exchange of words between Tui and the guide William – his son and heir to the position – from which, by repetition, numerous stand out naka, diminutives of the Fijian thank you, which, in full, is pronounced vinaka.
Once the dialogue is over, Chef Tui squeezes the roots of kava for cooper – a large carved wooden vessel. The drink, alcoholic and bitter, is finally served to the participants and generates different reactions ranging from disgust to indifference.
Accustomed to the discomfort of outsiders, the hosts begin exhibiting traditional dances With who, first male and female, then graceful female.
After lunch, the charismatic William takes the floor again and describes the distant past of his village and the chilling tribal life of the Namosi Highlands.
It is without contemporary reasons for fear that we return to Navua, with the plan to overcome the flow to reach the highlands of the mountain range. Unusual in the vicinity of the ocean, the river quickly changes its appearance.
And, when you least expect it, it appears flanked by impenetrable “forests” of morning glory, bamboo and rival vegetation that create bleak scenes. The fog thickens from the margins and retouches the environment for William's chilling new narratives.
The Long Past of Fiji Islands Cannibalism
This one takes advantage of the enigmatic surroundings and recalls that cannibalism was part of Viti levu and of much of Melanesia for over 2500 years and that the most sophisticated form of revenge for a tribe in Fiji - the epitome of insult to rivals - was, until less than a century ago, on those very shores, to eat their enemies .
Spare the entourage to truly macabre details.
The gorge that welcomes the river tightens as we advance inland and pass long waterfalls that precipitate from the cliffs. At the same time, the forest thickens and aggravates the semi-scary environment that seemed ideal to the director of “Anaconda 2: The Black Orchid”, to shoot another film about escaping the famous reptile saga.
We survived the expedition. As soon as we return to navua, we get in the car, drive to Pacific Harbor and peek at the local market, a peculiar commercial stronghold, stagnant by apparent lack of invoicing and below the plastic refinement of the surrounding resorts.
There, we find the perfect example of another Fijian historical hobby: hair.
Cannibalism apart. Fijians' Obsession with Their Hair
Rockodage Bello dusts his antique shop when we ask if we can photograph her. From inside the blue dress to the flowers, the lady seems to swell with vanity and just begs for a few seconds to get ready.
Through a half-open door, we see her brushing her thick hair over and over again in front of an antique mirror. And just when we think the beautification is over, Rockodage brings us a chair and reminds us, with innate grace, that no one is in a hurry.
Two more minutes pass until, at last, he tucks a small plumer behind his ear and presents himself, radiant, for the photograph.
The weight of its symbolism has faded over time, but hair has come to play a central role in Fijian society. The size of the wigs marked the masculinity of the bearer but also the social hierarchy of the villages.
It was known that the hair of an ordinary man could not be longer than that of the chief and the hair of women would have to remain inferior to that of their husbands.
Taking these conventions into account, some indigenous people spent hours at local hairdressers looking after their huge hair helmets (sometimes 30 cm long) that they dyed in their favorite colors and patterns.
Fashion has faded. Today, despite huge capillary balls still being found, specimens as voluminous as Rockodage's have become rare.
Those that remain, fulfill, in perfection, their function of impressing.