On Monday, it had been arranged for Chara, Citrus Tart and Whistler to present sevusevu to the village chief. The village had been given a VHF radio in the past year to facilitate communication with the cruisers, quite brilliant! We headed off on our dinghies to the clam shell-lined beach closest to the village. After jumping out of our dinghies and wading to shore, the gals put on their sarongs, called isulu vakatoga in Fiji, and the men, their sulus, the accepted dress in the village. We were also reminded to remove our hats and sunglasses when we reached the village.
There were no cars on the island so the somewhat hilly 20-minute track was carved solely by foot traffic and slippery when after a rain.
Each time we met a villager along the path, they stopped, introduced themselves and shook our hands. We were given a warm welcome to Fulaga.
A number of pig pens were discretely hidden in the bush just off the trail, each belonging to some family in the village. Also, lot of gardens and fruit trees were sprinkled along the path. We were told the soil was not very fertile on the island, with all the limestone and rock.
The first major building we passed was the nursing station. The ever-smiling village nurse, Sarah, was the custodian of the VHF radio, so all communication with the cruisers went through her, on Channel 16. It was a good system, except that sometimes the parties could not hear each other and relays had to be commissioned to get the messages across. We were fortunate to have good reception and transmission with our radio and occasionally helped with a relay.
Next was the post office with a phone booth, the only phone in the village. The post office always seemed to be closed, but we were told we could post a letter and buy phone cards, if needed. The phone even rang as we walked by and someone came out from a nearby house to answer it.
Many of the houses had rounded corners, a Tongan influence.
We were greeted by a spokesman and led to the large room in the chief’s house. We were introduced to the chief, now about 85 years old. We were told the chief looks a bit like Don King, the boxing promoter. You decide.
Each boat had brought a bundle of yagona, the gift expected for the “sevusevu” in Fiji. We sat crossed legged or, in the ladies’ cases, with our legs folded under us.
Two men and a young woman accompanied the chief for the sevusevu. They spoke in English while they checked over our cruising permits and ensured we had the proper authority to cruise in Fiji waters. There was some question about our boat papers, but that ended up getting dismissed as unnecessary.
We were then asked for $50, a “donation” they charge each boat for anchoring. We had all been told to expect the charge and came prepared to pay it. We were told it goes toward some community project, but I don’t recall the specifics. Last year, they said the “donation” was for the solar panels around the village. Over 100 cruising vessels came last year, so this was a nice source of income for their island. This year, the number of visiting boats was down, likely due to the weather. It was one of the few islands in Fiji charging such an anchoring fee, and we heard the Fiji government was not happy about it as they had already charged us for entering the country and for a cruising permit.
Part way through the ceremony, a 24 year old solo sailor from New Zealand, named Kat, arrived. She was whisked in to present her yagona bundle.
The man on the chief’s right broke into Fijian and recited some words which sounded like a blessing in church. We had no idea what he was saying but solemnly sat and listened, waiting for the nod that it was over. Then we rose from what was, for me, an uncomfortable position.
Fortunately, we were not expected to drink kava. The supply ship was a few weeks late and the village was out of yagona, so our little offering meant a fresh supply of kava would be available. More on that later.
Lisa, the attractive young Fijian gal on the left of the chief, wrote our boat names, number of crew and the fee collected, in a big ledger. We were advised that we would be expected to return to say farewell to the chief and sign the book before we left the island. This would relieve the chief and village of further responsibilities for us during our stay.
Lisa was home visiting from her accounting job at a resort in Denerau on the west coast of the main island. Her English was very good and she became friends with Kat and some of the cruisers in the coming days. She ended up catching a ride to Suva with Kat on her 35 foot sailboat.
We admired Kat, rowing her dinghy to shore, and hauling it onto the beach by herself. When she was deciding where to anchor, she would stand on her foredeck and lower the chain. What else does a solo sailor do? We pondered how does she navigated the reefs by herself. We had one at the helm and one on the bow.
After the ceremony, each couple and Kat were led off to meet their host family. The village had instituted this to allow each family an opportunity to meet cruisers and act as guardians for our stay. It was a wonderful program. We benefitted by learning more about their lives and traditions. Our hosts, George and Ma, were very welcoming.
They insisted we come into their home, sit down on their woven mat floor and have tea, made with the leaves from their lemon tree, and some fresh baked buns. We met their three children, Sala, age 9, George “Junior”, age 7 and Seviti, 1.
George taught grade 3, 4 and 5 at the island’s primary school behind their house. Children from the other two villages boarded at the school during the week and returned to their homes on weekends.
The living room had no furniture other than the mat and the computer stand. The computer was one of the few in the village, and was powered by a solar panel. They had no internet but used it to watch movies.
The dining room had a long table with benches and was decorated with a picture of Christ and a few bristol boards pasted with photos of them with other cruisers they had met. Two white plastic outdoor lawn chairs were moved around depending on where they were needed. The kitchen was a room off the dining room with a long platform with wood-burning fire and a couple large pots.
At the other end of the dining room was a gas-burning oven, another luxury in the village. Their home was school property, for their use while he was teaching there. George and Ma had a house of their own in Suva, with family members taking care of it.
Ma was a homemaker, weaver and well-known for her baking.
We were sent back to our boat with two loaves of her fresh bread, a couple papaya, some bananas and a delightful little purse she had weaved. We were humbled by their generosity! How does one repay this kindness? We agreed to return for a visit another day later in the week and to come for church on Sunday.