We have now been in Fiji for over two months (nearly three by the time this is posted) and have become accustomed to village life in the outer islands, even though we live independently on the boat.
On Kadavu, and the smaller islands of the Great Astrolabe Reef, villages are typically about an hour or so apart and located close to a sheltered bay where small boats can be moored safely. The boats are the villagers main means of transport as there are few roads and virtually no cars or other forms of mechanised land transport.
When anchoring close to a village, it is expected that the crew of a yacht first go and present a ‘sevusevu’ to the village chief whose village, under traditional and Fijian law, owns the surrounding land and sea.
The ‘sevusevu’ ceremony normally takes place in the chief’s house or the village’s community building and involves the presentation of unprocessed raw kava root called ‘waka’ by the yacht’s captain and crew. After introductions, the chief will usually recite a short welcoming speech in Fijian and formally accept the yacht’s gift of kava signifying the visitors acceptance into the village and the chief’s approval for the them to move freely around the village and surrounding waters.
Often, the ‘sevusevu’ ceremony will also involve the drinking of kava which is mixed in a ‘tanoa’, a large traditional bowl handcrafted from a single slab of indigenous hardwood called ‘vesi’.
Each person is ceremoniously served a half coconut shell of kava. Before accepting the cup of kava, the person receiving it is expected to clap once loudly with cupped hands. The kava should be drunk in one sweep after which the person again claps five times loudly with cupped hands.
We usually try to dress respectfully when doing ‘sevusevu’. This means a long sulu for women and a collared shirt and sulu for men. The acceptance ceremony, besides being expected, is a really good way to get to meet the people of the village and we normally find ourselves being ‘adopted’ by a family who become good friends.
When anchored off a village, a typical day for us would normally start with an early morning swim from the boat or a snorkel on a nearby coral reef. We would then have breakfast consisting of bananas and pawpaw, which most villages have loads of, followed by porridge or Fijian breakfast crackers. If we still have bread then we might have toast. The Fijian bread is really good but unfortunately doesn’t keep long and is only available in larger centres.
After breakfast we might take the dingy ashore and go for a walk through the jungle up to one of the village farms or plantations, see if we can help the villagers in some way, or take one of the local boats out to the barrier reef which surround the lagoon, to dive one of the passes.
Most islands are surrounded by coral reef, which often lie anything between a few hundred metres to ten nautical miles offshore. The reef forms a barrier and encompasses a lagoon of calmer, shallower water. Every now and then the barrier reef is broken by a deep water pass which allows the tide to rise and fall in the lagoon.
These passes are usually the best places to dive as they are deep and the water is clear.
On the Great Astrolabe Reef which surrounds most of Kadavu and extends for about twenty miles northward, the lagoon has numerous coral reefs with crystal clear water and heaps of fish.
The coral is magnificently coloured and varies enormously in shape and form. On a typical dive, besides the brightly coloured fish living amongst the coral, we often see reef sharks and turtles, and occasionally manta rays.
For the last couple of weeks we have been sailing with another yacht from Melbourne. Ken and Di aboard ‘Platinum IV’ have been sailing around the Sth West Pacific for a number of years and have heaps of diving experience.
Di in particular, being a former biology teacher and avid diver with decades of experience, is a wealth of information on the different types of coral and other marine life. She also loves showing Jarrah and Khan all the different animals that inhabit the reef and has them captivated by her explanations of how they feed and behave.
Ken is a mechanical engineer who can fix just about anything and still runs a consultancy business six months of the year.
After cruising the islands of Vanuatu and the Solomons for a number of years both Di and Ken have both found rewarding and useful ways to help the people on the outer islands.
Away from the major towns on the bigger islands, most villages have no roads or mains electricity. A trip to the capital to purchase supplies and any sort of machinery is a long ride in an open boat and a major expense which most people can only undertake rarely. Capital equipment like brush cutters, generators, outboard motors, boats, TVs, solar panels, batteries and the like are major outlays for a family, or even a village.
Unfortunately, these often break down and while many of the villagers have ingenious solutions to the problems they face, most have little experience in repairing machinery, few tools and little access to spare parts.
While sailing together with Ken and Di, we have spent a day or two in each of the villages we have visited, repairing various machines, fixing fibreglass boats and trouble-shooting problems with solar panels. Ken and Di carry lots of tools and spares which they have found are often not available in the villages.
Di has developed a real knowledge and skill in repairing sewing machines which are extremely useful to the women of the village but often lay idle because they are broken and nobody knows how to fix them. Most of the sewing machines are based on hand or pedal driven Singer machines and are often easily fixed by cleaning and lubricating the moving parts or adjusting the tensions on the cottons and bobbins. According to Ken and Di most of these hand driven machines are easily fixable especially if you have a few spare parts.
Ken also carries a supply of epoxy resin and fibreglass and basic electrical tools. Over the past couple of weeks we have helped him repaired a couple of boats, outboard motors, solar panel systems and even had a go at fixing a few TVs and DVD players.
After a day ashore or in the water we usually end the day with sundowners aboard one of the yachts or a kava drinking session in the village.
Surprisingly for Fiji, the nights at the moment are fairly cool and we have been using a light dooner during the night – I suppose it is, after all, the middle of the winter.
Our plan at the moment is to try to leave Fiji to sail for the southern islands of Vanuatu in about mid-August. This will hopefully give us a couple of months exploring Vanuatu before sailing back to Australia.