After travelling from Nadi, the location of Fiji’s largest international airport, to the capital Suva, and then onto the district of Dawasamu on the North Eastern seaboard of the main island our volunteer group had finally arrived at our destination; Natalei-ra Village and Eco-Lodge. We had travell\ed nearly half the length of the main island of Fiji in search of Moon Reef, the only reef in Fiji which spinner dolphins call their home.
After a couple days of research out on the water we were invited into the village of Natalei-ra, by the village elders, to attend a Sevu Sevu. This traditional Fijian welcome incorporates the identities of the locals and the visitors by bringing them together in one place around the gift of a Kava root. It is, in essence, a ceremony of acceptance and inclusion of many different people in one distinct location.
We walked over the black sand beach, the only one in Fiji, a short distance to the village. There we were greeted, in a palm leaf covered enclosure, by village elders and the chief. We presented our Kava root to our hosts and sat down in one large circle. Numerous traditional passages were spoken in Fijian and the Kava root gift was passed around by the village members. The kava was then pounded into a thin powder and mixed with water through a silk sack to make the traditional Kava drink of Fiji. Five members of the visitor group were then chosen to represent each country new to the village of Natalei-ra; Germany, United States, England, Canada, and Ireland. As a member of these five representatives, I enjoyed the first bowl of Kava for Canada that night. The kava was then passed around each member of the volunteer group, and finished by our Fijian hosts who spoke final traditional words.
The ceremony ended and we stayed in the kava circle, meeting new friends, and chatting about everything from the beauty of Fiji to popstars back home. Every once in a while the circle would take a momentary break while all of it’s inhabitants would go to the sand and dance to a Fijian remix of a well-known tune blasting out on the boom box. This music was usually an island beat and matched well with the long sulus we donned, the sand we were dancing on, and the ocean waves we heard in the background. Everyone joined in and shared their moves on the dance floor. One of our hosts looked at me surprised and exclaimed, “Canadians know how to dance!” It seems as though everyone agreed because the night culminated in a dance off between the local dance champion and me, a girl from Vancouver, Canada. We put on a good show and everyone laughed and clapped in appreciation as they joined us for one last dance on the sand of our hosts home. As we were saying goodbye the villagers explained that we were welcome back anytime. We said a big vinaka vakalevu and left with bigger smiles and fond memories of the friends we had made and the times we enjoyed. I, for one, am honoured to have been a part of such a gathering and look forward to returning to the Black Sand Bar.
Hayley Marshall – GVI Fiji Scholar