One of the most recent topics of (and for me, interesting) conversation on the island has been the unseen side of the island – the ancestors. The more we live in the place and chat and listen to the locals the more it seems that we aren’t the only people living on the place.
Fijians (along with so many other indigenous, unurbanised peoples across the world) are incredibly connected with the land they live on. It’s one of the things I love most about being here, coming from a society that is mainly urban and doesn’t have a lot of immediate consideration of the land space it is occupying. There is also a strong belief that those who have lived here before and died are still here. Although not physically here, spiritually very much so.
However it is fast becoming apparent to us (the Fijians are all very aware) that they are not here as spectators but they actually as a kind of Karmic Police force. Every time we present Sevusevu (the presenting of Grog to Tui Mali when a new tribe member arrives) we are not only giving the chief a gift for allowing us to stay, we are also asking for protection not just from him and his peoples for our stay but also from the land and the people who have lived in the land before. Anyone who has been at these ceremonies will testify to the solemnity, power and passion by the Fijians in receiving the Kava. And it is for good reason. This isn’t just a wooden, acted out forgotten ceremony; it is something very real and important for the ‘taukei’ here.
But the sevusevu is just the start. That doesn’t guarantee protection (‘melumani’ in Fijian, possibly one of the most powerful words in the language). Once in the space then you still have to behave. There are countless stories of visitors and longer term team members who have had both serendipitous and slightly more edgy moments that could be explained away as coincidence or maybe something more.
Stories such as Ben’s (Keene) foot being smashed up in April last year for not blessing the land for the water tanks, the tanks never filling while Poasa’s tanks were nicely topped up; a mother and her 3 brand new chick walking through the kitchen in Easter Day; Jason (Shut Up!) receiving 2 tropical boils practically immediately for blowing the conch down by the waterfall (apparently a sacred place where you should be quiet and respectful, turtles hatching on Mothers Day 07. A whale cruising past the island on Xmas day 07 just after Duncan had proposed to Julia. The list goes on.
Myself, about a year ago I probably would have written all this stuff off, I am starting to be convinced. Obviously I’ve had the privilege over the last few extended months to observe and also be affected by this. The first incident that comes to mind is I was climbing up on the headland (near where Tui Mali’s Grandfather is buried) back in February. As I did the rock came away in my hand and I fell and bounced about 15 ft but luckily no damage was done. Upon relaying the story to the Fijians I received that classic shake of the head that we all receive over here when we get things wrong and a simple ‘maybe you shouldn’t be playing around up there.’ Naka, would have been nice to have be told/warned before…….. Turns out on further discussion with Tevita that it was a friendly warning, ‘they like you, but don’t get ahead of yourself.’ Phew…….. imagine if they didn’t like me?
Further incidences down the line and I’m starting to be more convinced. Every time we go through the graveyard at the end of the island on the 4 peaks I always get the guys to straighten the cloth on the tombstones. On one occasion I forgot, and tripped (or was tripped up) on leaving the site. Ok, but then another week I didn’t straighten again, same sprawling result on leaving the site. I was running the 4 peaks yesterday; slowed up at the graveyard, took off my hat (no head wear in places that you should be respectful to) , announced myself with the ‘Ho Ya’ and walked quietly through. However I put my hat on again just before leaving the site being in a hurry, as I went to move out a branch came from nowhere and took it clean off my head.
The thing is about all this stuff is that is that you can either take it or leave it. I think suggestion plays a powerful psychological factor here, once you start believing in this sort of activity then lots of events can be interpreted to back to back up an argument. However one event for me the other day has left a definite impression in my mind.
The other day a government team came, over to have a look at the island and one of the girls who visited, her mother was originally from Ligaulevu (the middle village on Mali where the primary school is). This came up in a jokey conversation on the island and she was saying how she should really have done a sevusevu (as coming back to an important place in her family history) and brought gifts for the village etc. However as it was work she didn’t have time so didn’t bother as this would have take at least half a day. The day had been bright and sunny without much wind. However just before heading to Malau the wind picked up and the sky went dark. As we went round the western tip of the island the waves suddenly picked up and were as big (scarily big) as I’ve ever seen them. She then went totally white, started crying and screaming. She was terrified. Api then slowed down and simply said, ‘you didn’t bring anything?’ She shook her head with her eyes facing the floor, ‘the sea is angry with me.’
We got to Malau after Api expertly managed the waves on one of the bumpiest rides I’ve ever had and said our goodbyes. 2 new tribe members were coming back with us so I warned them the sea was pretty rough expecting the return journey to be pretty similar. It was one of the calmest rides ever……….