Captain Api swung the short open fibre boat in a familiar curve around the Western end of Vorovoro. And as he did so channels of late afternoon sun-light re-gathered and cast their rainbow prism on the beach. The foot of the colourful arc tracked as we skimmed parallel to the land before coming to a brief rest as we turned again directly toward the shore. And there at its foot, I saw what lay at the end of the rainbow: A line of seven island girls dressed in sulu’s and coconut palmed skirts welcoming us with a Fijian meke (dance) as we skidded onto the sand. The rainbow ran into the rain-soaked bush, the boys stood up to greet us from where they played and the girls scampered for the umbrella trees. I was home.
I had escaped the English snow storms only to dive into the depths of a tropical ‘rainy season’ which tends to include: an afternoon heavy shower or two, the occasional strong wind, an explosion of growth in the gardens and a significant increase in the bug population (the downside of island living).
Vorovoro was quieter than when I was last here in September, but nonetheless vibrant. Pupu now runs a regular popular coconut accessories workshop, Leavi (aka Crimestopper – Vorovoro’s local law enforcer with guitar and smile as his deterrents) takes tribe members on food forages into the lush undergrowth behind the villages, Save continues to teach meke and language classes to enthusiastic participants, Moya is leading a happy mini-tribe as February chief, the damn project has made great progress under team Fiji and we’re hoping with good weather next week to get near to completion (I have to say I’ve actually enjoyed lugging the sacks of gravel up the hill path first thing in the morning), and there is a welcome increase in tribal engagement in the kitchen where Va and Francis lead a Fijian fusion style menu with support of Amy, Chelly and the gang. And of course there are there are the projects…
University of the South Pacific Ethno bio-diversity study begins
As I am sure you will read on Ben Katz’s blog – our sustainability manager was able to recently persuade a team of five students and lecturers to visit Vorovoro to begin a study of local knowledge of Vorovoro’s reefs. The goal is that after this initial research more students will return to extend the study, building up detailed knowledge of the islands marine environments so that both the knowledge and the reefs can be preserved for future generations. At sevusevu on tuesday (Tui Mali’s weekly visit to Vorovoro) the USP team presented their two day findings to chief, team, tribe members, and the Prisons Commissioner for the South of Fiji (as Tui Mali’s guest). Teddy Fong, the team leader from USP, spoke of ‘islands as arks’, of how we can see the whole cycle of life on and around an island – and how they provide a rare opportunity to see global ecosystems on a micro scale. When we first looked to come to Vorovoro, I remember thinking something not disimilar although not as scientifically put – that on Vorovoro, we can see so easily the full cycle of life and its biodiversity, and that is why it is the ideal place to educate, inspire and make connections. We will post the full report of their survey online when it is complete and I hope that the partnership will grow from here.
Piggy is the only survivor of last year’s lovo season, and has consequently been filled to the brim with tribal left-overs. A well rounded sow if ever you saw. In preparation for the busier dry season on Vorovoro, Tui Mali had offered to accommodate piggy at home for a brief honeymoon period with his own pig livestock before returning her pregnant. Lifting a disgruntled piggy out of her pen was both noisy and back-straining for the four men involved. But once outside she trotted along on the end of a rope in an, almost, direct line to the boat. Another heave and she was aboard, ready for her journey to her honeymoon destination, the chief’s house. After a brief swim in the mangroves, Api lured her up onto the main road and there she took the short walk to her new home. I don’t think I will easily forget the sight of Api, Leavi and the pig happily strolling down the Malau road like it something you always do in the late afternoon. Piggy is now safely ensconsed in the chiefly pen and we will pick her up when given the call.
The 11th Hour: a holistic sustainability workshop
After a full meke class on Thursday morning (with Crimestopper even introducing a new head wiggling style), Ben Katz lead a discussion on tribe members attitudes and involvement with sustainable living. Interestingly all those present had been involved through their work at home in some way: Jodie as a sales rep for a recycling company, Louis from Holland knows a lot about liquid nitrogen and even sells CO2, Paula from Italy sells bikini’s (thus saving on extra clothing…), Becky had been involved in Environmental & Energy Law, Moya ran the eco-car fleet for Estee Lauder, Sophie had produced Radio Campaigns on green issues, and our very own Katz had run a sustainable landscaping business.
From Hybrids to Shampoos to Greenwashing to defining sustainability, Re-designing Design itself and becoming re-connected with our environment, we covered a lot of ground. The third compost loo is being re-decorated by the tribe with eco facts for what you can do easily at home. Later in the afternoon, as the showers began, we settled down in the Great Bure with scones and sugared tea to watch The 11th hour, the most compelling environmental documentary I’ve seen – following the insights of the world’s most eminent scientists into the state of planet today and what must be done to prevent catastrophe. The closing comments of the film are made by an indigenous indian chief who speaks very plainly that no matter what, the earth will survive, the question is whether we want to survive with it.
A community in mourning
News came early in the week that Mosese’s (one of our boat captains) younger brother had tragically passed away at the age of 31. Peni was a fit young man, who met his lovely wife whilst visiting Vorovoro one afternoon last year, and since begun a new life in Nakawaga village. No one seems to know why he dropped down so suddenly last week – all the villagers can say is that his wife had been saying that Peni had told her in the days before his death that he “would soon be going to a far off place.” Marau left early in the week to start helping the village prepare for the significant funeral. I travelled with the family on Friday morning and arrived to a village full of people quietly preparing for a heavy day. The two hour service was followed by the short pilgrimage to the village grave site on the hill, and there in the midday heat, 150 gathered – wailing, singing hymns and shoveling thick heavy mud into Peni’s final resting place. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of something like that – where you can feel the communal shift in emotion for a man who passed too soon to one of quiet acceptance for all except the immediate family, as the flowers were placed on his mud and rock make-shift grave.
Pictured: Pupu Epeli selling is coconut jewelry
Life – and death – on these beautiful islands, a story we’re fortunate to be part of.