- 1000 ‘tribe members’ have spent an average of two weeks on Vorovoro Island
- $2,000,000fj (£630,000) has been injected into the local economy through the project as agreement with landowners extended for further five years
- The celebration included traditional Fijian meke (dances) performed by the tribe members, lovo (earth oven) feast and kava (Fijian Islands drink)
- Tribewanted founder, Ben Keene, plans to begin new tribes in 2010
In April 2006 an online community was launched with the mission to recruit a ‘tribe’ of adventure travellers to help develop a sustainable community tourism project on the Fijian island of Vorovoro. A partnership had been formed between Vorovoro island owners who were advertising for a tourism development and two young British social entrepreneurs.
The project opened on 1st September 2006 with 13 of the online tribe members arriving on the beach to be welcomed by the island’s chief landowner, Tui Mali and his yavusa (tribe).
Over the next three years a village has been built using traditional craftsmanship and materials. Several ‘bures’ – thatched Fijian houses – now nestle between the palms where visiting ‘tribe members’ sleep on drift-wood beds. All water is rain-harvested from a tribe-made dam on the hill and other roof-tops. The average tribe member consumes just 6.2 litres of water a day compared to 200 litres per person per day in the United States. Compost toilets and bathing in the sea have been the main reasons for this conservation. A small amount of energy is generated by wind and solar power sponsored by UK green energy company, Ecotricity. Area for biggest improvement is needed in the kitchen where 12.5% of the food comes from the island, but the project has almost eliminated using any imported food. Similarly waste is minimised on Vorovoro with 40% of the 13kg produced per person each month being recycled. The project currently houses several chickens and ten pigs and plans to add bee hives shortly as well as a community diving project and fair trade coconut workshop.
On the neighbouring island of Mali, tribe members have taught in the local primary school a day a week for the last three years as well as raising funds through the tribe’s own foundation and art projects for wiring and sanitation projects. The school also visits for Vorovoro for project away days .
Visiting tribe members stay for a minimum of one week at a cost of £200 which includes being met from the local airport and transfered to the island, all meals and stay. The tribe can be involved with the daily projects and jobs as much as they like alongside the permanent on-island Fijian team. The only expectation of the visitor is that they wash up their plate and respect the local cultural etiquette in terms of dress and greetings. Most members spend very little time sun-bathing compared to participating in island life: cooking, weaving, firewood-collecting, gardening, feeding the animals, carving coconut jewelry, sustainability forums, learning Fijian meke’s (dances), presenting sevusevu (ceremonies), learning songs, spear fishing and snorkeling on the great barrier reef of Cakau Levu – the third largest in the world – or creating their own art, education or eco project.
The average age of a visiting tribe member is 28. Although the project is also seeing an increasing number of families visiting. Jimmy and Jenny Cahill from Indiana in the US, spent ten weeks on the island with their three children Lucas, Bethany and five year old Oliver who has his own video guide to island life. The Cahill’s will return to Vorovoro in October to lead the project for one year.
Jenny Cahill says: “Our time on Vorovoro has given us gifts that will be a part of us forever – we have experienced enduring and strong connections to ourselves, to each other, and to our goals and intentions for our family. We have formed relationships that will last the rest of our lives. The important lessons of slowing down, laughing much, and enjoying the moment we are in have become a part of us.”
Online Tribewanted has won several awards including Broadcast’s ‘best social network’ in 2008. Out of the 1000’s of blogs, regulars include: The Hammock Society Interviews and Recipes from Vorovoro’s Vali ni Koro . 34 tribe members have been elected ‘chief ’ so far online, giving them the chance to help lead the project for one month on the island.
The three year anniversary began at sunrise with members and locals preparing the lovo, an earth oven that cooked pig, chicken, fish and root vegetables. Guests from neighbouring islands and the mainland arrived by boat and at midday Adam Carter, a 24 year old Australian accountant on his sixth visit to Vorovoro, blew the conch from a bilibili (bamboo raft) to announce the arrival of the islands chief – Tui Mali.
A ceremony consisting of sevusevu (kava drink), tabua (whale’s tooth presentation – the contract) and meke (dances) followed. The rest of the day and all through the night the 35 visiting tribe members and 100+ locals sat under the stars singing Fijian songs and drinking kava.
Ben Keene, founder of Tribewanted, says:
“It’s been an unbelievable three years. The first few months were the hardest – with the fire, the military coup and a cyclone all threatening the projects survival, and its always been tight financially. But we got through it and the tribe have flourished. I’m very proud and grateful for the way the two cultures have integrated on Vorovoro to form one community. When I return now I can sit back and enjoy being part of one of the happiest little villages in the world. There is nowhere I’d rather be.”
“There’s no reason why the best and most inspiring vacations should finish the day you go home. Tribes – people connected to one another, a leader, and an idea – can change the way we all live, for the better.”
“I don’t particularly see Tribewanted as voluntourism – its more adventure meets education meets community – it’s tribal tourism. On Vorovoro you belong to something and you play your part.”
“The downside of island life is leaving. The emotional attachment to the people and the island is strong and we’ve had a lot of members find it difficult to get back to life off the island. The good news for Vorovoro is that this means they often come back.”
“I always hoped the idea of Tribewanted could go beyond Vorovoro. Now is the time to do this as we have proved that it can work. Next year we will be launching a worldwide search for new tribes in new locations. The values of the projects will be the same – to empower both locals and visitors to live more sustainably whilst celebrating the local culture. The goal is to build a collection of the best community tourism projects anywhere and use social networking to fund, connect and scale them. It’s ambitious, but then again a lot of people thought what we’ve just done on Vorovoro as just a dream.”
Tui Mali, chief and landowner says:
“In most of Fiji there is a line in the sand between the locals and tourists. On Vorovoro there is no such line. That is why I’ve invited the tribe to stay. They are part of our community here on Vorovoro now, we feel sad when they leave.”
The project re-opens on 9th September 2009 and the lease agreement between Tribewanted and the landowners of Vorovoro has been extended for a further five years.
A two hour documentary about the project will be shown on National Geographic in Spring 2010. Ben Keene has also written a book published by Ebury. ‘Vorovoro Sessions’ is available for download from itunes.
Images available on request
Outside Fiji contact Andy Barr on +44 (0) 1452 300683 or +44 (0)7743057458 / email@example.com
or in Fiji contact Tribewanted on 992 0428 / firstname.lastname@example.org