The crowd roared with laughter as two large Fijian woman rode a palm frond like a horse, galloping about up the hill. The freshly slaughtered cow being slowly heaved along behind them by 6 very strong men. The cow was placed in front of the crowd, who were now dancing and hip shacking to the live Island band, belting out a Fijiian tune.
As soon as the cow bearers walked away, a dozen or so kids jumped on its back, using the fresh meat as a punching bag. The cow stared at me as my own daughter joined the local kids and jumped aboard the cow. I cringed as my other daughter, only 3 years old, stood poking the cows lifeless tongue. This was Island life. Freshly slaughtered cows were not my cup of tea. I like to think of beef as something that is cling wrapped and found in the cold section of a supermarket, not laying around on the front lawn.
A silence succumbed over the crowd. The music stopped. The village all stood up, relieving me from my cross legged sitting position. Instantly the pins and needles flooded my suffocated legs. A young boy all hunched over and in intense groin pain, slowly shuffled up the hill, surrounded by all his Aunties who were carrying a fabric canopy over him. An Island printed fabric veil slithered along behind him. With every step the young man cringed, fresh from the hospital his circumcision bringing a grimace to his face.
As he entered the Maneapa, the crowd went wild, cheering, yahooing and clapping. Arms flailed rowdily above the villagers’ heads while they stomped the cement floor, the noise echoing off the rusty corrugated iron roof. I couldn’t see much as my body was engulfed by the large crowd and my 5ft stature is a little on the short side compared to the average 6ft Fijian. I donned a traditional Fijian Jamba and looked slightly odd, whilst feeling like a sack. Then like someone had hit the mute button, the crowd fell into a silenced calm and we slowly lowered ourselves back down to the knee destroying cross legged position.
We were seated for a very long and tedious kava ceremony. This was Fijian culture at it’s finest. Every single person there was carefree, happy and incredibly moved by the whole experience. Tears streamed down the ladies face’s as the boy stood in front of the crowd drinking his first bilo of kava and cementing himself as a man.
Now we all know that drinking of kava is stomach churning at best, but I am well seasoned to the whole kava drinking. I know how to chug a bilo. I watched as the bilo was passed from person to person, the germs erupting and multiplying around the rim of a sanded back coconut. I watched as another set of lips embraced the bilo. This is the part I find hard to stomach. Some people had blisters on their lips, some had colds and nasty coughs, but that didn’t worry them, one lady even had a very nasty lip engulfing cancer festering on her lower lip. The sharing of germs was not something these Islanders had ever considered. When the bilo was handed to me I graciously clapped, said a big booming “Bula!” and wrapped my lips around the array of germs as I slammed back the bilo. With in seconds my lips were numb . I knew this wasn’t to be my last bilo.
The kava drinking had gone on for 2 days and not many people had slept. We drank kava and danced, drowned another bilo and danced some more. Dance moves became slightly dirtier and less refined, the hips moving with a mind of their own, grinding was now the go to move for all. 3am came around and it was time to drink kava, fist pump the tin roof and dance like a chicken. I was quite good at this dance move. At 6am the bilo was slurped up, followed by a lemon leaf tea chaser and a good quality head bobble as they tried to stay awake. This was a big celebration and Fijians party hard, they simply just keep going and a drop of alcohol isn’t seen let alone consumed.
Becoming a man is a huge deal and an overwhelming experience for all. I was so tired and had barely seen my girls in two days. They were off running riot with a village full of children, kids of all ages playing happily together. I never worried about them. I knew the older kids would be taking good care of them. Village kids are good like that, they look after the youngsters. The girls had spent two days, playing dress ups, getting their hair done in a variety of styles and swapping clothes, whilst singing Fijian songs. I occasionally got a glimpse of them running around, from hut to hut or dancing amongst the crowd. I love seeing the girls faces so excited as they take an opportunity to play with the local kids, trying their best to learn a bit more of the language.
When travelling with kids, sometimes you just need a break and these two days gave me a break from the girls. I was able to relax and unwind, losing myself in another bowl of kava and the girls were able to run free and be independent. All the while I knew they were so safe and well looked after. All I had to do was look up and some one would point out exactly where the girls were.
By midnight on day two, my dance moves were becoming quite slow and laboured. I was exhausted to say the least. I didn’t even party this hard at 18! Finally we were loaded into a car and well on our way to a deep slumber.
This was an incredible experience, one that saw my little family get immersed in a very special cultural encounter. This is something that would not be seen on a well known tourist route. We were so lucky to have met a beautiful family that let us stay with them over the Christmas, New year holiday and not only welcomed us into their home, but also welcomed us to come and witness Fijian tradition at it’s finest.