We were fortunate enough to have an open weekend for the biggest medieval reenactment in England. The date everyone in history class here learns and remembers is 1066 (while in the states we learn more about 1776). A little refresher: it’s when William, the Duke of Normandy, came to claim his right to the crown from the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson. King Harold had just claimed the throne after the death of the childless, King Edward the Confessor. Then Harold rushed north to defend the crown from the invading Norwegian King Harald Hardrada (who also thought he was the rightful heir) and defeated the viking army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. He then immediately rushed south to Hastings to defend against the Norman army, and (spoiler alert) lost his life in the battle. Legend has it he was killed by an arrow to the eye during the battle. The Normans, led by William (now known as William the Conqueror) ruled over the saxon people for half a century, until the next succession crisis known as the Anarchy period. His rule established the feudal system in England and left a permanent mark on the culture and language on England. Things like all the french origin words in the English language are because of this mixing and having the Lords and governing class using french over the peasant class who spoke old english. Words like cow and pig vs beef and pork among others.
History is fascinating in that it helps us understand how the world we live in was set up and became to be. Understanding where we came from is a prerequisite to understanding where and who we are.
We are thoroughly enjoying our time in England and learning about the history of the region. We’ve noticed that in our travels we’ve mainly been in the commonwealth and places that at least at one time were part of the British Empire. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and even Fiji and of course the United States. Very interesting to now be in the place that started all the colonization and conquest (for better and worse). Very sad to learn about the cultures and people who were exploited along the way. But, it is uplifting to be in a world that is beginning to value the diversity and cultures that were (and in most cases still are): Aboriginal cultures of Australia, Maori in New Zealand, Native Fijians and other Polynesian cultures along with Native American (Indians) and First Nation peoples of Canada. I know each culture has it’s value and honor as well as its own issues, but I also find that all these so called “barbaric” or “savage” cultures had much meaning and validity – and dare I say more so than the more “powerful” civilized conquerors, especially when considering the values of equality, peace and sustainability.
Very interesting to see the “conquerors” later on in the historical timeline, be the conquered in 1066. What goes around comes around. Hopefully we can move past the conquering and exploiting and more towards a global family of diversity.
In Fiji, as in all our travels, our goal is to really get to know the local culture rather than just visit as a tourist. Bridge the Gap shares this same vision and it was very welcoming to be able to participate with real people in a real village. We made friends, learned about their traditions and respectfully followed these traditions as guests. There were no natives serving us drinks on platters or other resort/Disney-inspired representations of their culture. We were there and worked along side them to prepare meals, wear their traditional clothing and learn their phrases. We were able to help in a couple construction projects, learn about the medicinal uses of the plants, fish with them and more. We also laughed a lot with them, played games and volleyball and spent many hours on the kava mat.
As I mentioned before, in Fiji we spend a lot of time on the Kava mat. The time is well used to visit and join in music together. There is a lot of tradition and ritual surrounding Kava.
Our time in Fiji was amazing! We were on a small island that is a couple kilometers square and stayed for 8 days. It’s just north of Labasa, on Vanua Levu. We Flew to Labasa, took a taxi to the coast, and then a boat (like a little motor boat) to Vorovoro. We stayed in a vale (hut) with 6 beds so we all had space. Our vale was steps from the beach on the edge of the village. We had compost toilets, bucket powered showers we filled with collected rainwater, solar powered charging stations and communal meals with everyone (courtesy of Misi) and kava on the grog mat every night. We went snorkeling and fishing and played volleyball and swam at the beach and enjoyed the company of the Fijians and the wildlife. They had an injured pet fruit bat (Becky) in the kitchen hut where we could pet and take care of him. There were chickens wandering the island with baby chicks. A guitar and ukulele in the grand bure. Plenty of hammocks around the fire ring and along the beach. We enjoyed walking along the beach and finding hermit crabs and shells, walking into the water and looking at the coral and fish and even snorkeling right off the beach and finding more. Mat weaving Fiji style, visiting the primary school on neighboring island Mali in the village of Lingalevu,
We went one day out to a reef and saw loads more fish and beautiful coral and even sharks!
Fiji was colonized by the British, and to farm sugar cane they brought over a large population from India who knew the crop already (and they had also colonized). There is still a large Indian population in the area, and they have greatly influenced the cuisine. They eat curries and rice all the time on Fiji, but they have their own treatment with local vegetables, we mostly had fish curry and chutney. It was delicious, and not usually as spicy as the Indian food I’m used to, but it was still really good. We ate coconut, fish, chicken, fish, rice, curry, chutney, pancakes (which were more like scones or donuts), bananas , oatmeal/porridge.
Tui Mali – the chief of the Mali tribe.
Bula – Hi (literally it means life or health)
Bula Sia – The local way to say it on Vorovoro and the surrounding area of Labasa.
Vinaka – Thank you
Yadra – Good morning
Kerekere – Please
Tulou – Excuse me
Moce – Goodbye (pronounced Mo-they)
Sulu – The traditional skirt everyone wears.
Kava – The traditional drink of Fiji. Also called Grog.
Tanoa – The traditional bowl where kava is mixed.
Sevusevu – Ceremony when you arrive at a village. You bring kava root and present it to the chief.
Cobo – (Thombo) the deep handed clap you do on the kava mat
Oh ya – What men say as they approach a home.
Manavanduuu – What women say as they approach a home. They say this right after the men would say Oh ya. It’s kinda sung and trails off at the end like an echo.
Bongi – What everyone says at night as you first approach a home or kava mat.
Dondo – When on the kava mat, men sit cross legged, and women sit with both legs to the side on the knees. Sitting there for hours and visiting is great, but your legs get very tired, so the chief can call a rest by saying ‘dondo‘. We had a good joke going around the village that we needed a ‘full body dondo’
Kerekere vaka cangu – What you’d say on the grog mat when you’re ready to go to bed (not sure the exact spelling or meaning, but basically means, can I please go to bed?’ you ask the chief after you get everyone’s attention by cobo-ing three times, and he will say ‘Vinaka‘)
Lovo – The underground oven meal/feast. Super heat rocks in a fire and place them in a hole covered with food to cook. Including fish, chicken and veggies and then you cover with banana leaves and then dirt to keep the heat it and let it cook for about an hour and a half. The fun part is digging it up without burning your hands too bad!
Kava deserves it’s own section here. Every evening after dinner will be a time everyone comes together in the big pavilion called the grand buré. Kava is a root, which they will pound into a powder and then mix with water to make a drink. Kava doesn’t necessarily taste good, but it’s not that bad either. It makes your tongue and mouth go a bit numb and tingly at first. They say it relaxes you and that once you’ve had it daily for a few weeks you can get drunk off it, though there is no alcohol content. I don’t remember the word in Fiji, but it sounds like “lambchop” in english and someone once confused the two, so now they just say that. Not like a crazy drunk or a sloppy drunk, but a mild mumbly laughing drunk. We never felt anything other than a tingling in our mouth though. But it’s not just a cup or two, they will sit for hours and hours on the mats, basically from dinner until bed, all night even sometimes. They combine the crushed kava root (they just use stones or metal or anything hard to pound the root) with water into the tanoa. Then they use a coconut shell as a cup and dish it out for everyone one at a time. They will pass the cup from person to person, and to receive it you cobo once, and after you drink you pass the cup back and cobo three times. There are kava guards that sit next to the tanoa and pass it around to people and keep the kava stirred and mixed. They will pass to everyone there and then take a break until the chief calls for another round usually 5-10 minutes later. There is a special kava ceremony when you arrive in a village called a Sevusevu, where the visitor presents the chief with a wrapped kava root and states the intention of the visit, then they are received by the chief as family (literally one of their own) and he will speak for the land and the ancestors in welcoming you to the land. There is also another similar ceremony when you leave , we were able to participate in a couple and see a few more of these types of ceremonies and it was nice to learn the rhythm of it all.
Off the Grid
We were off the grid because we did not get cell service where we were, and there was not much electricity anyways. There is a charge station for phones and things, but half our stay the solar panels or batteries did not work, so we were always trying to conserve our charge. IT was really nice to not be connected to things like Facebook and instagram, though some of you worried about us going dark. We did find after a couple days that there is a peak you can hike to that we did get signal on, so we would go and post photos and send messages to let everyone know we were still alive.
Bridge The Gap
As we mentioned earlier, we were on Vorovoro as guests through an organization called Bridge the Gap. They are in partnership with the chief and other tribal leaders to help the people live sustainably and adjust to the local challenges of climate change. Read more about their mission on their site. It was a great cultural experience to learn about the traditional of Fiji and get to know the people.
We’ll have a few more posts about our time in Fiji, so stay tuned! In the meantime, here are some more photos: