14 December 2014. There’s a notion going around that the world is a small place, brought about no doubt by our increasing access to stories, photographs and videos of, well, pretty much everywhere. But it’s not small really. Well relative to a galaxy I suppose it is, but relative to the size of a human being it is a very very large place and to see even a tiny part of it, and of the communities of people who inhabit it, vast distances must be travelled.
From the west coast of Canada we crossed the Pacific, a distance of some nine and a half thousand kilometers, to Fiji, a group of tiny islands in the middle of an immense ocean. We landed in Nadi on Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. Up in the Ba Highlands of Viti Levu, about three hours by car north-west of Nadi, past the Indo-Fijian town of Ba, over increasingly narrow and winding roads, is the remote traditional village of Navala. It is the only remaining traditional village on Viti Levu though there are others on some of the more distant of Fiji’s 333 islands. Here in this village, nestled in the mountains, and frequently isolated by a flooded river, is a community of some eight hundred souls living a simple quiet life.
We drove there with our guide on a fine sunny day in December, gradually heading inland, away from the coast, up into the highlands, past sugar cane plantations, and past a landscape that became more and more mountainous, and more and more spectacular.
Rich emerald-green-and-blue-mountain beauty unfolding forever and filling the senses. That alone would have been enough. Then there, suddenly, spread out before us, was the village.
The people of Navala live in traditional thatched bures and in this lush beautiful environment they lead quiet subsistence lives farming the land.
Upon arrival we were introduced to a young girl who was to be our guide around the village. It was just Don and myself that day on our own personal tour. We were lucky to be visiting on a Sunday since it meant everyone was at home.
We were shown around the entire village and our guide shyly answered all our questions. She told us the men of the village hunt wild pigs with spears and dogs every Saturday so there is a big pig roast once a week. She told us that over a nearby hill is the plantation where they grow cassava, taro, yams, kava, guava, mango, and papaya. She told us each family has goats, cows, bulls, and horses, though the livestock was not in the village. She showed us the school and the church, two of the very few buildings that are not thatched bures. They also have limited electricity from generators that are housed in sheds.
What we discovered for ourselves is that the people of Navala Village are charming and open and very friendly.
Most of the kids wanted to be photographed and pushed and shoved to be included.
What better place to play, or bathe, on a hot day.
We were taken to meet the chief. He sat in his house, leaning against the centre pole. I wonder if he’s as fierce as he looks in this picture.
There were several men with him.
We were invited to join in tasting kava, a ritual drink of the Polynesian islands. Kava is the pulverized root of a plant related to pepper, mixed with water. It makes your tongue numb and your mind mellow. The coconut-shell cup is passed around in an hierarchical order, and each person claps once before and once after drinking. Everyone drinks. Everyone gets mellow.
The men in the chief’s house preparing the kava:
After tasting the kava we continued our tour of the village. This is a cooking area outside one of the bures.
There are almost two hundred bures in the village. They are built of bamboo, directly on the grass-covered earth. The roof thatch is made from reeds, the walls are woven bamboo and the floors are covered in woven pandanus mats.
Finally it was time for lunch. One of the families had opened their home for us and we were welcomed in. First we were invited to join in another kava ceremony, and once again the cup was passed around accompanied by the ritual clapping.
Then we were invited to eat from a sumptuous spread. We felt a bit awkward eating alone in front of everyone, but clearly that was what was expected. After we’d finished it was the kids’ turn to tuck in.
Navala village has been in existence since 1949. In 1950 the community decided to reject modern housing options and to continue the traditional ways, teaching the young the art of bure construction. Although there are small numbers of visitors every day, and the income from tourists for maintenance of, and improvements to the village is most welcome, their way of life is chosen and authentic. The remoteness of the village helps keep it that way. We were very glad we went. The drive was through the spectacular scenery of Viti Levu’s hinterland,
and our time in this gentle village gave us a glimpse into a more peaceful and grounded way of life. Using what the land provides, for shelter, food and water, the people of Navala live in harmony, close to each other, and close to the earth.
In this very large world, hidden away in the highlands of a tiny island in an enormous ocean, lives a small group of people, farming the land and husbanding their animals, and welcoming anyone who cares to visit them.
Next post: Orchids galore. The beach. The fire dance. More of beautiful Fiji.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.