April 20, 2024
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On Fiji Islands — Nadi — Chapter 1.8

“G’day,” Jerry said. “Those spear chuckers looked like they meant business. Big chaps these Fijians. I reckon they were well fed in the old days. Did you hear about the cannibal who passed his brother in the jungle?”

The master of ceremonies announced the last song. A Fijian woman got up in front of the microphone and gave a running commentary in English against the background of the lilting, soulful chant:

Isa Lei is a Fijian farewell song, which has many, many mean­ings. It expresses happiness, joy, and sorrow; beauty, and lingering memories of  happy events, hope, and love.

“What does Isa Lei mean? Isa Lei means ‘so sorry.’ Isa Lei means ‘so sad to know that you are departing from our dear islands.’ Isa Lei says that you are going. Isa Lei means ‘be kind, be truth,’ and longs for the time when again we shall be meeting you.”

“I could live in this country,” Derek said. “I’d like to live somewhere where the only ice you see is in your drink.” A country ­and-western band-these musicians were also Fijian-struck up tunelessly in the bar. “There were lots of Yanks here in the war,” he added. Gorky overheard.

“Yanks, huh? You Frostbacks watch your language.” He ordered something called a “Nadi sunset special.” It seemed to be a blend of rum, grenadine, and coconut milk, and arrived with a hibiscus bloom floating on the surface. Gorky transferred the flower to his ear, where it sprouted forlornly from his brush cut.

“Now this is what I call a global village experience,” he said. 

“You guys want girls?” asked Krishna as we approached the Nadi Hotel. “Not tonight.” “Only twenty dollar.” “That’s a lot of money round here,” Derek said. “Ten for the girl, ten for me.”

“Isn’t that rather a large commission?”

“I’m their agent. Everybody need an agent. Let me know if you change your mind, anytime. Everyone in Nadi Town know Krishna.”

It was past midnight when we got back to the room. Derek opened the small fridge (an excellent feature, this) and poured two big scotches. 

“Most of the hookers are Indian; I used to see them all the time in Suva. The Fijians do it for fun, the Indians for money. It’s the story of this country. Most of the really poor are Indians, and so are most of the rich-apart from a handful of Europeans and Chinese. A Fijian woman down on her luck can always go back to her village. An Indian has to sell her labour or herself.” 

Historian, novelist, and essayist Ronald Wright is the award-winning author of nine books of nonfiction and fiction published in 16 languages and more than 50 countries. Much of his work explores the relationships between past and present, peoples and power, other cultures and our own.

On Fiji Islands, was published in 1986 to critical acclaimHe has graciously allowed Fijiguide.com to serialize his work for your enjoyment. We welcome your comments.


©2018 Ronald Wright

Ronald Wright

Ronald Wright (born 1948, London, United Kingdom) is a Canadian author who has written books of travel, history and fiction. His nonfiction includes the bestseller Stolen Continents, winner of the Gordon Montador Award and chosen as a book of the year by the Independent and the Sunday Times. His first novel, A Scientific Romance, won the 1997 David Higham Prize for Fiction and was chosen a book of the year by the Globe and Mail, the Sunday Times, and the New York Times.

Wright was selected to give the 2004 Massey Lectures. His contribution, A Short History of Progress, looks at the modern human predicament in light of the 10,000-year experiment with civilization. In it he concludes that human civilization, to survive, would need to become environmentally sustainable, with specific reference to global warming and climate change.

His next work What is America?: A Short History of the New World Order continues the thread begun in A Short History of Progress by examining what Wright calls "the Columbian Age" and consequently the nature and historical origins of modern American imperium.

His latest book The Gold Eaters, a novel set during the Spanish invasion of the Inca Empire in the 1520s-1540s, was published in 2015.

Ronald Wright is also a frequent contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, and has written and presented documentaries for radio and television on both sides of the Atlantic. He studied archaeology at Cambridge University and later at the University of Calgary, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1996. He lives in British Columbia.

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