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On Fiji Islands — Nadi — Chapter 1.5

Krishna’s taxi sped flamboyantly, in the manner of Third World taxis, towards Lautoka, the second city of Fiji.

“I like the dry side,” Derek said, more than once, but for me this part of Viti Levu (Great Fiji, the main island) was a disappointment. I had imagined soaring hills and wanton vegetation; but the western or leeward side lies in a rain-shadow. This year there was a drought, preceded by a hurricane; the land had a used-up look: sere hills, small fields of stunted sugar cane, pale greens and browns, and in one dry valley a shantytown of corrugated iron shacks on hard red earth.

“Poor people,” Krishna said.

“Fijians?”

“Indians?”

Indians without land. Fijian doesn’t live like Indian. Fijians live all together in village, all help each other. Indian lives anywhere, always struggling with neighbours and relatives. Indian is very individual man. If he succeed, get rich. If he fail, end up in shantytown.”

Whenever no vegetation or rise in topography blocks it, the Pa­cific comes in view to the west: a great slab of silver indistinct in the haze of smoke and dust. To the east, low mountains rise slowly like the weary hills of Africa. The large islands of Fiji are not vertical crags thrown up by the volcanic action that raised Hawaii and Tahiti; they are mainly remnants of an ancient land mass, and their age shows in rounded contours and gentle slopes. In Fijian the dry side is called the talasiga, the “sunburnt country”-bald from centuries of slash-and-burn farming and brush fires. Exhausted land is colonized by worthless spear grass, but here and there the forestry service has made small plantings of Caribbean pine. These trees look out of place in the company of scattered palms and the great poincianas and monkeypods that shade the road.

“See that mountain there? We call that the Sleeping Woman. When you see it from the top of Tabletop Mountain, over there”­Krishna pointed-“it look like pregnant lady.”

Drifts of smoke rising from the slopes were soon lost in the general blur, and lower down dense palls hung over cane fields burned for harvesting.

“I thought you said they didn’t burn cane here?” Derek challenged an earlier assertion of Krishna’s. “Some do but they shouldn’t. Burnt cane is easier to cut, but it must be crushed quickly or it no good.”

Many of the Indian bungalows were large, surrounded by shrubs, with a car in the drive. Others were less grand, but all looked neat; even the shantytown was orderly and substantial when compared, say, to the slums of Lima. It occurred to me that the entire pop­ulation of the Fiji Islands is one tenth of Lima’s. There was no comparison, yet I could not help making comparisons. Some houses were flying small red pennants from bamboo poles. In Peru this sign tells that home-brewed beer is for sale. I asked if it meant the same thing here. Krishna was offended: 

“When people have a prayer meeting they put a red flag there. House must be very clean and correct. It serious business.”

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 Fiji Guide 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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