While many other South Pacific cultures are dying or long dead, Fiji’s way of life remains strong and resilient in the face of outside influence. Traditional Fijian society is based on communal principles derived from village life. People in villages share the obligations and rewards of community life and are still led by a hereditary chief.
The visitor to Fiji with even the vaguest powers of perception cannot help but notice the pride of the indigenous people, which comes across in their carriage, their way of looking you squarely in the eye, and their respect for tradition, manifest in their hospitality.
Chances are a visitor would not find a more tolerant, hospitable and friendly people on the planet than in the Fiji islands. It sounds like office-of-tourism hype but it’s true. Fijians, who ironically were the fiercest cannibals in the South Pacific just over 100 years ago, are so gentle and kind that some visitors may even doubt the islanders’ sincerity. The realization of how ingenuous the Fijians are is more than enough to make you feel mean-spirited in comparison.
South Seas hands can talk about the aesthetic beauties of Bora Bora or the ethnological diversity of Papua New Guinea, but the final measure of the ‘spirit of place’, to quote Laurence Durrell, is the people who inhabit it. In this respect the Fijians are in a class of their own. When you meet a Fijian an instant human dialogue is established. A Fijian will look straight into your eyes and an almost telepathic communication begins.
From an early age Fijians are taught that family and friends are the most important things on earth. Children are instructed to pay attention to human beings and to understand their nature. It is not surprising that the islanders have amazing powers of observation and an intuitive sense when it comes to what people require and desire. Consistent with their comprehension of the human experience, Fijians will never forget a person they have met. Even the substance of a casual conversation will be vividly recalled over a long period of time.
South Pacific islands have their own slow tempo and Fiji is no exception. Things don’t move as quickly as in Sydney or San Francisco and you would be wrong to expect that they should. The sun is hot, the air is humid and no one – except a few misguided tourists – rushes around for any reason. If the bus is late (or doesn’t show up at all), don’t worry: there will be others. The Fiji Bitter you ordered may be slow in being served, but it will come and it will be cold. The hotel operator may not move like lightning to place your call, but he or she will place it eventually. In their own way and in their own time, people in Fiji do get things done.
When the airplane’s rubber hits the runway at Nadi, slow yourself down and keep an open mind. If possible, soak up the sun and bask in the goodwill of these marvelous people. My hunch is that you may learn something from them and take it back with you.
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Top Photo Courtesy of Rob Rickman via Talanoa Treks