This past week I went on my last SIT excursion. We spent one full week on the main island of Viti Levu in Fiji. What an experience that was. We arrived on October 25, which happened to be a big holiday in Fiji, the Hindu festival of lights called Diwali. Fiji’s population is divided roughly in half between the indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians (who were descendants of Indian laborers who came between 1880 and 1920), and therefore many Hindu and Muslim holidays are celebrated along with Christian holidays, making Fiji an extremely diverse country. After arriving in Nadi, we were invited to our bus driver’s house for a large Indian feast and to set off fireworks in honor of the last night of Diwali. It was full of fun, fire and food, so what more could you want?
The next day we woke up early and drove to the village of Abaca. Abaca is an eco-tourist village located in the Fijian highlands. It is a town of less than 60 people, and we had to take rough, unpaved roads to get there. But it was worth it. We each stayed with local families and learned about Fijian culture from them. The town was absolutely beautiful, and we hiked up mount Batilamu, one of the highest mountains in Fiji. We began and concluded our stay in the village with a kava ceremony, as that is the Fijian way of hospitality, and kava is Fiji’s national drink (kava is made from the root of the pepper plant and it is used in various ceremonies throughout the South Pacific region).
After leaving Abaca, we drove to the Fijian capital Suva, and stayed there for two nights. Suva is one of the largest South Pacific cities, with about 300,000 (nearly one half of the total Fijian population) people in its urban area. While there we visited the main University of the South Pacific campus, and walked through a squatter settlement (there are many squatters in Suva, some being evicted from their land after land leases expire, while others hope for better educational and employment opportunities). After living in laid-back Samoa, a country with half the population of Suva, the city itself seemed so large, busy and hectic. I was completely overwhelmed in Suva, and it was a really interesting experience, causing me to wonder what it would be like when I returned back to the US. Though I thought Suva was interesting, it was a real shock, and I still do not feel as though I liked it very much. It was so busy, dirty and edgy, that I didn’t ever feel attached to it.
After leaving Suva, we went to Kulukulu for two nights, and did one final home stay with an Indo-Fijian family. I learned quite a bit about Indo-Fijian culture, and it is unique and distinct even from that of India (Fijian Hindi is often considered its own dialect or language). It was really interesting to see the two different sides of Fiji. Indo-Fijians and indigenous Fijians now live peacefully side-by-side, but that has not been the case. Since gaining independence in 1970, Fiji has experienced four coups (two in 1987, one in 2000, and one in 2006) which were all in one way or the other, related to ethnic tension between the two groups. It has been a long road, but today Fiji is a beautiful and unique country, and all Fijians are working hard to improve their country for everyone. I hope someday to return to Fiji and learn more about its culture, both Indian and indigenous.