Beginning our voyage in Tahiti, we have sailed toward the sunset across the vast Pacific Ocean to find ourselves, on this last day aboard the Clipper Odyssey, anchored off the island of Taveuni, Fiji.
During our voyage across the Pacific we have observed various features of Polynesian culture. Some commonalities include social systems articulated by royal lineages, nobles and commoners, a remarkably similar pantheon of gods, as well as reverence for ancestors, and an economic culture based upon the sea and the foods Polynesians brought with them as they migrated from Southeast Asia 3,000 years ago. We also experienced quite a lot of diversity from one island group to the next. The Cook Islands and Niue had hair cutting ceremonies for boys while Tongan men grew their hair long. Society Island and Tongan society were extremely stratified, tracing the royal families through primogeniture whereas Futuna and Wallis islands preferred a meritocracy, choosing their chiefs from the royal families based on ability rather than birth order. Our journey through the archipelagos and from island to island introduced us to a mosaic of cultures that reflect a Polynesian model, but also demonstrate the adaptive strategies made to specific island and social conditions. These adaptive strategies led to the diversity that cross cuts the homogeneity of Polynesian societies.
Today, most of us opted to visit Duivosavosa Village, which has developed cultural tourism to take advantage of the curiosity outsiders might have about the traditional life of Fijians. Typical of any indigenous Taveuni community, the village is made up of elder parents, sons and daughters and their extended families, usually numbering about 30 members total. They have set out to best portray a ‘day in the life of the village’ and we moved around the village from one demonstrated activity to another. The members of the village had prepared a step-by-step demonstration of broom making, basket making, copra production, earth oven preparation, and even a finished oven with delicious taro and cassava already cooked and ready for us to sample. We witnessed fresh water prawns being caught in the stream that runs through the village and then cooked in coconut cream for us to taste. We then moved to another section of the village where women were weaving beautiful mats of pandanus leaves. The matriarch of the village showed us how to beat the bark of the paper-mulberry tree into tapa, a cloth that is used widely through Polynesia for clothing and decorative purposes. As the grand finale we attended a kava ceremony. The root of the kava plant, which grows throughout Polynesia, is chopped, dried, and then pounded into a powder before being made into the traditional, intoxicating drink. As we sat on soft pandanus mats the men made a bowl of ‘day strength’ kava for us to drink while others played guitars and ukuleles. Our final moments with the villagers were filled with conviviality and a shared brother/sisterhood. It was hard to leave when it came time to board our bus and head back to the ship!
As we bid farewell to this beautiful corner of the world, we will always remember the warm smiles and hospitality that are the most obvious commonality that is shared by the lovely people who populate paradise.