Today was fantastic! I did a tour with Mel to an Art Village outside of Suva. We were bundled into an un-air conditioned bus (humidity still very high, but I had bought a wonderful fan yesterday so it wasn't as bad as it could have been!) with an excellent guide who had heaps of great stories to tell us.
As we passed a cemetery, I noticed that some of the graves were decorated with what looked like curtains around them. The guide (I can't remember his name but it started with S so that's what I'll call him for now) told us that, according to old Fijian custom, four days after burial a family will decorate a grave and begin a 100 day period of mourning. After that time, the decoration is taken off. Pre-Christianity people were buried by the sea in their villages, so their soul/essence/spirit stayed with the village.
We were also told of the Chief who had as many wives as he wanted but only one principle wife. When the chief died, the wife had two choices-she could be clubbed to death before being buried with the chief or she could be buried alive with him. After the Fijians were converted to Christianity, she only had to cut off her little finger. Now there is only one wife, and if the chief dies she only has to observe the 100 days of mourning and then she is free to re-marry if she so chooses (seems better to be living in present day Fiji!).
There were other stories too, some worse than these. I didn't realise before coming here that Fijians were cannibals and just how savage they were (yes, I know I live a very sheltered life!). I'm not sure when the Christian missionaries came but I for one am glad they did, as it's a lovely place and the people (now) are incredibly friendly and welcoming. I feel sorry for one missionary who ended up eaten, and his shoes kept because the were made of leather and very valuable.
We also stopped a few times on the side of the road for S to show us some of the plants that are used by Fijians, including kava, taro and pandanas palms. I thought it was interesting that Fijians use a lot of the same plants, and in the same way, as Vietnamese people. S also showed us the house of a person who is in the "kava business", selling the powdered root to locals and internationally. Let me just say his house was massive compared with all the others around, and next door was his 24 hour kava shop. I think it's quite addictive if you have lots of it. It's supposed to be quite intoxicating if you have more than about 8 cups of it!
Anyway, we arrived at the Art Village and were given some free time to wander around the stalls to purchase souvenirs or get something to eat or drink. After that, we were taken to another part of the village to watch a firewalking ceremony and cultural show.
We started with the firewalking, which is where some men walk on white hot stones without burning themselves. There is only one tribe in Fiji that can do this, and it is said they are able to touch burns and heal them too. The story behind it is that many years ago, a storyteller asked to be paid for his stories with the first thing caught on the following day. One man went and caught an eel, and as he was pulling it in, it transformed into a spirit god. The man was very happy, but the god didn't want to be given to the storyteller. The man would not listen. After much pleading, the spirit god offered to give the man power over fire, the man was intrigued and accepted. So the god build a fire and lined it with stones which became hot. He told the man to walk into the fire with him, which the man did and was amazed that he did not get burnt. Next, the god said he would cover the man with the stones for 4 days and he would be unharmed. The man said no thanks, that the walking thing was enough for him, and so from that day, descendants of that man have been able to walk on the stones without being injured.
To this day, there is a particular ceremony that must be performed by a tribal priest before the firewalking can take place. We watched the ceremony, then the priest and five others walking over the stones (which had been in the fire for about 4 hours to get them to the right temperature).
Next was the rest of the show which had dancing and songs by both men and women. There was the men's spear dance then one by the women, then another dance by the men, this time using fans. Finally, there was a fighting/war demonstration which was amazing and a bit scary. They really were fierce people!
It was then time to leave. We were taken back to Suva to a department store type place. Mel and I had a look then a bit of a walk around. It was similar to other larger cities, not that I got very far. It was too hot for me, so I left Mel and headed back to the ship. And the rest is history as they say! I'm really glad I went on the excursion though!