Our experience of Fulaga has been pretty special, so far. On Thursday morning we dinghied a couple of miles across the lagoon to a beach and then walked for about 20 minutes into the main village where our arrival was clearly expected. The village nurse, a young man in his twenties, greeted us warmly and handed us over to Aqila who was to be our 'spokesman' at the sevusevu ceremony; as we walked towards the Chief's house we had lots of shouts of 'Bula' (hello) from the (mostly corrugated iron) houses and several people came over to shake our hands in welcome.
The sevusevu ceremony, in contrast, was a very formal and solemn affair. Aqila took our yangona (kava root bundle) and laid it at the feet of the 82 year-old Chief and then launched into an impassioned speech in Fijian on our behalf – the Chief and his spokesman uttered a few words in response and then the Chief touched our yaqona and told us (again in Fijian) that we were welcomed and honoured guests of the island. Suddenly it was all smiles as we shook hands and were asked to sit with the chief for a photo. The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that Graham appears to be wearing a skirt – it's a length of material known as a sulu and is required for formal events; shorts just aren't smart enough.
The sevusevu completed, we were then introduced to our host family. Each visiting yacht is assigned to a host and they take it in turns to share what we'd consider to be a bit of a burden, as last year 60 boats came to Fulaga; they all seem to relish the job, however! Our hosts are Jiko (pronounced Chico) and her husband Meji (Melly) with an 8 year-old son Jona and a 16 month girl Jima (Tima) and we were given a delicious lunch in their house then a demonstration of pounding the kava root and infusing it through a cloth in a large bowl of water. Drinking kava is a social occasion so several family members and friends sat around the bowl with us but, as guests, we had to drink first from the polished coconut-husk cup. To replicate the taste of cava, boil old newspaper in water and leave to cool for 12 hours (preferably add some mud for the authentic colour); it makes you mouth go a bit numb, though. Graham was asked to give a little speech about us and where we'd come from – our hosts listened very politely and clapped at the end; telling stories is part of the kava ritual. It's probably a bit like us westerners sharing a couple of bottles of wine with half a dozen friends; on Fulaga, though, there is no alcohol as it's a strict Methodist community.
We learnt that on an island of three villages (well, technically four but the fourth is tiny), 300 or so people, a monthly supply boat, electricity only in the school and 3 telephones, the visits by foreign yachts are regarded as something to be enjoyed. We're glad to hear that most yachties do a fair job of returning the friendship they find here.
The following day, the villagers' hospitality extended to a bbq on a beach near to where we're anchored – about 25 of them came (some in their own boats, others getting lifts from the village on a couple of catamarans) at about 10.00am and duties were immediately given to locals and yachties alike – building a temporary sun shelter, lighting fires, spear-fishing and crab-hunting. The women of Faluga traditionally go net-fishing in the shallow waters of the lagoon (whilst the men go out into the surrounding reef for bigger prey) so the yachtswomen were expected to go and help them – this is Dianne's account of what happened:
"Yesterday was the funniest ever. The women (about 10 locals/ yachties in total) went off netting fish (Goat Fish were the prized species) while the men were involved in preparing the bbq / fishing etc. Graham drove one of the dinghies that took the women to the netting spots. What he saw was hilarious, as it was for us! Basically we swam / snorkelled / waded toward the net which was stretched out and then 'ran' beating the water like mad women to drive the fish into the net. We did catch about a dozen fish but laughed so much that it hurt! Round here, you can forget water aerobics - just do a bit of netting!! Graham wished he'd managed to video the scene as he didn't anticipate what he was going to see! All this in the most beautiful turquoise waters."
Fishing completed, we returned to the beach to find bowls woven from coconut fronds and a makeshift table groaning under the weight of food. The yachts had chatted on the radio the previous day so had arrange to contribute bowls of salad, pasta, rice and cakes to compliment the local food. We all ate extremely well and laughed a lot; the party broke up at about 4.30pm.
Tomorrow (Sunday) we're going back to the main village for Church followed by Sunday lunch with Jiko and Meji so Graham gets to wear a sulu again and we try to get used to sitting cross-legged on the floor for a meal. It promises to be another great experience.
Sadly, we're limited by our satellite phone to just a couple of photos – we'll add more when we get back to Internet Land but, to be honest, don't think we'll be rushing to leave this wonderful place.