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Traditional village bures in Fiji

Uncovering the real treasure of Fiji

With a welcoming community spirit that embraces visitors as family, Fiji’s sharing culture is deeply rooted.

When one island paradise is not enough, Fiji has more than 300.

With a welcoming community spirit that embraces visitors as family, Fiji’s sharing culture is deeply rooted.

With eyes closed, a young boy in a turtle-patterned Bula shirt tilts sideways into his father’s lap. He’s fast asleep. Next to him, his elder brother is fidgety and looks bored.

Their father wears his best Sunday dress, a collared shirt neatly snugged at the neck with a tie, tucked into a sombre-toned sulu, the kilt-like garment that Fijian men wear on formal occasions. The family matriarch on the other hand, like her colourful peers, is far more vibrantly dressed. Immaculate in a forest-green tailored tunic worn over matching ankle-length skirt trimmed with hibiscus patterns, she has a frangipani tucked behind her left ear. Our eyes meet above her son’s head and her face erupts into an ear-splitting smile, the kind that would light up a dark night.

The azure waters of Fiji
The azure waters of Fiji

A card-carrying atheist with little interest in a lengthy sermon, the sole reason I’ve joined the congregation on Oneata Island is to enjoy harmonious hymns sung by a rapturous Fijian choir. Sung a cappella in their native tongue, passion is evident in their ethereal, melodious voices. The entire community is present, all in their Sunday best, and at times the entire village’s voice rise together in song. Unexpectedly, their hymns move me to tears, despite not understanding a single word.

Local Fijian women selling mangoes at a roadside stall
Local Fijian women selling mangoes at a roadside stall

Melanesian culture, strongly influenced by the Christian faith, dictates that Sundays are sacrosanct. On Saturdays, men prioritise fishing excursions to ensure an adequate contribution for Sunday lunch, when all gather after church for a shared meal. Fijian villages operate as a communal society where property and resources are shared. By the custom of kerekere any neighbour or relative may ask for something that they need, which is provided without question. In the Lau Islands, the word maikana is used as an invitation to anyone walking past on a Sunday to ‘come inside and share our meal.’ It’s this underlying community spirit which underpins Fijians gentle demeanour and their consciousness of good neighbourly relationships.

Couple snorkelling near coral head
Couple snorkelling near coral head

Brought up in a materialistic society, this character of inclusivity and generosity is one of the main reasons I keep returning to a country who throws its ample arms open wide to visitors. Oh sure, this South Pacific archipelago has countless physical attractions that belong in any self-respecting holiday armoury. Tropical climate, tick. Dreamy beaches shaded by palm trees, tick. Luxury resorts with five-star facilities on tap, tick.

But the real treasure of Fiji is the Fijian themselves.
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© This article was first published in Oct-Nov 2018 edition of World Travel Magazine.

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