Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Smooth Getaway Postcard From Fiji
I enter a colorfully-painted wooden house, raised on poles - a simple, typical local dwelling. Surrounding the cluster of modest shacks are immaculate lawns with banana, coconut and breadfruit trees. It's early Saturday evening. There's a flurry of activity as most villagers are preparing for the Sunday lovo: a Fijian earth oven, used to cook vegetables and (on special occasions) a pig.
We peel, cut, slice and laugh as more tribe members amble in to join the festivities. Beside us is another wide circle of people, already passing around the mixed kava in individual bilos (coconut shell cups). I'm offered one and welcome the taste of the powdered root and water mix, feeling privileged to be part of such an ancient ritual. This numbs my tongue as usual, so I prefer to listen rather than talk.
I settle in for the kava session. I'm in no hurry, since I plan to stay until after tomorrow's festive lunch. I'm enjoying myself by absorbing the sights, sounds and smells like a sponge, thirsty for new experiences. Samsoni, a well-built man in his fifties, sits near me, dressed in a casual sulu skirt and a flowery shirt. He catches my eye and asks “So, Maiyan, I've heard you come from the holy land Israel. Is this true?”
I answer, “Yes. It's true.” I notice that this has drawn the attention of everyone in the circle and all lean forward to hear the discussion.
“So, Maiyan, do you know where the Ark is?”
This takes me by surprise and I let out a little giggle for lack of words. Silence hangs in the air pushing me for an explanation. I feel a bit disappointed to let them down. “Well, nobody really knows I guess, although there are a few theories.”
I'm passed another bilo and I drink saying “Bula” and clapping three times according to custom.
“You see,” he continues, “the Fijian people look different from other Pacific island nations, yes?”
I answer “Yes, to me you look more of African descent, which is a bit of a puzzle.”
“Well, there's a legend amongst us Fijians, about King Solomon and Sheeva.”
He has my undivided and fascinated attention. “You mean that the Ark is buried in Ethiopia?”
“No, it's buried on Mana island,” he says with confidence.
“Where's Mana island?” I ask.
“Not far from the mainland and not far from here.”
“Wow,” I manage to utter, “how did it get there?”
He explains that one of the sons of Sheeva and King Solomon visited his father in Ethiopia and requested the Ark to take on a trip. His father refused, but his son tricked him with the help of his mother and acquired the Ark, then proceeded on a long treacherous journey by boat to the Pacific.
The Solomon islands were also named after this legend, because he passed them before arriving at Mana, where the treasure is believed to have been buried or lost in a storm. The son who brought the “box of blessings” to Mana island is thought to be the Fijian connection to Africa, where its ancestry lies hidden. “So you see, we are family,” Samsoni said.
“There are things we have kept, like the practice of circumcision.”
Well, that really got me thinking.
“Okay,” I said. “So, where did you get your names from - the missionaries?”
“We got these names long before my ancestors ate Thomas Baker!”
“Okay,” I said, taking my turn with the bilo. “And they ate Thomas Baker because he tried to convert them?”
“No, because he touched the high chief's head, an act of disrespect punishable by death.”
Even today, it's taboo in Fiji to touch someone's head, especially someone with higher social standing. Lucky for outsiders, the most likely reaction to this mistake today is a nervous laugh and a patient explanation.
Reuven and Joseph had joined in the storytelling. Then Elijah asked, “Maiyan, what are your children's names?”
I answered “My son's name is Keshet, which means the rainbow after the flood in Hebrew.” My daughter's name is Mistorin, which means mystery in Hebrew. This refers to all the mysteries in the universe, all the things we cannot know.”
Elijah leaned over showing me his hand. “Do you see the tattoo?”
“No, pass the candle.”
He held his arm under the light. On the side of his hand was a clear black tattoo, which looked like it had been there a long time and read MYSTIC.
Well, that did it. My hair stood on end. I felt like the room was filled with ancient secrets, lost connections and past meetings all rolled into one very surreal evening. The deceased ancestors were hanging around laughing, because we have lost our memory.
I felt like the kava root was a catalyst for the past to meet the future and all that is in between. The root (the source) mixed with water (the nurturer) is shared between friends, who are all connected in ways we cannot see or remember.
Maiyan Karidi studied art and anthropology before traveling to Israel to restore a 3,000-year-old mosaic floor. She now lives in Mauritius, where she pursues her fascination with indigenous tribes and their mystic rituals. Check out her site at www.mysticaartdesign.com.