It’s kind of hard to see in this photo, but what I’ve done is place two images side by side: the one on the left is a photo I took a few days ago when I first arrived on Bau island; the photo on the left is from a video on YouTube showing when the Queen of England visited Fiji.
You may notice that the photo on the left is of the exact same spot where the Queen sat. But what you probably don’t know is that dark figure standing with a club over his shoulder behind the Queen is my grandfather.
When the Queen visited, she came to Bau because it’s the island of the chiefs. And as she walked from the boat landing and through the courtyard, my grandfather walked in front of her, escorting her. More on why later.
Now, the guy sitting to the left of the Queen was the late Ratu Sir George Cakobau, the Chief of Bau. His son, Epenisa Cakobau, is the current Chief (seen below).
Now, by absolutely no effort of my own, I am a direct descendant of the original Vusaradave warriors who, as I mentioned earlier (in another post), were very much like the Knights of the Round Table in terms of status. And only Vusaradave descendants were allowed to act as escort warriors to the Queen.
Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of genealogy work while I’m here. I can now trace my ancestry back seven generations — which, you need to realize, is really darn good for a culture like this. I mean, for one, Fijians don’t take on the last name of their father and brothers are often given different last names from each other. Usually children are named for someone else in the family — a namesake. So at least there’s that.
Now, as far back as I can go in genealogy, I’m the only patrilineal (male-line) heir of my family group, the Rokoiri. That’s seven generations, and my son is now the eighth generation patrilineal heir. If we don’t have any more boys, then he will be he only son, of an only son, of an only son, of the only son to have a son, of the only son to have a son, of an only son to have children, of an only son, of an only son, of an only son. (Go ahead, check my math.)
Interesting side note: if the United States installed the draft again, I wouldn’t be eligible and neither would my son. You see, only sons of only sons cannot be drafted.
Anyway, for the most part, I’ve been able to meet all of the cousins I have. I have even met some of the step cousins. See, my grandfather was married three times, two of which were to women who already had children. And I realize now that there would have been absolutely no way I could have archived this family history without actually coming here and meeting cousins, staying with different aunts, hearing stories, asking questions, and writing it all down. There’s way too much of a language barrier and technology deficit to attempt this through email or regular mail.
Funny side story: my closest relative here is my Aunt Ani, my dad’s sister, who we actually thought was dead for about two years since there was just no way to know otherwise. Well, let me back up a bit, someone visiting from Fiji told my dad at the International 7s Rugby tournament in Las Vegas about three or four years ago that Ani had died. And since she doesn’t write letters, we thought she was dead. It wasn’t until one of my cousins contacted me on Facebook that we finally asked about her. My cousin said, “No, she’s doing great.”
Let me further explain that Bau doesn’t have addresses, mail doesn’t come here. The villagers here go to a larger city nearby (another island, mind you) to use PO Boxes there. And on top of that my aunt is a bit old, doesn’t have a phone, doesn’t leave the island, therefore contacting her usually requires the help of a number of different people.
But as you can see she’s a live and well — Oh, and do I see a redish tint in the hair? Absolutely!
Being from out of town is an odd experience.
Fijians speak both Fijian and English, but they prefer Fijian (I mean, they’ll really only use it if they have to, and will otherwise just speak Fijian even if you’re sitting right there). And since English is used differently, even that is no guarantee that you’ll understand each other. It’s more than just the difference between American English and British English, it’s more like American English and India English.
Anyway, the fact that you have to be spoken to in such a simple and please-say-that-again-but-slower kind of way, it creates an assumption that you can’t do other things for yourself. It’s not that they will think you’re stupid, but more than they don’t know where the cultural differences end.
“Don’t cross the street until you see a green light.”
“Thanks, but I knew about that one already.”
Meeting other Americans is a refreshingly delightful experience.
“Hey! You’re American! Me, too. Where are you from? Let’s get together so we can talk like normal people for a while.”
“Oh, that would be fantastic. I’ve been dying to use slang and dry wit.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s all a wonderful experience being in Fiji and really trying to absorb the culture. I’ve been attempting to learn as much Fijian as I can. As of now (and as like as I have my notebook in front of me), I can greet people pretty well. I can explain how many kids I have and how old they are. I can say where I’m from and where I’m going. I can ask where they’re from and what they do for work. I can even say if it’s raining or not … in case they needed that information.
The airport on Fiji is on the other side of the island from the capital, Suva, and from where I’m staying, Cautata Village and Bau Island.
Upon landing, there are three things that you’ll notice:
I’ve heard many times about how friendly the people in Fiji are, but it’s not like the usual welcoming hospitality. Instead, it’s the reality that everyone you meet is glad to see you. So much so that you’re not sure if they already know you and you were really good friends at one time. Either way, their genuinely excited that you came to Fiji.
So, driving along the Queens Road (Nadi to Suva), I passed a lot of bus stops or people just walking, and every time they saw me I got a huge smile and a very enthusiastic “Bula!” Granted, their smiles are huge anyway, so they might just be grinning slightly and it looks giant to everyone else, but I doubt it.
While driving we only stopped once for lunch and a wonderful road-side stand that makes everything fresh.It’s in one of the photos below.
Russi, who sat in the back, came with my cousin to pick me up. It’s a 3-hour drive, so Russi was there just to to keep my cousin company on the first part of the trip.
Pictured below is the sunrise as it came up over the sugar cane fields right after we left Nadi.
I have very helpful 3rd cousins — which means that we share, not a grandfather or a great-grandfather, but a great-great-grandfather. Anyway, they’re wonderful people and have been helpful both before and during my trip. Two sisters, Mareoni and Sai, were my go-to people for questions about culture, ceremony, accommodations, you name it.
Mereoni, pictured first, actually lives in LA, and met me for dinner during my layover. Her sister Sai met me in Suva and helped me buy the whales teeth and kava roots I needed to present to the chiefs at welcome ceremony in Cautata Village put together by all of my family on the first night, and the ceremony to meet Chief Cakobau on the second night. More on that later.
From that point forward I’ve been under the wonderful care of other cousins, specifically Koroi who picked me up from the airport and helped me around Suva, and Luciana who, with her husband Simi and her son Samual, helped me around Nausori (and the terrible ordeal of dealing with different public utility agenies). See, part of the reason I’m here is to repair our family houses on Bau, more on that later.
(Note: I finally got internet sorted out, so I’ll be writing a lot more later today.)
Long flights are an odd phenomenon indeed. Here is my experience:
- Get on board
- Read a chapter or two of your book
- Pull out the laptop to watch a movie
- Finish the movie and think to yourself, “Well, we should be landing soon.”
- Become shocked when realizing you’re not even 1/4 through the flight
- Dang it
- Try to sleep ….
I use the term “reading” loosly because the reality is I’m listening to the audiobook Getting Stoned with Savages.
Anyway, it’s a funny and well-writen book, great for traveling. It has a lot of observations of the Pacific Islands from an American point of view. I find these more helpful than the average travel guide because I’m not really doing the “tourist thing.” Instead, my point in visiting is to meet extended family, help fix up our family home, and otherwise get in touch with my roots.
My ticket said US Airways, but when I get to the counter the folks there said my flight as being handled by United. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except for two things:
1) I was already really, really late getting into Terminal 4 for US Airways
2) United was in Terminal 2
Now, for people not familiar with Sky Harbor Airport, Terminal 2 is about a mile away from Terminal 4.
By the time I got through the line to figure out I was in the wrong place, Sarah was nearly home from dropping me off.
Luckily there’s a really good bus system there and I was down at Terminal 2 with enough time to check my bag and get my boarding pass to make it on to my flight in time!
However, my flight was delayed.
“Sorry, sir. Our flight is running late.”
“That’s fine. So am I.”
And so it was a nice case of hurry up and wait.
Here is a photo of the island I’ll be staying on. Our family home (my aunt lives there now) is on the left in this photo and has a pinkish-brown roof. I’ve never been there, but that and the house next to it has been in my family for generations.
There’s a fantastic history to this island.It ruled all of Fiji for a very long time (thanks to an English sailor who gave everyone on the island, and none else, their own rifle). They were unstoppable, but united Fiji. And now this island is known as the Chiefly Island since all of the chiefs were from here.
However, my ancestors were on that island but not as chiefs; instead, they were warriors — the warriors — known as Vusaradave. They were very like the knights of the round table, an honorable few who were privileged and second only to the chiefs.
Anyway, that’s where I’m going.
No matter how much time I have to prepare for a trip, I always wait until the last minute to have everything ready. And then every time I’m in the middle of that hectic situation I always say to myself, “Next time I’m going to pack the day before so that when it’s time to go I’ll have time to just sit and relax.” And like some naive girl who continues to date a cheating boyfriend, I always believe the lies.