30 March – 2 April 2013
Mali Island, Fiji – 16°19’60” S 179°21’0″ E
The nearest island to Labasa Town is Mali Island, comprised of 3 villages on the island (Nakawaqa, Ligaulevu & Vesi) and 1 (Matailabasa) on mainland Vanua Levu. We visited 2 villages and experienced real Fijian life head on.
Our first stop was Nakawaqa Village (pronounced Nakawangka) where Macuata Province’s only surviving authentic bure (Fijian bungalow) is still in use by Village Head Ratu Jovilisi Nagatalevu. It was Easter Sunday and Ratu Jovilisi was reading his Bible inside his beautiful Fijian bure hut, traditionally made with tall forest wood posts with straw roof and walls. These type houses are strong and weatherproof, bringing cool winds and light through three doorways. Bures are known to be cool in hot summer days and warm in cold winter nights.
Mali Island is right smack in the Great Sea Reef, the world’s third largest barrier reef system. There are a few open channels that lead out to open Pacific Ocean and we heard a most amazing story while in Nakawaqa about a sperm whale that washed ashore on Mali Island. Whale tooth is a prized possession amongst the Fijians called a tabua and sperm whale tooth is offered in very important Fijian ceremonies. Wondering where they got their symbolic Fijian tabuas from, as sperm whale is in the endangered list – one light bulb lit when we were told that starting Boxing Day 26th of Dec 2007 a sperm whale was circling for a long time until it died on Mali Island by late January the next year. 40 sperm whale teeth were extracted from the dead sperm whale’s mouth and the animal was burned, as the smell was so bad drifting towards Nakawaqa Village.
We met the charming Tui Mali (the Chief) Ratu Apenisa Bogiso in his island Vorovoro and there we saw the remnants of the sperm whale with the Tui holding up two massive rib bones. After our sevusevu with him, the Tui Mali showed us around his island and told us a story of an archaeologist looking for lapita pottery and found it in his backyard!
The Lapita pottery found in Vorovoro Island carbon dated back 3000+ years to 1100 BC, suggesting Vorovoro could be one of the oldest settlement sites in all of the Fijian Islands!
It was Mali Day as we reached the second village Ligaulevu and there was a big annual community gathering from all 4 villages of Mali where soli was given, offering each village’s monetary contribution to the Methodist Church. The village leader or Turaga of Ligaulevu Uraia Masivou set up an impromptu meke for us and the lovely ladies from Ligaulevu danced to chanting, clapping and drum beats. WWF South Pacific’s Conservation Director Sally Baily is married to the Turaga’s son Leone Vokai who brought us diving for the first time in the Great Sea Reef!
Here are some memorable images from Mali Day.
There are two groups in the Meke – the orchestra (Vakatara), who sit on the ground and sing or chant for the second group, the dancers (Matana). The instruments are percussion (hardwood gongs, bamboo tubes, beating sticks etc). The Meke performers wear garlands of leaves (Salusalu) and the women, in traditional clothes, glisten with scented coconut oil.
After all the morning activities and festivities, we had a lovely lunch prepared by the men and women of Ligaulevu. The men went spear fishing for the fish and the ladies cooked and served our meals. Fijian cuisine is fantastic and they are not shy in the taste department!