Levuka on Ovalau in Fiji Where Saying Grace in Any Language is Appreciated

It’s an understatement to say that Levuka on the island of Ovalau on Fiji in the South Pacific, is off the beaten track. Levuka was the first capital of Fiji until 1882 and time doesn’t seem to have changed this picturesque, interesting place. There’s a feeling of being in a time warp. But tourism is being encouraged in this ruggedly beautiful island.

The pastel painted clapboard houses with covered verandahs and the main street buildings, look untouched since the notorious days of the rum-runners in this seaport town.

It’s here that I booked a visit to an ancestral site and “Tea and Talanoa” ( a talk) with Bubu Kara, a kindly articulate woman whose father was the chief of the area.

“It’s her land, stated her ebullient husband, Pita. “She belongs here.” Birthday decorations still hang from his celebration the week before. His age is undetermined. I don’t ask his age. And it’s Pita who takes me to Nakuvukakuva, an historic hill which means, The Smoke of Fire. It isn’t an easy climb to the top but Pita insists that I rest but continue upwards. He is full of energy. I admit I am huffing and puffing when we finally reach the top. Pita tells me that “the Americans once set up house here, waiting for the landing of a space shuttle”. It actually landed in the waters near Hawaii. Below, Bubu Kara has waited for us to wave to her. We do and she returns her wave with two hands.

The descent of Nakuvukakuva, is easier and Bubu Kara has a refreshing drink ready for us in their “bure”, a small one room thatched roof dwelling. I am soon to find out that this “bure” is large in comparison to my next Fijian adventure.

It’s been arranged that I sleep over in the bush at Devokula Cultural Village. In no way did it end up being touristy and doesn’t stray from the original concept and historic facts. If “bures” could be rated, they would be five stars.

There’s a large social hall, communal dining area and outdoor kitchen.

After I’m deposited at the entrance of the Cultural Village and wait for the invitation from Chief Jeremiah Tukituku to enter. This is a most important ritual. “You must be invited in”, I’m told by my guide, Jennifer. I present my token, a small bag filled with grog roots That done, we now walk through a narrow path in the woods, over a wide wooden plank and more wooded areas where I see breadfruit, avocado, banana and mango trees. My luggage in the meantime, is being brought over the hilly terrain in a wheelbarrow by the Chief’s nephew. I’m about to learn about traditional Fijian lifestyle and heritage and that starts with a drink of Kava, a slightly narcotic beverage which Fijians call Yangona.

My accommodation is a 10 foot by 12 foot thatched bure. A mosquito net hangs over the coconut fibre and pandanus leaf bed set on the mat flooring. I know that I’ll be grateful for the netting when dusk descends.

Jeremiah invites me to share dinner with him so I walk to the sideless hut trying to remember the list of what and what not to do in front of the Chief. Protocol is important. For instance, the list says, that I must remove my shoes before entering and never to point my feet towards Chief Jeremiah. Also, I should always try to be lower, bow my head and never stand in his presence. And certainly no laughing or talking during the Sevusevu – the meal- unless it is initiated by the Chief.

Chief Jeremiah is a very religious man. He speaks English fluently but his welcome is in Fijian. He’s a religious man and he says grace before the start of the meal. He attired is authentic Fijian and he wears a Liku (the traditional skirt), Vesa (arm decoration) with a boar’s tooth hanging from his neck (that must have been one large boar!),

During our conversation, his daughter Luisa, and niece Rosa, sit quietly beside me, never speaking unless spoken to. As meal time approaches, the two young women who had helped cook, keep a procession going from the open kitchen to our eating area and arrive with plates of freshly caught fish, taro leaves in coconut milk, yams and fruit. We sit cross-legged (not easy for me) and discuss Jeremiahs’s ancestors..

Back in my doorless bure, Luisa brings and hangs a kerosene lamp, which I know I’ll keep lit all night. I’m thankful to learn there are on poisonous creatures on this island but I’m aware of the dozens of eyes peering and only when I flick on the flashlight, do I see brown toads scurrying over the grassy area.

The amenities about 50 feet from my bure, includes a modern toilet but the shower for the time being, a full bucket of cool water which I pour over myself, so appropriate in this environment.

After my morning ablutions, I’m aware of the clanging of pots, pans and dishes. I cross the field to breakfast with Chief Jeremiah. He is gracious and thanks me for my visit. Later, Chief Jeremiah walks me to the highway, proudly pointing out the vegetation along the way. We say our good-byes.

This Fijian experience may have been somewhat unsettling at times, but I know it will remain one of the high points of this trip to the South Pacific..a chapter I would not have missed well, let’s say I could have done without the toads.