In February 2000, we travelled to Fiji. The first and last part of our trip
was spent at the luxurious
Sheraton Fiji Resort. This was one of three Sheraton Resorts
located side by side - Sheraton Fiji, Sheraton Villas and Sheraton Denarau. Subsequent to
our trip, the Sheraton Denerau was sold to the Westin chain. We had the full use
of facilities at all three resorts.
In the middle part of the trip, we spent a week on the Captain Cook Cruise ship Reef Escape. This ship had the capacity for 120 guests but on our cruise, there were only 45 passengers. Therefore, we had lots of room and attention from the wonderful crew.
Apart from being a beautiful place above and below the water, Fiji is one of the most politically and culturally interesting places that we have visited.
Fiji's native population is thought to be Polynesian and Melanesian in origin. However, after Fiji became a British colony in 1874, the British brought in Indian contract labourers to work in the sugar plantations. At the time of our visit, the population consisted of 50% native Fijians, 45% East Indian and 5% mix of European and Orientals.
The political system consists of two parties, one dominated by native Fijians, the other by Indo-Fijians. We were told that only native Fijians are allowed to own land. All others must lease it. This has caused a great deal of unrest in the political system. When the Indo-Fijian party is in power, they have attempted to modify these laws. However, the military is dominated by native Fijians and they mount a military coup whenever the Indo-Fijian party attempts to go too far. Contrary to our perception of military coups, the Fijian coups are bloodless and more political in nature than war-like. In fact, a few weeks after we returned home, the 2000 coup occurred. Coincidentally, we had reason to call the hotel during the coup. We asked about conditions and were told that you wouldn't know that anything had changed. It was just a political exercise!
The people of Fiji are the friendliest and most outgoing that we have ever encountered. The Fijian word for "hello" is "Bula". Everywhere you go, strangers on the street will give you a big smile and a hearty "Bula"!. On one ocassion, we were travelling slowly on the open air hotel bus. As a taxi driver drove by, he leaned his head and shoulders out the window and gave us a hearty "Bula". You just have to smile!
We rented a car for a couple of days in order to tour the main island. The rental agency sent "Avi" to pick us up. Like everyone else, Avi was a wonderful person as he entertained us with local stories as he drove us to the rental office. He gave us every possible phone number where he could be reached in case of emergency. However, he mumbled something about not calling on Sunday because he was getting married. We got "nervy" and asked for details. He told us that he was Indo-Fijian and had been dating a Muslim girl of his own choosing for 3 1/2 years and wanted to marry her. He asked and received permission from his parents. Since he had never met his girlfriend's parents, he arranged to meet them in the company of his family to ask for their permission. Unfortunately, they would not agree because of the difference in religion. Avi's girlfriend would not go against her parents wishes so the wedding was off. However, Avi was ready to get married so he asked his parents to arrange a marriage for him. They complied and the marriage was arranged. We asked him what he thought about this after having dated a girl of his own choosing for over three years. He told us that this was their tradition and he respected his parents enough that he would honour the tradition. This whole story was told while he was driving us quickly through some rather challenging roads. His attention was diverted enough that he hit a horse! He got out to find that neither the car nor the horse was too badly damaged so he continued on as though this was an everyday experience. You just have to smile!
On another ocassion, we were driving on a very remote back road and saw a native Fijian woman walking with a bag and her baby. She looked like she was tired and struggling. We stopped and asked if she wanted a ride. She agreed and we went well out of our way to take her home. She was very thankful and asked us to visit their home for supper the next evening. This would have been a fascinating experience and we would have accepted had we not been returning home the next day. You just have to smile!
The Out Islands
The main island of Fiji (Viti Levu) is somewhat cosmopolitan by third world standards. However, the out islands are a totally different world! Lifestyle on these islands is still "tribal" in nature. Each island is owned communially by the inhabitants. Each island or community is ruled by a "Ratu" (Chief). The Ratu and elders make all the decisions. Men are definitely the "ruling class" and women take a back seat. Although, this may seem like a style out of the dark ages, they seem to have an excellent school system for the children and everyone seems well provided for. Have a look at some of the pictures below for more detail.
The pictures below are not as good as we would like. They are scanned copies of photographs, so they are not the best.
Below are thumbnails of each of the photos.
Click on any image to enlarge it.
The enlarged image will open in a new window. From there, you can either close the window and choose another to enlarge or simply click the "Next" or "Previous" button to scan through all pictures.