One of the top reasons to visit Fiji-aside from the sun, sea and sand-is the islands' rich history and reverence for traditional ceremonies. The people of Fiji are warm and welcoming and invite you to share in their cultural heritage. Here are five ways to do so:
Yaqona, more commonly referred to as kava, is Fiji's traditional ceremonial drink. It is made from the pounded roots of a local pepper plant mixed with water and is consumed from a communal coconut shell in a ceremony visitors are invited to participate in. Whether in a local village or at your resort, you will be asked to sit on the floor in a circle as the kava is prepared in the tanoa bowl. Then, as your Fijian hosts rhythmically chant and clap, each person in the circle is invited to sip from the shell full of kava. Kava has a mild sedative effect (Fijians call it relaxation) and your lips and tongue will feel slightly numb, as if they'd been swathed with topical Novocaine.
Be sure not to miss this traditional song and dance performance, which tells the legends of the islands in a series of dances-from soft and gentle to loud and warrior-like. The meke is comprised of both musicians, who play gongs, bamboo sticks and drums as well as chant and clap, and dancers, clad in grass skirts and garlands of flowers, who reenact myths, love stories and epic battles.
The Lovo Feast
This traditional Fijian meal is prepared in an underground oven called a lovo. In many ways it is like a New England clambake-except the ingredients are different. In a large hole, Fijians place wood and large, flat stones and heat the stones until they are red hot. They then remove the remaining wood and spread the stones out until they are flat. Then the food-pork, chicken, fish, yams, cassava and taro-is wrapped in banana leaves and placed, largest items first, onto the hot stones. It is covered with more banana laves, coconut stalks and damp burlap sacks and left to cook for about two hours.
Fire Walking Ceremony
This ancient Fijian ritual, with origins on the island of Beqa, where legend says the ability was given by a god to the Sawau tribe, is now performed for visitors. Traditionally, the fire walkers must observe two strict taboos for two weeks before a fire walk: They can not have any contact with women and they cannot eat any coconuts. Failure to do so may result in severe burns. When it is performance time, the fire walkers walk single file across a pit of red-hot stones a few meters in length-and, amazingly, their feet are unscathed.
A Village Visit
On certain islands, you may be invited to visit a local village (koro) to see what daily life is like for Fijians. If you have an opportunity to do so and are invited to meet the village's chief, you'll need to buy a small amount of kava (about half a kilo,) to present to him as a sevusevu (gift). You should dress modestly (no camisoles or tank tops, no shorts or above-the-knee skirts and no hats) or cover your legs with a sulu (a Fijian sarong) and follow the protocol as directed by the Fijian who invited you. Also, remove your shoes before entering and house or building and always speak with a soft voice.