Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fiji Expedition: Kiobo Village Visit

This is a guest post from 2010 Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition team member Simone Mortan, Manager of Guide Programs at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Kiobo Village - 5:00 p.m. October 6, 2010
What an amazingly special treat tonight when we got to visit Kiobo village which is in Kubulau District. The visit was arranged by Dr. Stacy Jupiter who is working with these villagers as part of the Ecosystem-Based Management work supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society (see her earlier post).

Leaving NAI'A for the village (Photos: Keith Ellenbogen)

We arrived at the village by skiff around 5:00 p.m. and the entire village turned out on the beach to greet us with music and leis. The welcoming words of "Bula bula!" were shouted out to us and each of us was warmly greeted with firm handshakes by the village people.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

The young children stood off a bit at first until Bruce Thayer starting handing out small hacky sack size soccer balls and then the games began. Bailey and one of the young boys had a game of catch; while another young boy seemed to think the ball made a good mouthful ... he looked a bit like a kid seeing how many marshmallows he could stuff into his mouth. (You can read accounts of the 2009 village visit from Bruce Thayer here and Jody Renouf here).

Lovo pit (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

We were taken through the village to visit the lovo pit, a large pit maybe 6 feet square with very hot rocks that had been prepared. Our dinner of pork, lamb, and chicken was wrapped in coconut palm fronds and laid on top of breadfruit and cassava that formed the first layer of the dinner cooking on the rocks. Finally the whole pile of cooking food was covered with a variety of leaves. First it was palm fronds, followed by banana leaves and finally covered with a very broad leaf. Theresa, one of our Kiobo hosts, explained that the leaves helped to keep the food clean as well and provide a cap so that the food could steam. The final layer of leaves was held in place with large logs laid around the perimeter of the pile.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

From there we were led into the bure (the village's central gathering place) for the ceremonial welcome and presentation of gifts. Mo, NAI'A's Senior Dive Master, acted as our spokesman and we were represented by our "chiefs," Dr. Webster and Bailey. After some formal words of gratitude for their hospitality and welcome by Tui Kubulau, we all introduced ourselves with many expressing gratitude both for their hospitality but also for the way they are taking such good care of the reefs in this region.

Kava (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Then it was on to the kava* ceremony called sevusevu. Dr. Webster and Bailey were the first to be offered the kava. A single clap of the hands is the tradition before taking the cup (coconut shell) and then it's bottoms up followed by 3 more claps. Once the chiefs from our group and the village had all been served, the kava was offered to everyone else and the music and dancing began. Tui Kubulau played a 12 string guitar and was joined by NAI'A's talented guitar-playing Mo and several others.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

The music ranged from traditional Fijian songs to the Beatles, Jimmy Buffet and the Eagles. Imagine our surprise when the village women presented us with trays of cakes, breadfruit, and complete tea service! It seemed as though we could have stayed and partied all night with them and not worn out our welcome, but it was time to board the skiffs and return to the NAI'A to enjoy the dinner cooked in the lovo pit and start our long southerly transit tonight from this area to the island of Gau (pronounced 'now'). I hope I can return to Fiji again someday to re-experience the warmth and welcome of these wonderful people.

*kava is a drink made from a pepper plant root; it considered to be mildly narcotic

Simone Mortan
Manager of Guide Programs
Monterey Bay Aquarium

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