October 29, 2007

Nadi, Fiji
My Cannibal Fixation

It’s pronounced Nan-di. There’s a mysterious, invisible second N. So why didn’t they just spell it out how it sounds? I don’t know.

Got here a few days ago. It was supposed to be a stopover, but my long delay in Tonga meant missing my flight out, and airlines around here aren’t as forgiving when it comes to changing tickets.

I decided to spend the weekend here to sort out the rest of my flights now that the most unpredictable element, Tonga, is dealt with. I rented a car and drove across to the other side of the island and back.

The big island of Fiji is framed by a loop road with the tourist hub of Nadi on the western side and Suva, the largest city in the South Pacific, to the east. The loop road is actually split in two; King’s road connects Nadi to Suva in the north, Queen’s road does the same to the south.

Queen’s road is paved. King’s road isn’t. So instead of doing a loop, I drew two overlapping smiley faces. The drive takes a few hours each way.

Getting a clip in Fiji was easy. I saw some kids playing in the ocean outside a small village. I pulled over, reluctant at first to bust in on them and goad them into dancing. But I knew I’d kick myself all day if I didn’t do it, so I changed into my bathing suit, picked up my camera, tripod, a notebook and pen (for email addresses and the name of the village).

Ever time I do this I’m nervous, but it never fails. The kids were dancing before I even asked them to. It’s just a natural thing to do.

Fiji is expensive. Islands often are, since stuff has to be shipped in, but Fiji is pretty big and there’s loads of tourism, so I assumed the prices would be better.

Hair is fantastic here. Fijians are masters of the unironic afro. I didn’t take many pictures, so here’s the best I can do by way of example.

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Apparently the styles used to be a lot more outrageous. An early European visitor measured an afro with a circumference of 16 feet. But it has since been drilled in that Jesus likes a close cropped cut.

There are two distinct ethnic groups here; native Fijians, who are of a Melanesian extraction, and Indo-Fijians, who were brought over by the British to work on plantations.

A century later, relations seem to be fairly smooth. There’s a lot of gene pool blending. The social norms among the Indians are a bit softened from the mother country. And the native Fijians benefit from a more developed, organized infrastructure. Of course, the Indians still run everything.

The locals I’ve encountered have been extremely nice – which is surprising when you consider Fiji’s history of cannibalism. Cannibalism is like the exact opposite of nice.

It’s a touchy subject in the South Pacific. A lot of the island cultures dabbled in cannibalism back in the day, but they’ve since been converted to Christianity and taught to be ashamed of that sort of thing. Fiji is relatively cheeky about it; you can pick up traditional people eating utensils in some tourist shops.

I’ve gotta say, I know cannibalism is horrible and all. Morally, it equates with the worst of human atrocities. But I can’t help finding it kind of…awesome.

I have no interest in eating other people, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be eaten. If there was some cannibalism actually going down in my vicinity, I probably wouldn’t be okay with that. But still…eating people, ya know? Wow.

There are accounts of warriors taking captured enemies back to the village and devouring them while they’re still alive. As a torment, they’d even feed victims parts of their own bodies.

What flair! What panache!

I’ve started buying produce from the markets. In the past, I’ve usually stuck with restaurants and the occasional grocery story – cooking is not an interest of mine – but I started picking up carrots and tomatoes and things like that and just eating them raw. They taste really good. Different from produce in grocery stores. They don’t seem to be treated or engineered at all. They’re hardly even washed. With the root vegetables, you can still taste the dirt.

By the end of my stay here, I was feeling pretty guilty for not doing anything on the tourist checklist. I stumbled onto this big Hindu temple. Everyone else was taking pictures, so…

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Yeah. There ya go.

There are lots of little islands scattered around the one I’m on. Evidently, everything there is to do in Fiji is out there – all the great diving and resorts, the remote villages and historical outposts. No one seems very excited about the big one in the middle. But that’s all I saw in my short, impromptu visit.