BY BEN HABIB.
The great thing about overseas travel is that not only do you get to see amazing things and experience different cultures, you are also offered the opportunity to step outside of your everyday life and examine it objectively, free of the practical obligations and personal baggage that ordinarily get in the way of serious introspection. As regular readers of this blog will have noticed, I like to diarise my overseas trips through photos and the written word to deepen my understanding of the place I’m visiting and myself in turn. Here I have done so again on our family’s recent holiday to Fiji. Although this trip was strictly about R&R, the researcher in me couldn’t help treating it as a learning opportunity.
I’ll be honest, Fiji was not a place I had much interest in visiting. I had always thought it rivalled Bali as the destination of choice for Australia’s least adventurous travellers, a suspicion that grew after I spent a couple of nights at the expat haven of Port Denerau, just outside of Nadi. Denerau is the embarkation point for ferries to Fiji’s outlying islands and is also a tacky tourist hell-hole scuplted out of a mangrove swamp. Sadly, for many Australian visitors this is their first and final port of call in Fiji, where adults spend the day getting hammered by their hotel pools while their kids whittle away the time having their hair braided in ridiculous corn rows at the infamous ‘kids clubs’…hardly a cultural experience worth paying so much money for. It’s quite possible to get drunk sitting by a swimming pool right here in Albury-Wodonga, at a fraction of the cost.
However outside of this Caucasia-on-the-coast, Fijian society is diverse, culturally rich and ensconsed in beautiful natural wonders. The visitor is struck by the concept of “Fiji time,” that addictive disregard for the clock and bain of western business operators in Fiji, represents a completely different cosmological interpretation of time that we in the West would do well to emulate from time to time. came to enjoy the ritual and communal bonding of the kava ceremony, where one can consume a coconut bowl of a tea-like drink brewed from the roots of the kava plant, Fiji’s favourite psycho-active flora. The traditional singing and dancing of the Fiji islands is called a mekke. Each village has its own unique mekke, reflecting their distinctive histories, that have been passed down from generation to generation. Here is an audio sample of a mekke performed by residents of Nacula village on Nacula Island in the Yasawa archipelago, as performed at the Blue Lagoon Beach Resort…
Fiji is ethnically and religiously diverse. A walk around Nadi uncovers Christian churches of numerous demoninations, along with mosques and Hindu temples. Many of the businesses are owned and run by Ind0-Fijians, part of the vast world-wide Indian diaspora created by the use of Indian coollee labourers by the British empire. The prominence of Indo-Fijian entrepreneurs in Fiji’s business community is an underlying factor in some of Fiji’s past political unrest.
We spent most of our time on Nacula Island (pronounced “Nathula”) in the Yasawa archipelago, northwest of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. The Yasawas are a series of small mountainous islands formed approximately 35 million years ago by volcanic activity, which are ringed by a series of spectacular coral reefs. There are several villages throughout the islands, where villagers subsist on fishing and farming, and make up a majority of the labour force employed in the numerous tourist resorts scattered through the islands.
This photo essay is a diary of our experiences in this culturally unique and picturesque place.
Dr. Benjamin Habib is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at La Trobe University, Albury-Wodonga. Ben’s research project projects include North Korea’s motivations for nuclear proliferation, East Asian security, international politics of climate change, and undergraduate teaching pedagogy. He also teaches in Australian politics and the international relations of the Middle East. Ben undertook his PhD candidature at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and has worked previously for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. He has spent time teaching English in Dandong, China, and has also studied at Keimyung University in Daegu, South Korea. Ben is involved with local community groups Wodonga and Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH) and Transition Albury-Wodonga.
Ben welcomes constructive feedback. Please comment below, or contact Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.