Peace is not Tabu
By Jheri St.James
endowed with forest, mineral and fish resources, is one of
the most developed of the Pacific Island economies, though
still with a large subsistence sector.
Sugar processing makes up one-third of industrial activity, and these exports
and a growing tourist industry—300,000 to 400,000 tourists annually—are
the major sources of foreign exchange. Lapped by warm azure waters, the diving
and snorkeling are superb.
are a Melanesian island people in the area known as Oceania
where, in myth, Forever, Darkness and the Sea
have always existed—created in a clamshell
in the beginning, together with Papa Earth and Rangi Sky. This tight space
was enlarged by a deity named Tangaroa (Tanaoa) or by
Papa Rangi. Light was let in
and creation proceeded.
gods ensure favorable winds for sailing, success in war,
and deliverance from sickness. There are gods
born as gods, and gods who were men—the spirits
of ancestors and chiefs of renown—global gods, and local gods. Degei
was the most important general god. He lived on the slopes of the Kauvadra
near the Ra coast, the site of origin of Fijian traditions, perhaps of
the clamshell itself. Degei is the creator of the people and is also a
a cave in the northernmost peak of the Kauvadra Range. Earth tremors and
thunder were attributed to his uneasy turning within the cave. By association
snakes have an honored place in Fijian traditions and legends—on
islands where no snake existed. Gods also manifested themselves in living
or trees, and in certain inanimate objects, recognized as gods’ abodes
but not worshipped in themselves. Indeed, the Fijians have had no religious
Fiji (Viti) is an independent republic in the southwest Pacific
Ocean, comprising 332 coral reef-fringed islands,
about 110 inhabited.
In this volcanic
archipelago of about 7,095 sq. mi., Viti Levu (capital city: Suva)
and Vanua Levu are the two largest islands. Discovered by
(1643), the islands were visited by Capt. James Cook (1774) and settled
in 1804. Britain annexed Fiji in 1874.
the course of time Britain brought over tens of thousands
of indentured servants from
India; they eventually came to outnumber the native population
(Melanesian and Polynesian). So for nearly 50 years, until the military
coup of 1987, the indigenous people of Fiji represented an ethnic
their own land. This coup was the result of concerns over foreign
by the Indian community. A 1990 constitution favored native Melanesian
control, but led to heavy Indian emigration. The population loss
resulted in economic
difficulties, but ensured that Melanesians became the majority. Amendments
enacted in 1997 made the constitution more equitable. Free and peaceful
1999 resulted in a government led by an Indo-Fijian, but another
coup in May 2000 ushered in a prolonged period of political
held in August 2001 provided Fiji with a democratically elected government
and gave a mandate to the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.
president since July 2000 is Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda.
this period of conflict and political change, the tenacious Fijian
people managed to hold onto their traditional rites and practices—meke
(narrative dance); bure (house) construction; kava ceremonies,
tapa-cloth making and pottery.
Today Fiji is a blend of Melanesian, Polynesian, Micronesian, Indian,
Chinese and European influences.
birth to death, Fijians were guided by observances of things
that they must do and tabu—things that
they must not do. Some of these included closing the
eyes when a man planted coconuts lest he be blinded. The
used for cutting
seed yams must not be used for any other purpose or heated
by being placed near a fire. It was tabu to call after fishermen
asking them where they were going,
as they would catch nothing. No person might reach for an object
above a chief’s
head without first asking permission. Indeed, the simplest
acts were regulated by tabu. In the important relationships
of the communal life, tabu filled the
place occupied by a code of laws in other societies.
soil is new, constantly expanding ground, perhaps in Fiji
as a result of the snake god Degei’s uneasy
turnings in his cave. And yet Fiji has dealt with the same
problems as any of the oldest lands on earth—warfare,
bloodshed, inequity—while always retaining its cultural
traditions. Richard A. Loomis of Laguna Beach was the collector
of Fijian soil. He collected it from
the city of Nadi, in Viti Levu, the main island in the Fiji
chain of islands. Mrs. Loomis works for a preschool in Laguna
Beach, Anneliese’s School.
Anneliese, the owner, also has a small resort property on
Kadavu Island, the fourth largest in Fiji, a 45- minute flight
from the main airport in Nadi. “The
place where I got the soil was on the perimeter of a large
hotel where we were attending a trade show for Anneliese’s
resort, Papageno Resort. The name was chosen after Mozart’s
opera ‘The Magic Flute,’ because
of the Kadavu shining parrot which is native to that island.
The soil is sandy and came from an area next to a sugar cane
field, one of many constituting the
main industry in Fiji. The hotel we stayed in is in an area
coral coast’ about halfway between Suva and Nadi on
the southern side of the island. About every five or ten
miles there is a large resort hotel surrounded
by sugar cane. I was told to take my soil sample in the UPS
box provided to the front desk of the hotel and UPS would
pick it up. Well, none of the hotels had
ever heard of UPS. We ended up making some phone calls and
found a UPS office in Suva. So we sent the sample with an
acquaintance to Suva to be shipped to
the states.” Our sincere thanks go out to Mr. and Mrs.
Loomis for all they went through to make certain that by
adding some of this volcanic archipelago,
island soil to Common Ground 191, we assure a small portion
of the myth, legend and reality of sweet Fiji represent peace
forever. And peace is not tabu.