Time and Vakacegu
Jheri St. James
When this writer gets the file on a participant country, some time will have passed, with so many countries to write about. In the case of Fiji II and its simultaneous collections from Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru, about five years went by, so looking at what happened those many years ago is especially fascinating.
Mr. Brian Siler of the U.S. Embassy in Fiji collected soils from Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru. A later email indicates his willingness to also gather precious dirt from the Solomons, Vanuato and Micronesia. Mr. Siler is one of the few multi-collectors for the project, and we are so very grateful! We note that he says in regard to his efforts: “Gary, I didn’t realize that the samples needed to be taken from significant sites. In the cases of Nauru and Tuvalu, this isn’t a problem since its phosphate mines are what Nauru’s all about and, in Tuvalu’s case, there are no significant sites, just the place, perhaps the first country to be swallowed by the sea because of climate change, so sand from the beach seems ‘significant.’ . . . In the case of Fiji, I collected from the site of the Great Council of Chiefs’ new complex, the Bose Levu Vakaturaga Complex. In Tonga’s case, I gathered within sight of the royal palace, though outside the fence. That’s as close as a commoner would get really and be able to collect soil.”
Thank you Brian Siler! This is a rich trove of soils from an endangered area, Oceania.
The Fiji II file, the main file for this Oceania collection, has a 3-page Permit to Receive Soil, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which is an unusual form. Also the Origin and Value Declaration, which says the soils from Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Nauru have a total value of $25.00. Value is certainly a subjective, fluctuating abstract. These soils rest proudly among the other 193 countries’ soils, with each country’s flag flying by its jar. And to us, these soils are beyond measure in value, priceless. Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru are all island countries in the area of the Pacific Ocean known as Oceania, formed through volcanic activity started around 150 million years ago.
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Also revealed when opening this file is that this is one of two Fiji collections. The first one was received in July of 2003, so nearly 10 years have passed since that journal entry was written. And how times and journal entries have changed! In those days, it was enough to put down a few paragraphs. These days, pictures are included with every entry, and links to news stories or videos from the BBC or other current newsmakers.
Mr. Siler collected his soil in Fiji from the site of the Great Council of Chiefs complex, the Bose Levu Vakaturaga Complex.
Time has passed with regard to this site and its significance, too. The Great Council of Chiefs was a 1997 constitutional body in the Republic of the Fiji Islands, suspended 10 years later, in April 2007, and then formally suspended by decree in March 2012. This Great Council is not to be confused with the House of Chiefs, a larger body, which includes all hereditary chiefs, with some overlap between the two entities. The Great Council of Chiefs actually predates the Constitution by many years, having been established by the British colonial rulers as an advisory body in 1876, two years after Fiji was ceded to the United Kingdom.
(Native Fijian Women 1935)
“Fijians first impressed themselves on European consciousness through the writings of Captain James Cook, who met them in Tonga. They were described as formidable warriors and ferocious cannibals, builders of the finest vessels in the Pacific . . . and all their manufactures, especially bark cloth and clubs were highly esteemed and much in demand. They called their home Viti, but the Tongans called it Fisi, and it was by this foreign pronunciation, Fiji, first promulgated by Captain Cook that these islands are now known.” (Wikipedia)
Fiji’s culture is a rich mosaic of indigenous, Indian, Chinese and European traditions—social, language, foods (seafoods, cassava, dalo and other vegetables), costumes, belief systems (Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh mostly), architecture, arts, craft, music, dance and sports.
Climate is tropical marine and warm most of the year with minimal extremes. Temperature in the cool season averages 72 degrees F. Rainfall is variable, winds are moderate, though cyclones occur about once a year. (Native Fijian Women 1935)
“Vakaceau” is the word for peace in Fiji.
(Huts in Navala Region, Nausori Highlands)
Fiji comprises an archipelago of more than 332 islands (of which 110 are permanently inhabited) and more than 500 islets, amounting to a total land area of 7,100 sq. miles. The islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu are home for 87 percent of the population of almost 850,000, almost all of whom live on the coastal areas. Suva, the capital and largest city is in Viti Levu.