Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fijian Baka

Enter the baka tree. Baka is the Fijian name for this great big lovely type of tree. In English it is commonly called the Pacific or Polynesian Banyan, or the Strangler Fig due to its parasitic nature. The baka tree just loves latching onto things and taking over. I saw many of them with roots extending down the sides of mountains (awesome climbing aid).

The inside of the baka tree houses a white sap sometimes used for Fijian medicinal purposes. When I interviewed the women in the village of Natokalau one woman told me that you can drop the white sap into your ear for an earache. Other women noted using parts of the baka tree for sicknesses or pain related to the womb during or after childbirth.

Everytime I saw a baka tree in Fiji I was overwhelmed with the desire to drop my bag and clamber up its lovely roots, and I did often. You can almost get lost weaving through the entanglement of branches. There were times when I felt like the baka tree would just swallow me up into the belly of Fiji.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where in the world is Fiji?

In the vast South Pacific Ocean there is a group of islands rolled out like dice east of Australia. In the midst are the Fiji Islands:,_Fiji./69/69/312/0/Yes.html

Fiji is composed of about 330 islands. The largest island is Viti Levu, which literally means to "Big Fiji." The second largest island is Vanua Levu, just to the northeast of Viti Levu. Fiji is popular among tourists for its tropical atmosphere, diving, resorts, and cultural experiences such as drinking kava (which will have its own post), fire dancing, mekes (also more on this later), etc.
In the Eastern Division lies the Lau Group of the Fiji Islands which is more isolated from the tourist industry of the west. In this group of islands you will find some of the last remaining subsistence economies and more traditional culture of Fiji. These islands have few resources for receiving outside material culture. There is no Walmart, mall, movie theatre, or internet cafe in the Lau Group. Indeed, you will not even find The Big Bear in the Lau group (The Big Bear is a department store found on the main island, containing several floors and meeting all of your consumer needs. Mala and I went there to purchase mosquito nets).
Fiji is such an interesting place because these two environments mix and mingle with each other, continually shaping Fiji's culture.

Just a brief introduction. More to come.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bula: an Introduction

Bula is the Fijian greeting commonly accompanied by a hearty smile and a creamy accent throughout the collection of the approximately 330 Fiji islands in the South Pacific. I was unexpectedly given the opportunity to spend 2 months there this summer thanks to an incredible teacher and a (now) dear friend/archaeologist who got a grant to do her master's research in Fiji and graciously took me along.

I believe that all humans are storytellers. We communicate our lives, culture, and our past everyday. We catch stories, interacting with others and passing their stories along too. These stories are infinitely malleable. Sometimes we expand and change them as we pass them along. No one tells a story in exactly the same way as someone else. Each time a story is told it's accompanied by a different set of facial expressions, language use, and emphasis. I put a KAPOW! where you put a KAZAM! and so on.

My experience in Fiji awarded me a new collection of rich stories that I aim to share here. In part to pass them along, but mostly as a way of processing them myself. I hope to tell these stories as accurately and justly as possible.