The Fijians were once cannibals (a practice that stopped after the first Methodist missionaries to the Fijians were cannibalised, thankfully) but that shouldn’t deter you from meeting with the villages. There are many agencies that provide welcome ceremonies with a village as par t of a day tour. Most of the welcome ceremony revolves around the Kava root, a pepper plant grown in the higher, mountainous regions of Fiji. The simple ceremony involves guests presenting the root for an inspection before it is mulched with water. It is served to the leader’ of the visitors first after a few incantations and then offered to everyone else in the group. The slightly bitter taste isn’t what regular consumers of Kava are after; rather, it is the tingly, almost numbing sensation that immediately hits the tongue that Kava drinkers enjoy. Kava is mostly recreational and is a replacement for wine, a drink the predominantly Methodist Fijians choose to shun as a sign of their faith.
When visiting the villages, be sure to bring stationery sets, clothes and toys if you can. Children are educated within the village for free but often lack basic school supplies. Many of the villagers still farm but only enough for their own families and are therefore unable to provide stationery for their young ones. Most children complete school through the gracious donations of visitors. Leave your gift or small cash donation with the village chief who will then distribute it among the families who need them. In some villages, seashell markets are where the families make their extra income. Conical seashells are collected from the beaches and turned into elegant bracelets to be sold to visitors.
Village tours are often p art of a bigger activity and each experience is always different. To truly experience the warm hospitality of the Fijians, hop onboard the Sigatoka River Safari. The journey starts on a jet speedboat that speeds through the winding Sigatoka River to reach Naveyago, the village of national Fijian rugby player and gold medallist, Semi Kunatani. During the journey, a local guide will make stops along the river to explain Fijian customs and history. Once at the village, the welcome ceremony is performed and after a healthy gulp of Kava, a homely lunch is served to the visitors, followed by a round of dancing and singing with the villagers.
The Kava ceremony is not all that Fijian villages are known for. Mereke Tours brings travellers to one of the very first village settlements in Fiji, Vei Sei Sei Vuda, for a showcase of other rituals performed by Fijian villages. The tribesmen perform a welcome dance and a particularly intimidating war dance while holding spears. Then the women take centre stage and sing harmonised versions of folk songs that have been passed down from generation to generation. Before the village ceremonies, the tour makes a stop at the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, a botanical garden nestled in a valley. The garden is most well known for having Fiji’s largest collection of orchids. It is worth having a local guide with you, as they would be able to point out various plants of medicinal value that Fijians all across the country still use in treating illnesses and wounds.
See the impact Christianity has had on the Fijians by attending their Sim day morning church service. Guests on the intimate Blue Lagoon Cruises can attend service with the Soso villagers during their three- or seven-day cruises. The village welcomes all to their congregation with boisterous a capella singing by the choir. This is concluded with a sermon where the minister does make the effort to explain as best as he can the message of the week in English. Many familiar with Methodist liturgy will find the flow of the service similar, as most Fijians identify with the Methodist denomination, the work of Methodist missionaries’ tireless evangelising to Fijians during the late 19th century.
Apart from visiting Soso, Blue Lagoon Cruises also offers trips to various deserted islands, such as Monuriki, the island where the Tom Hanks film, Cast Away, was filmed. There are also daily snorkelling and diving excursions into the Pacific Ocean where snorkeflers are more than likely to see blue tangs and angelfish ducking in and out into coral habitats, as well as starfish and nurse sharks roaming the ocean floor. Most agencies will take you on a modernised village tour and very few are willing to talk about their cannibalistic past. While Zip Fiji does not bring guests to any Fijian villages, it does allow participants to zipline through an abandoned Fijian settlement and explore a cave where Fijian cannibals once hid out in while waiting for unsuspecting prey. The three-hour adventure is 3km worth of ziplines woven into a truly spectacular setting of incredible caves, canyons and panoramic ocean views.