Saturday 28 April 2012


When we docked at Fiji we were advised to leave our jewellery in the safe and given lots of does and don’t.  Like “if you take a taxi make sure that he waits for you and that you don’t pay him until he returns you to the ship”.  Unsurprising really as the island inhabitants are only 200 years away from being cannibals!
Indians were brought in to work the sugar plantations because the locals were not interested in physical work.  Now the Indians make up about half of the island’s inhabitants, dominating the commercial and professional fields.  They also produce most of the islands’ crops and in elections gained most of the seats in government. The Fijians eventually rebelled and staged the South Pacific’s first of 3 coup d’etats resulting in Fiji becoming a republic. 
I went to an “arts village” which entailed sitting on an uncomfortable, rickety bus with no air conditioning.  Not good in temperatures in the 30’s and high humidity.  On the 45 minute drive along the horrendously potholed “main highway” we passed the poor ramshackle shacks that the local habitants live in.  It’s obviously very poor subsistence living here. 
At the “arts village” we were treated to a display of their ceremonial war and courtship dances.  The war dances culminated in the enemy being eaten! Quite scary. And then the main billing, the firewalkers who come from members of the Sawau Tribe of Beqa Island.  I thought that they would just skip lightly over the hot stones, but no, they stood on them!  Amazing! 
After leaving Fiji we passed over the international dateline, gained a day and had the 25th April twice.  Now instead of being +13 GMT we are -11 GMT.  Bizarrely enough Western Samoa has decided to remain on +13 GMT. For commercial reasons they prefer to be in line with Australia.  So here you have two adjacent islands with different dates.  Now that really is confusing!
Somerset Maugham’s “Rain” was appropriately set in American Samoa (where we are).  This island has 200 inches of rain a year.  They say that a day never goes by without rain.  It sits on the Pacific Rim of Fire and in 29th September 2009 there was a tsunami killing 200 people.  This ship arrived the day after and passengers donated money and clothing to the local population and the Red Cross used the ship’s showers and facilities.  
American Samoa is culturally completely different to Fiji.  It is a matriarchal society where the men bring up the children and cook the meals and their ceremonial dances are about love not war.  We were taken to a village to take part in the Ava ceremony. Ava is a non-alcoholic drink that makes your mouth go numb and if you drink too much makes you squiffy.  Go figure (as our American friends say). 
Unlike the tourist village in Fiji this was a real living village.  The ladies toilet was actually in the family bathroom where two village ladies were in the bath showering a child (behind a shower curtain I should add).  While I was in there they asked if anyone was there I said “yes, but if you want to come out we will wait” “no, you all finish first, we are fine”.  That child must have been like a prune by the time we had all finished.  We had a great time with the villagers and I actually felt sorry to be leaving. 
Our guide told us that the main island employer is a tuna canning factory.  There used to be two factories but the Samoan government demanded that they pay the minimum US wage. They refused, closed the factory and moved operations to another island resulting in something like 6000 people losing their jobs.  It tore the heart out of the economy.  The government is still demanding that the remaining factory pays this minimum wage and now this factory is under threat of being closed too.  Apart from this the only other employment on the island is the Government.  We really don’t know how lucky we are.  



busycorner said...

Thanks for coming. It was actually the US government that imposed the minimum wage. The local government opposed it. No matter, the canneries will leave for Africa or Vietnam where the minimum wage is much lower. So the wage issue was only relative. Their departure was inevitable.

From Pago,

JW said...

So sorry, I misunderstood. Thank you for putting the record straight.

Whatever, it is a tragedy. You have a beautiful island and you are beautiful people.

Ann xxx

RNSANE said...

What a tremendous journey you are on. I've never made it to the South Pacific. I had know that there were many Indians in Fiji. Quite a few Fijians now work and live in the Bay area.

See you in just a couple of weeks. I am so looking forward to that, even if it's just for a few hours....we'll be in touch more as the time approaches. said...

I'm looking forward to meeting you too Carmen. We have been blog friends for a few years now.