Fiji – Melting Pot of the South Seas
The Fiji archipelago is the perfect melting pot of the South Seas. In a very charming way its 332 small as well as big islands unite the culture of Melanesia and Polynesia plus the influences of British colonial times and the Indians being brought into the country back then by the Britons. There are three places that exemplify this melange best: Levuka’s old town, which is Fiji’s old capital on Ovalau Island, as well as the country’s new capital bustling Suva and its market plus the Naag Mandir temple on Vanua Levu, a place being more Indian than India itself.
Sitting next to me in the airplane from Tonga to Suva I meet Rosie, a lovely old woman instantly offering me to stay with her during my Fiji trip. I love such hospitality and love to accept it, however with a very heavy heart I have to reject it as the South Seas Private Hotel already waits for me. This hotel is a colonial dream painted in bright white and blue, with Spartan interior, a bed and a ceiling fan only, but quite patronised by the locals. From there, a hill slightly above the sports field in front of the governmental buildings, I start my strolls through Fiji’s capital.
Having I reached the hotel I instantly noticed a buzzing noise, as if one of the neighbours keeps a large cooling unit running all the time. Yet I couldn’t figure out that noise properly, but during the evening and my first little trip down to the water front, I allocate that it’s coming from an army of fishing boats lying at anchor in the Suva bay, a big natural harbour on Viti Levu’s south-eastern side. All the boats are Chinese and it must have been China’s entire fleet, so many boats I can see, and no one of them has not left its Diesel engine running. Apparently they have to cool the catch they made. A terrific scene being only calmed by the one or another local fisherboat – literally only being cockleshells with an outboard motor carrying men – coming home or driving out.
The Heart of the Capital
My first complete day on Fiji is a Saturday. The search for breakfast brings me to a little place run by Chinese people and quite patronised by the locals. Well, fried chicken with chips isn’t really what I am digging at 7 o’clock in the morning; luckily they have tea and sandwiches as well. A smile is enough to get in touch with the locals and that’s how I meet James, a member of Fiji’s national team cricket and wide travelled man. While having a proper chat, the huge cruise liner I spotted at the horizon some minutes ago, has already moored and tourist go ashore.
Yes, those are tourists, from the U.S. to be precise and even here, in this tropical paradise with wonderful food they have nothing better to do than conquering the local McDonalds branch. Gross, yes, but Fiji also provides that kind of infrastructure and maybe it is good like that because then the Yankees are kept away from deceiving the U.N. again, or invading other countries under the omen called democracy, or sending drones to kill local people.
The only good thing about Suva’s McDumb is the free WiFi, something that helps a lot as internet access is generally not cheap in the South Pacific. James, who I funnily meet randomly on all days of my Fiji trip, quite highlights the Saturday market taking place just today inside the halls near the harbour main gate.
From all over Fiji people flock to that place on the main island to offer their goods for sale. The market’s vibe is just fantastic. The sweet smell of fresh pineapple wafts through the shaded halls whose roof is interrupted by the one or other gap letting the sun boiling sun shine through. The tourists from the cruise liner literally rush through the different market stalls. They don’t take time to indulge themselves in getting in contact with the locals and trying samples of pineapple, coconut bread or water melon. In particular the pineapple is a delectation par excellence! It’s tree-ripened, very juicy, wonderfully aromatic, sweet and so ripe that you can even eat the usually stringy middle.
While inside the halls all things called vegetables and fruits get sold, outside is the place to purchase fresh fish. It’s funny to watch the sellers standing sentinel over their offer and flicking flies while negotiating to get the best price for their catch. On the fish market you can see hundreds of different shapes and colours and get everything the sea has on offer with from tuna and mussels to crabs and octopus.
The best stuff goes like hot cakes early in the morning, when the sun isn’t that blazing, so better don’t come too late. Many people are a little shy but friendly. So they smile, and it is that very smile that breaks the ice between them and me, the stranger who’s not speaking the local language and invading the market’s privacy with a camera. It’s that smile that lets me experience a very authentic moment and authentic piece of Fijian life.
After having taken a photo not a few people give thanks for the portrait. For someone coming from Western European that is an almost inconceivable and very sincere gesture, in particular when comparing it with taking photos in Germany, where 99% of the people already show a “I fucking kill you!”-face only when carrying a turned off camera in my hand. Back home that is the reason why I don’t do any people photography, I am just not interested in self-centred so called civilised humans but when I am travelling this genre of photography often establishes the link to other people, to different cultures. And that is what photography is about.
The food of the South Seas lives from freshness, has a high quality but hasn’t an all too big variety. In that case Fiji is different too as the Brits brought Indians to Fiji and made them work on the sugar cane plantations. Those Indians, or better to say their spices, kicked all culinary things up a notch, they launched the highlight called Indo-Fijian cuisine, a symbol how wonderfully two different world can interact to take the best and push to higher level. However, those Indians, well, actually the Brits as without them the Indians wouldn’t have made it to Fiji, caused quite some trouble in the Fiji islands paradise.