Meeting Chief Lepani

Traveling to foreign lands is about much more than seeing the sights. It’s about meeting the people and today we met some very wonderful people on the island of Nasonisoni which is located in Navatu Bay just off the southwest end of Vanua Levu.

If the Chief is around when you take the sevusevu to shore then there is usually a big ceremony that occurs where one of the villagers will grind the root and mix the drink. It is then served first to the Chief who will approve of the mixture. Once he drinks it his guests will be served. Unfortunately on the day Lutz & Gabi took our sevusevu to shore the Chief was not there so they left it with his first in command, called the Turago ni Koro (Prounounced too-ranga nee koro).

We arrived in Navatu Bay two days ago. Our friends Lutz & Gabi of SV SuAn arrived just a few hours ahead of us. They immediately went to shore and presented a sevusevu on behalf of all of us. What’s a sevusevu? Well, I’ll tell you. This is typically an offering of Kava that is presented to the Chief of the village to ask for his blessing to allow you to visit the village and anchor there. Kava is the root they grind up and mix with water to make a very muddy looking tea. It tastes like I would imagine old socks would taste but they drink it here. It has a mild sedative affect, which I suppose helps keep the villagers from getting too restless.

Today we all decided to take a trip into the village. Lutz & Gabi picked us up in the dink and we headed to shore. We were greeted there by two women who were relaxing near the water. They did not appear to speak much English but we communicated with our limited Fijian. After a few moments we headed up the narrow concrete path into the village.

The homes here are made from corrugated metal and all look pretty much the same. Some have doors and windows and others have only openings. All have curtains made of bright, floral fabrics. These same fabrics are used to adorn the walls. The grounds around them are amazingly well manicured. I say amazingly because when you know how little they have you wonder what tools they actually use to keep things so neat and tidy. There are deep red, muddy trails in the bright green grass that lead off of the concrete walkway to these tiny homes and everywhere you look you’ll see laundry hanging out to dry and dogs running around.

It didn’t take long for our presence to be known throughout this tiny village with women calling out “Bula” from their homes. It’s almost as if they are warning the rest of the village that there are Kepelangi (white people) in the village. Before long we had a complete entourage of young children following us, holding our hands and smiling the most beautiful smiles you’ve ever seen. We get the impression that few cruisers actually stop at this island and we are somewhat of a novelty to them.

Lutz & Gabi brought lollys for all of the children and they were very excited to receive this sweet treat. As we continue to walk through the village taking photos and greeting the villagers our little welcoming committee follows along. Soon we are greeted by a woman named Ma’a. She’s probably in her forties and has a wonderful and engaging smile even though her teeth show a lack of dental care.

Ma’a leads us to the vorlo ,which is their meeting house. In some countries they call it a fale but they look the same and serve the same function wherever we’ve seen them in the islands. As we arrive at the doorway we take off our shoes before entering. There is no furniture, only large woven mats on the ground where we are instructed to sit. Men are to sit with their legs crossed and women with their legs bent and off to one side. We are dressed properly with our shoulders and knees covered and it is expected that our knees are to remain covered. At my age sitting like this and trying to keep my knees covered for a long time is very difficult but somehow I managed.

Within moments the Chief arrives. His name is Chief Lepani. He’s 70 years old and has lived here his entire life. He’s about six foot tall and is wearing a t-shirt that has the sleeves cut off. As he enters the hall he is wrapping his sulu (sarong) around his waist. He greets each of us with a big smile and asks our names and where we are from. He then tells us to take a seat on the floor. The men gather at one side and us women and all of the children are off to the other side.

The children, oh the children. They are so delightful and curious about us. They can’t seem to get close enough as they keep inching their way closer and closer. Ma’a introduces us to another, older woman also named Ma’a. This woman turns out to be the Chief’s wife although we did not know it at the time. She is so sweet and insists on kissing us each on the cheek. She sits down between Gabi and I and the entire time we are there she touches my arm, kisses my cheeks and fans me with her fan.

We learn that there are roughly 160 people who live in this village in 24 small hut-like homes. The small children have school in the vorlo each morning while the older ones are taken by boat across the bay where they pick up a bus which is actually a large truck with an enclosed back much like a military vehicle. The “bus”  takes them to the next village over for school. We’ve seen them as they all wave and yell “Bula” when passing by Dazzler on their way to or from their pick up point.

While we are visiting our new friends more and more villagers begin to come into the hall to meet us. It’s almost as if we are some sort of celebrities here. Before we knew it there were probably thirty people, adults and children, all milling about and asking us questions. Chief Lepani sent one young boy to his home to get his world map. It’s a laminated map of the world that is filled with little cartoons and icons for the different countries. He unrolls this large map and asks Dan & Lutz to show him where we all are from. The children hover around the map watching and listening as the men speak. We asked the Chief if it would be okay for us to take some photos and he agrees so Lutz, Dan and I all snap some pictures to memorialize our visit. The younger Ma’a asks me if we can bring back some printouts of the photos to which I told her I would try as our printer ink seems to dry up rather quickly out here.

We stayed there for about forty-five minutes or so but because the tide was going out we decided we needed to leave so that we don’t have to carry the dingy out to deeper water. We graciously said our goodbyes and thanked everyone for their hospitality. Of course our entourage of children accompanied us back through the village to the bay. Several of these delightful children even insisted on helping us push the dinghy out. We actually had to tell them to stop because they kept walking as the water continued to get deeper. These little darlings waved and waved while calling out “moce” (Pronounced mothay which means goodbye) as we pulled away.

On the way back to Dazzler Dan decided that since Chief Lepani loves maps so much he would bring back an old chart we have of Fiji and the surrounding countries and islands. Lutz & Gabi dropped us off and Dan went about searching for the chart while I got the printer out and created several collages of the photos we took and printed them to take back. With our gifts in hand we headed back to shore.

Of course the moment the children heard we were back they were right there to escort us with their beautiful smiling faces. Ma’a (the younger one) showed us where the Chief lived and he came out to greet us. He asked us into his home. His home, of course, is a bit bigger than the rest of them. I counted four rooms. A kitchen with a wood-burning stove that was more like a raised pit with large wooden pieces that crisscrossed the fire. There were three very old metal pots sitting on top. In the next room which I guess would be considered the living area, there was no furniture, just large woven mats to sit on. The walls were adorned with various, colorful fabrics that were hemmed using a stapler. Through one curtain I could see the bedroom. I guess since he’s the Chief he gets the good stuff and the bed in there was raised off of the floor on a wooden frame. There looked to be a nice mattress on it and it had a navy blue blanket covering it. This is the home of the island Chief. No, it’s nothing much but it is a step up from the rest of the homes there.

Dan presented him with the chart and he seemed very pleased. As Dan was showing him the different places on the chart his wife, the older Ma’a, sat beside me kissing my cheek and putting her arm around me. She was so sweet and kind that I wanted to give her a small gift so I took the flower from my hair and put it in hers. It’s a silk flower I had added a wire to so I can wear it in my hair. She absolutely loved this very tiny token of my affection and smiled brightly while again kissing me on the cheek.

Since our visit was unannounced we stayed only for a few minutes before saying goodbye to our new friends. Ma’a walked us out and allowed Dan to take a photo of use before we left. As we turned to walk away I saw her walk to the other Ma’a’s home showing her the flower and telling her it was from her Jilly. I couldn’t help smile thinking that my little gesture made this woman’s whole day.

The children accompanied us back to the bay. Along the way they were yelling out “moce” to their families as if they were leaving with us. It was absolutely adorable! Again they insisted on helping us to push the dinghy into deeper water. Of course that was after they all took turns climbing in and on it. Dan allowed them their fun for a few minutes and then told them we must leave. As we drove away they all waved until we were almost out to the boat.

Today was a very wonderful and humbling experience. When you meet people who literally have nothing and you see how happy and friendly they are to complete strangers, it brings a wonderful, warm feeling to your heart. I’ve not doubt we will never forget these lovely souls or our time there.

Many thanks to Chief Lepani and the people of his wonderful village who welcomed us so warmly.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan 

Author: Dan & Jilly

4 thoughts on “Meeting Chief Lepani

  1. Dan & Jilly
    You are so incredibly lucky to be able to be there Thank you for staying in touch. What’s the new schedule? I thought you guys were still in NZ. Have Dan email me when your in an area with service.
    Be safe. Scotty

    1. Thanks for checking in. We definitely feel blessed to be on this journey seeings so many beautiful places and meeting so many amazing people around the world. We’re going to be spending five months traveling Fiji this year and then back to New Zealand for cyclone season. After that, who knows? Maybe fully circumnavigate, maybe more time around here or maybe off to Indonesia and other parts of the world.

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