Kia Island is located 16 nautical miles north and west of Vanua Levu which is the main northern island in Fiji. The passage to Kia is not an easy one in that it’s full of twists and turns that lead through a myriad of shallow coral reefs. On a bright sunny day it’s much easier but our day was filled with ominous clouds and the ever present threat of a dangerous squall. The lack of sun makes seeing the reefs very difficult.
It’s at moments like this that we are ever so grateful for our BnG chart plotter that has up to date charts of the area. We also tend to ponder what it would have been like to be Captain Cook or the others who ventured into these waters without the benefit of such technology. As for me….I’m glad we’re doing it in this day and age.
On the western side of the island is the village of Ligua (pronounced Ling ōō ā ) where we visited in 2019 with our friends Lutz & Gabi of SV SuAn. This is where we came up with the plan to bring books back to Fiji. This is where the young girls dragged me across the field to show me their new library…one filled with beautiful shelves but no books. THAT was a day that changed me in so many ways.
We arrived here at around 1500 and anchored out in front of Ligua. As it was Sunday we chose not to go to shore to do sevusevu. This is where you go to shore to bring the gift of kava to the chief and ask for permission to anchor in his bay and explore his village. Kava is a root that is ground into powder and then mixed with water. It tastes as I’d assume dirty sock water would taste but you know…when in Rome…or Fiji. LOL For the Fijians it’s like having a cocktail. It numbs your lips and mouth and if you drink enough of it you will feel relaxed and lazy. The women don’t like the men drinking it because of that very thing.
Anyway, as I said it was Sunday so we did not want to intrude on their holy day. We stayed on Dazzler. Of course our mere presence in the anchorage was not to be missed. Not many cruisers come up this far so we’re somewhat of a novelty I guess. From the moment we arrived we noticed people coming down to the water’s edge to get a better look at the strange new boat off their beach. We no more than had the anchor down and were sipping our anchor down beers when we saw a long boat depart the beach with us dead in her sights.
Within moments we were greeted by Aquila and two young boys, Epa and Maurice. The moment they arrived we began to explain the reason we had not come ashore. We certainly didn’t want it to look like we were disrespecting their traditions. Aquila assured us he understood and all was good. He then explained that in addition to church they had a funeral going on. Just one more reason we were glad to have made the decision we did.
As we continued to talk and explain why we had come back to Kia the young man, Maurice, who was sitting in the bow of the long boat began to smile. He remembered us from our visit in 2019. He was excited to see us again. Okay….so I have to say it…how cool is that?????
The following morning we loaded up the box of books and lollies (candy) as well as a couple of boxes of pencils, some boat line and an orange float…all gifts for the village. As we approached the beach we noticed that right under the tree line there was a dozen or more people sitting there just watching us and waiting for our arrival. It was a bit weird but also, in its own way, very welcoming and exiting. After all, they all were there to greet us.
The tide was out so it was very shallow with lots of reef and rocks etc…One young boy, maybe ten, came out to assist us. Dan tossed in the anchor for the dink and I walked across the coral, sand and rocks to the shore trying not to get my sarong soaked or expose anything I shouldn’t. All the while I’m hoping I won’t cut my foot or fall in the water….especially with the audience there watching. Good news….I stayed dry and didn’t make a fool of myself!!! WOOOHOOO!
Once on shore we were greeted with a chorus of “Bula Bula” from the onlookers. Then, the same young man who greeted us led us up a sandy path and through the village full of one room huts. Each is painted in a pale paint of yellow, pink or green. They have no doors and the windows…only in some…are jalousie type. All openings are covered with the most beautiful brightly colored tropical prints. There is a grassy area just up from the beach that was perfectly trimmed. It must be a type of Bermuda grass as it is so soft that I just wanted to lay down and roll around in it. I just drug my feet through it the whole way.
Along the way we see colorful clothes hanging on the line to dry, chickens, dogs and dark brown faces peeking around every corner. If they’d have had cameras we’d have felt like celebrities surrounded by paparazzi.
Soon we arrived at the vale…meeting house. When we were here in 2019 this place was just being built. As we arrived at the doorway this time we saw them setting down the woven mat for us to sit upon. Two men are inside. Standing to the side is Kepa. He’s tall and skinny and wearing a red and black sleeveless sports jersey and basketballs shorts. Sitting on the mat is Jonathon, the acting chief. He’s wearing a very beautiful, brightly colored bula shirt and shorts. He’s older with a wrinkled face that has obviously seen more sun than it should have but he has gentle and welcoming brown eyes that offset the rugged skin making him feel much like a loving uncle. He invites us to sit down.
Before we do we kneel and introduce ourselves. Jonathon has a very kind demeanor and explains that he is not the chief but the acting chief. Not knowing what is too much too ask we just take it at that and don’t inquire as to where the other chief is or why he is only the “acting chief”.
We are literally here a few minutes when the vale begins to fill up with men, women and children who all want to see and learn about the kaivalagi (white people). There are giggles coming from the children and welcoming smiles and big “bulas” coming from the adults.
Dan tells Jonathon a little about why we have come back but then stops and tells him before we go further he knows that we should do the sevusevu. Jonathon agrees. Dan hands over the Kava root we have brought. As Jonathon accepts it he begins the blessing. This consists of clapping and an entire chant done in Fijian. Obviously we have no idea what is being said. For all we know he could be mocking the Americans who spent money to buy for him what he’s growing in his backyard. We’ve done sevusevu before but this time he chants for a much longer time. It was literally close to five minutes. All I know is I wish I could have understood what he was saying.
Sevusevu complete Dan proceeds to tell Jonathon that we have brought a few gifts. The first of which is a book we had made at Mixbook.com called the Faces of Fiji. In it are photos of the children and people we met here in 2019. I reach in my bag and hand the book to Jonathon with it already at the pages that are of Kia Island. The huge smile upon Jonathon’s face says we’ve done a great thing already. He starts laughing and pointing and speaking the names of all who are in the book.
We Come Bearing Gifts
As is custom here, you don’t just bring something into their village without the permission of the chief so Dan and I had left the books, line and other things on the dingy. Dan explained why we brought books and that we’d amassed over 2500 of them that have and are being dispersed by our “Cruiser Angels”. Some of the men in the room got tears in their eyes. We also had them in ours.
With permission to bring the gifts ashore Jonathon told the children and men to go and help Dan. He told Dan I would stay there….that was man’s work. I sat on the woven mat in the vale with Jonathon and a few young children. Jonathon was reading the Faces of Fiji book to them and showing them the photos. The pure joy they got from something so simple was overwhelming for me. Just having photos of the children made them all smile.
Soon Dan arrived back with his helpers in tow. Not one would let him carry a thing. From the youngest of boys to the men they carried everything. They sat it all down on the mat in front of Jonathon and we presented it to him. As Dan opened the box of books covered in lollies the eyes of the children grew to the size of saucers. One tried to reach into the box and Jonathon quickly told him, “No…this is a ceremony”. This young boy, maybe five, immediately sat back and didn’t move again.
With our gifts presented Jonathon handed the bolts of line to a couple of the men sitting there with us. One went to Vuki. Vuki was the Turangi ni Koro (Chief’s headman) when we arrived in 2019. Of course he remembered us and he thanked us over and over for the line. We learned that he was married in April of this year to Ruth. She’s a beautiful woman and is already pregnant with their first child. Ruth and I would grow to be good friends during our visit here.
At one point Jonathon instructed the children to go and gather some fresh pawpaw (papayas) for us. It’s crazy….here when an adult tells a kid to do something there is no backtalk, they jump up and do it. Ten minutes later we had a bag of some of the most beautiful, bright orange pawpaw you’ve even seen. And oh….WOW! They tasted amazing too! Pawpaw margaritas coming soon!!!
Captain Dan Tries To Help
It wasn’t long before they realized that Dan has some expertise in fixing things so they asked if he could help them. You will crack up at this. We are on a very remote island in the middle of the South Pacific and you know what they wanted him to help with???? They wanted to know if he could help fix the sound on their TV! Yep….I’m not kidding. In the vale they have two old flat screen TVs that they will play a movie on for the entire village. They have some movies on thumb drives. When I say some…I mean they have four or five movies that they play over and over and over and over.
Back on Dazzler Dan set about finding tools and parts to try to make the TV have sound. A couple of hours later we headed back to shore. The moment we arrived on shore we were followed like Mr. & Mr.s Pied Piper. As we entered the vale with tools in hand the men followed. At first I was the only women but then Ruth, Vuki’s wife, arrived with a couple of children. She said she didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable with all the men. She’s a beautiful woman with that amazing Fijian complexion and she’s well read and so kind. While the men worked we chatted.
Dan worked on the sound but in the end he couldn’t get the sound working properly. He got sound but they need good speakers as the TV speakers are not working. Unfortunately here you are dealing with people who have nothing and are trying to make something work that is basically gone. Dan did give it his best effort and did get sound but there just wasn’t enough power to make it loud enough. He also tried to help them get their satellite aligned but was unsuccessful there. And…they brought another item or two for him to test with his multi tester. In the end even though he didn’t get either TV working they were very grateful for his efforts.
We stepped outside of the vale and there was a dozen or so men sitting on a mat having kava. They asked if we would join them. Of course it’s not my favorite thing but it would have been rude to say no so we did. The village priest was there and welcomed us. We had just one coconut shell full of kava each and then we left. We promised to return the following day to help with a few other issues they are having.
Drones and Videos….Entertaining The Villagers
The day after the book delivery on Kia Island we went back to shore so that Dan could assist Maki with a battery issue. Mostly he was going in to test it to be sure it was getting current. This will help him to know if the battery is worth keeping. This provides them with just enough power to give them light for a few hours each evening. We were told that these batteries were supplied to them by the government of Australia. To the best we could understand this was done after Cyclone Winston hit the area back in 2016.
As we walk up the path from the beach we find Make sitting on a tree stump at the edge of the grassy area. He’s been waiting for us all morning. It’s the battery in his home that needs attention. We stroll slowly through the village as he has some sort of issue with his left leg and doesn’t walk too well. We pass by the vale and there is Ruth sitting on a wooden platform smiling away. She greets us with a hello rather than bula. Ruth, having grown up in the capital city of Suva, is a bit more cosmopolitan than the rest of the villagers.
Dan and Maki continue walking toward Maki’s house while I stop to chat with Ruth. I tell her we’ve brought some gifts for her and Vuki. When she looks inside to see them she literally beams with joy. She had told me how much she loves to read so we brought some books to her as well as some fishing line for Vuki. She beams with delight and tells me Vuki will be very appreciative as well. My heart fills with love and warmth. She asks if it’s okay for her to take them to her home and says she will meet me at Maki’s house shortly. I agree and head in the direction the men.
Soon I’ve arrived at Maki’s home. Dan does what he can to test the battery and provides Maki with his thoughts on it even suggesting a few things to try. Maki is grateful and thanks Dan as he struggles to raise himself off the wooden floor. I think as I watch him how difficult this life must be for the aging villagers. I know at fifty-four I have problems getting up off the floor so I can only imagine what it is like for them. They don’t complain though. Truthfully it would do them no good so why bother?
From Maki’s house we head to the schoolyard just fifty or so feet away. Here Dan is going to set up to fly our drone. We had asked and received permission to do this the prior day. None of the villagers have ever seen a drone in person so this was a very big deal. Children came running from all corners of the village and even the grown ups made their way out to watch. Dan sets up the drone in the shade of a swaying palm tree. The view in front of us is beyond spectacular. The tide is out so you can see even more shades of aqua, green and blue in the water over the coral reef. It’s a spectacularly sunny and clear day and just perfect for this.
With the drone ready to fly Dan tells the children to step back a bit. Maki is sitting on the ground behind him watching in anticipation. The moment Dan maneuvers the drone into the air there are audible gasps and laughter coming from children and the adults too. Maki gets the biggest grin and lets out a hearty “Eo” which means yes in Fijian. The children’s eyes grow as large as half dollars and everyone is fascinated by this flying contraption. As for me…I’m just hoping Dan doesn’t get too distracted and crash it into the water.
Dan flew the drone for a hour or so all over Kia Island. Then he sat on the grass and played the video footage back on his phone. He was completely enveloped by villagers of all ages. They chattered on in an excited tone in Fijian as smiles lit their lovely brown faces. When they had watched several of the videos Dan began packing up the drone. All of them were thanking us for sharing this with them but the best was yet to come.
We left the village and went back to Dazzler for a few hours. Dan took a nap and I started putting together a video to take back as one last gift for our dear friends. It took a few hours but I managed to make a short, seven minute video that included video and photos from our first day here delivering books to the drone footage of their home and the stunning waters, reef and beach at their doorstep.
Around 1530 we headed back to shore with the video on a thumb drive. Ruth was there on shore and we walked through the village. At the vale they had the TV on and ready to play the video. The TV sits on the floor as, just like in the homes, there is no furniture, only wooden floors with colorful mats. There is a large gathering of villagers assembled in the vale. For some reason the TV won’t recognize the drive at all but fortunately Ruth has a small, well used and on its last leg laptop. She opens it up and the video plays. There was easily twenty or more people in the room all laying or sitting on the floor around this small laptop watching the video.
I felt myself begin to tear up and had to look away more than once. To see the pure joy something so small brought to these people was simply overwhelming. Their appreciation for us spending a little of our time and energy to do something special for them was heartwarming.
We walked slowly through the village saying our goodbyes to the people who have touched our hearts so deeply. Under a group of trees near the shore there was a group of twenty or so men. We stopped to thank them for sharing their village with us. I asked if I could take a photograph and they agreed. As I turned to leave I told them we would not say “moce” (goodbye) rather “sota tale” which means see you later. We both do hope to see them again one day.
At the water’s edge I hugged Ruth again. She promised to send us an email. If she does it will truly be special as she has to climb to the top of the mountain to get internet. Her eyes met mine one last time and I turned toward the water. The sun was low in the clear sky casting a beautiful golden glow upon the village that stole our hearts.
As we drove away Ruth and the others stood there at the tree line waving. I looked over at Dan and could see that he was also visibly moved by the kindness shown to us by these people. Neither wanted to leave but that is the life we have chosen. It’s always full of happy hellos and too many sad goodbyes.
Later that evening I stepped out on the port side deck and sat on the cabin top looking back at the island. The tradewinds were light but cool as they brushed over my bare shoulders. The island was a darkened mass in front of me that stood out boldly against the purple sky. The almost full moon was rising over the island and the water in front of me was filled with silver sparkles as the moon danced upon the rippling sea.
On shore the moon lit up the white sandy beach making it look like a strip of well polished silver that separated the deep black ocean from the black mountain that rose above. Just past the beach dimly lit yellow lights flickered in windows of a few of the homes scattered across the village. Not every hut was lit but some were and I sat imagining the scene inside them. Were they talking about us and the new things they saw today? Were the parents playing with their children or maybe even reading to them from some of the books? Were the men drinking kava under a tree somewhere laughing and talking about fishing? Oh how I wished I could be on shore one last time with our special friends. I stayed on deck a while taking in every last moment. I wanted to seal that scene in my mind so deeply it could never be forgotten.
The following morning Dan woke me as the sun began to rise. We had a long day ahead of us to make the ten hour trip back to Baulailai Bay. I begrudgingly pulled myself from the bunk and began to ready Dazzler’s cabin for the trip. My heart was heavy. I just didn’t want to leave. But, I knew it was eminent so I did what I had to do.
Within minutes we were hauling the anchor. Dan on deck and me at the helm. With the anchor secured Dan came back and took over at the helm and I headed to the foredeck. He maneuvered Dazzler closer to the shore as we passed by one last time. On the sandy path that leads from the shore to the village we saw Ruth waving feverishly at us. Then as we began to study the shoreline we noticed many more villagers had come out of their homes to bid us farewell. All waving their hands back and forth for several minutes. I felt my the pit in my stomach grow and tears began falling like rain down my cheeks. How could we leave this place? How could we leave our Fijian family?
The silence in my headset told me Dan was having his own emotional moment in the cockpit. This beautiful place and her people certainly took a hold of our hearts and souls. I waved and waved until I could no longer see the people on shore. Then I stood there on the deck and snapped a few last photos of the island as the sun began to rise over the mountain. I knew in my heart we’d likely never see this place again but one thing is certain the people of Kia Island will forever be a part of our souls.
Until Next Time,