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Honored Guests Of The Chief

As you know we hiked up the equivalent of Mount Kilimanjaro today.  Well, not really but it sure felt that way to me. Anyway, I made it back alive, which is a real blessing. Of course it wouldn’t have happened if Dan hadn’t been using the electric prod to keep me going but then you’ve probably already read about that.

What happened after our hike is something that truly blew us away. Yesterday when we came to present sevusevu Chief Isimeli invited us to come back to their home for lunch this afternoon. When reached the visitor center at Tavoro Falls Lutz & Gabi asked if we’d mind if they walked back to the village instead of wait for John to pick us up. Sanaila was planning to walk along with them. Of course we certainly had no issue with them walking but I certainly wasn’t going walking up and down that hilly road. I’d already reached my limit. So, they went on and we waited by the river for John to pick us up.

After about a half hour or so John showed up and we headed back toward Vurevure Village. Along the way we saw Sanaila, Lutz  and Gabi walking but they refused the offer of a ride. Of course they were almost back to the village so it was understandable. 

John’s Home…First born son of Chief Isimeli.

We all arrived at the village within minutes of each other and Sanaila lead us back this his parent’s home. As we arrived and were taking off our shoes (you never enter a home here without doing that) Elizabeth, his mother, came out to greet us. She insisted that we come inside and sit down.

As we walked in the scent of a long day of cooking permeated the air and made my tummy growl a bit. I was definitely hungry after the tortuous hike and every whiff my nose encountered smelled better than the last. I couldn’t wait to see what wonderful delights Elizabeth had prepared for all of us.

She was scurrying about getting things ready and motioned for us to sit down on the couches, which were made from car bench seats and covered with colorful material. In the center of the small, tiled room was a wooden table with four chairs, four plates and four placemats.  Each chair had a beautiful red flowered cover on it, which made for a beautiful accent against the stark white tablecloth. Lutz and Gabi sat on one couch at the end of the room and we sat on another. To our left was a wooden table filled with lace and colorful printed linens.

As we sat in there chatting while Elizabeth was busy in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on lunch I started to realize something just wasn’t right with all this. Why are there only four chairs and plates? Where will the rest of the family sit to eat? Of course I’m sure this is the same question that was in all our minds at this point but no one dared speak it out loud.

Sanaila, who had left us to shower after the hike, came in and sat in the large chair on the long wall of the room. I surmised this must be the chief’s chair but since he was out Sanaila was acting as the man of the house so he commandeered it. We had a wonderful time with him discussing everything from politics to village life. He’s a exceptional young man with an amazing head on his shoulders. Elizabeth and Isimeli can be very proud of the man they have raised.

We learned some interesting information from Saniala as we sat there discussing life in the village. If a man wants to start a new village, he has to go to the chief and get permission but first, he has to acquire a whale’s tooth to present to the chief. The larger the tooth, the more likely the chief is to agree. He also has to have a plan for his new village that includes rules and codes the people there will have to live by. Once the chief gives his blessing a parcel of land will be given to the young man and he will then start his own settlement. Moving forward the young chief will be mentored by the older one. When problems arise in the new settlement the older chief will come and help settle them. Sanaila is in college now but he hopes to come back after college and begin his own village. He has some great ideas for his village and we are all certain he will make a wonderful chief someday.

After about a half hour Elizabeth began filling the table with food….lots and lots of food. It all smelled so incredible and even though we had no idea what some of it was, it looked wonderful too! Once she had placed all of the dishes on the table she motioned for us to sit. Finally we couldn’t take it any longer and Dan asked where everyone else was sitting. Sanaila informed us that we were the guests and would be eating at the table. They would not eat now but later. What? Seriously? You invited us here to eat and Elizabeth spent the entire day in the kitchen working yet you aren’t eating with us? Sanaila went on to explain that guests such as ourselves are not all that common in their village. This makes us very special and the way Fijians so their appreciation is to present us with a grand meal. WOW! This is something we never expected and it did feel a bit odd. After all, Elizabeth worked so hard and Sanaila had been so kind as to escort us through the mountain to the waterfalls. But, as we know, this is not our country or our culture so we must conform and so we sat down.

The meal Elizabeth prepared was extraordinary. There was green curry chicken that had potatoes in it. No, not your traditional style of curry but so delicious! Sanaila told us that is his favorite meal and we could see why. She also prepared deep fried eggplant, cassava, homemade roti and taro leaves. Now, the taro leaves were something I would have been certain I wouldn’t like but they had this cream sauce on them and oh my heavens….they were magnificent! I fell in love! Elizabeth also brought out some hot tea served with milk like the Brits drink.

To say this meal was amazing is such an understatement. The food had so much flavor; and was so different from anything I’ve ever eaten in my life. Honestly, there was a time in my life that I was so picky about food I’d have probably turned my nose up at all of this but I’m glad I’m not that way now because I’d have missed an exquisite culinary feast.

Elizabeth finally sat down with us and talked a bit as we were finishing our meal. I’m sure she wondered if we truly liked it because there was so much left but we all ate until we couldn’t eat another bite. I can’t remember the last time I ate so much at one sitting. She’s a delightful hostess and we all enjoyed our time eating, talking and learning about her and her family.

Shanaila and Dan discussing the wood they use for construction.

After we rested from the magnificent banquet Sanaila offered to take us on a tour of their village. The walk was well needed by this point. We all offered to assist Elizabeth in cleaning up but she wouldn’t have it. She insisted that we go with Sanaila so off we went. As we started the tour of this very small village it began to mist a bit but not enough to deter us. We met Louis, the pastor, and saw their current church which is just a covered, outdoor patio with benches and a small makeshift pulpit. We were told a new church is being built and they hope to have it done by December.

Along the way we saw the colorful houses with open windows and some with no doors rather brightly colored prints hanging in the doorway. We saw a couple of homes that were under construction, which was very interesting. One belongs to Pele. We stopped to chat with him for a bit and learn about how they construct their homes. At this point they only had the concrete footers and some of the slab installed for his home. It’s a village event when a home is being constructed. All the men participate in whatever way they can. Pele was a very cool guy and we all enjoyed our stop.

Here, as in many villages we’ve seen, they have communal kitchens and outdoor showers. Of course some of the homes also have their own kitchens, like Isimeli and Elizabeth’s place. As we walked along we saw dogs, ducks, cats and piglets. Everyone stopped to say, “Bula” and make us feel welcome. We even saw where one family was drying Kava.

Kava being dried and processed.

Vurevure Village is not very large. There are probably only twenty homes there but it’s a beautiful village and very clean too. There are dirt footpaths that lead all throughout and the brightly colored homes that stand out against the lush green grass and foliage of the forest. It was such a treat to have a personal tour by a young man who is so proud of his people and his village.

Our tour took about forty-five minutes and we ended up back at Isimeli’s home. When we arrived Isimeli was outside and welcomed us back in to sit at the table. Here we chatted with him about our hike, the amazing meal Elizabeth made and their village as we drank orange drink. Isimeli is one of the most talkative chiefs we’ve met during our trip so we learned much from him. He offered lots of information and was also very curious about all of us. We spent a half hour or so with him and then excused ourselves. The tide was going down and it would be getting dark soon. We needed to get back to our boats while we could still see to navigate over the reef.

Chief Isimeli, Elizabeth and Me! Such wonderful and amazing people! So grateful to know you!

This has been the most extraordinary day in our circumnaviation. The hike to the top of the world was amazing and the lunch and company at Isimeli’s home was something we will never forget. We will always be grateful to the entire family for showing us such a warm and wonderful welcome. I only hope we are able to come back and visit them again next year!

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

P.S. Elizabeth, if you ever get to read this I hope you know how much we truly loved the brilliant meal you served us. Next time, however, we will insist that you and the family join us! Vinaka vakalevu, noqu itau

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Is He Trying To Kill Me?

How do you know when your man has finally had enough of you? Well, just maybe he subtly tries to send you to the big dirt nap. Just maybe he has a plan so brilliant that he will make you believe he just wants you to see a beautiful, natural wonder. You know, that it’s all about making you happy. 

But, let me start at the beginning.

Yesterday we arrived here at Vurevure Bay. It’s a wonderful little bay on the east side of Taveuni Island here in Northern Fiji. SV SuAn and SV Dazzler are the only boats here. Of course, as usual we anchored, had our anchor down libations and then headed to shore to do sevusevu with the chief. On shore we were met by a gaggle of young children who were playing on the beach. One young boy probably eight or ten years old took the lead and escorted us to the home of the chief. Chief Isimeli, his wife Elizabeth and his sons John and Sanaila graciously welcomed us into their home. 

We sat on a a woven mat on the large covered porch. The porch even has beautiful, colorful tiled floors. Yes, it’s the first time we’ve seen tile on the floors here. Of course, this is a bit more of a well to do village than most we’ve seen. There are several vehicles and Chief Isimeli has a very nice truck sitting under the carport. We presented our kava and the chief very graciously accepted it. Then we sat about chatting and asking questions. They, wanting to know about us and we them.

We were not there very long but in our time there Chief Isimeli told us he would have his son John drive us to the Tavoro Falls tomorrow and his other son, Sanaila would be our guide to the falls. Elizabeth even invited us back their home for lunch after our hike. We left feeling quite welcomed into their little community.

This morning Lutz and Gabi pick us up with their tender at 0830. We’ve gotten into the habit of only putting one tender in the water at each anchorage and we take turns….it’s their turn. Anyway, we head to shore. As we approach the shore Chief Isimeli’s first-born son, John, is waiting for us in his truck. While the chief arranged for John to drive us there is a fee. It’s one we are happy to pay at just $10 Fijian dollars each way. John is taking us to the world famous Tavoro Waterfalls At Bouma National Heritage Park. It is just 3-4 kilometers from the village where we left the dink but it’s a hilly road and it’s good to have transportation especially when you know there is a long, uphill hike ahead of you.

Tavoro Falls was made famous by its appearance in the 1991 movie Return To The Blue Lagoon. Can’t say I ever remember watching that one but the falls do sound beautiful and we are always up for a little hiking so it seemed perfect. When we arrive at the park Sanaila, the chief’s second to youngest child, greets us. Sanaila was instructed by his father to be our guide for the day. As he said, “I know my place and obey my father”. He’s a good son!

I am a bit on edge about this hike because I know it will be a long and difficult one up the mountain. It’s hot and humid here in the rainforest so my concern is my asthma. I am carrying both of my inhalers, my Epipen and I even took a steroid before leaving Dazzler. Of course the locals have assured me it isn’t too steep or strenuous. In fact the lady at the place where we paid our entrance fee of $9 Fijian per person said the only really steep part is a relatively short hike from waterfall one to waterfall two. I’m thinking it’s just one small section so even I should be able to handle that.

Having paid our fees we are soon on our way. I am pleasantly surprised with the beginning of the hike. It is a wide, grassy path through a beautiful green valley filled with tropical plants and flowers. Along the right side is a fresh water river that is fed by the three waterfalls we are headed to see. There is even a narrow concrete sidewalk for part of the way. Yes, this is my kind of hiking! No problem here….let’s rock this thing!

It’s just a short 10 or 15 minute hike to the first waterfall (seen in the movie) which is absolutely amazing! It is 24 meters high and falls into a beautiful clear pool over black sand. This is the first island in Fiji where we’ve encountered black sand. It’s actually very pretty. This spot is so beautiful I could stay here all day. In fact, I probably should stay here to wait for the rest of our party but Dan won’t have it so off we go on an adventure through the jungle.

Sanaila, Lutz and Gabi take the lead knowing that I will be much slower. Dan, always the gentleman, stays behind me to make sure I am okay. Just after we cross the tiny bridge at the first waterfall the path starts going up! When I say up, I mean it goes almost straight up. There’s even a sign…”Steep climb. Take Your Time Ascending The Hill” that warns of the treacherous trail to come. This should have been my first clue that I truly should have stayed back at the first waterfall and waited on everyone else. After all, it is a magical place and I could have relaxed on the rocks and gone swimming in the beautiful water but no, Dan insists that I make this trek with him.

What about this sign made me think it was going to be an easy hike?

There are steps cut into the side of the mountain that help but there is no doubt in my mind this will be one seriously long hike for someone with asthma. At first I am all about it and determined to meet the challenge but about halfway up I am ready to turn back. Dan still won’t hear of it so like cattle being gently prodded I slowly take one step at a time stopping often to catch my breath or drink a bit of water. It’s hot and very steamy in the jungle here but Dan is ever so patient with the time it takes me to make my way up this steep path.

We finally round one corner and see a clearing at a shelf on the mountain. Just twenty or thirty steps away we see Sanaila, Lutz and Gabi enjoying a bit of shade under a beautiful shelter lined with wooden benches. The view from here is spectacular as we look over the lush, green jungle and out to the ice blue ocean. They have stopped to wait for us and, of course, take in the view.

Jungle Jilly…CHAMPION!

I feel like a champion as I reach the shelter. After all, I’ve been told I have already conquered the steepest part of the trail. I hold my arms up in victory as we approach our friends. Then I collapse on a bench, gather my breath, suck on my inhaler and try to recoup from this exhausting experience knowing all the while there is a lot more ground to cover as we have yet to even reach the second waterfall. 

Everyone is so kind to me. Gabi keeps telling me she is so proud that I made it. Me? I am just glad the sun isn’t out today and that I am still alive! Silently I am praying I will make it to the next waterfall and hoping I can talk Dan into letting me wait there as they continue toward the summit and waterfall number three. The third one is supposed to be the most beautiful of them all so I’m not holding my breath. Of course I’m having a hard time even catching it anyway.

Here Dan is surely saying, “Just keep walking and stop whining!”

After a short break at the shelter we head out again. I have been assured the walk to the next waterfall isn’t as bad so I am in high spirits. Of course that lasts about five minutes. All of the sudden we are doing all of this up and down, switchback hiking. All I keep thinking is that for every step I take down there will be a step up going back. Again, I try to be a trooper but by this time…over an hour into this hike I am starting to lose faith in my ability to continue on. Several times I literally beg Dan to let me just stop and wait for everyone. He refuses! He says either we go together or not at all. It’s at this point I start to wonder if maybe he has a more sinister motive….you know, kill off the ol’ gal in a way that looks like an accident? “Gee, officer I don’t know. Guess it was just too strenuous for her. One second she was hiking and the next she just keeled over.”Hmmm…

Ordinarily I would kick his butt for taking a picture of my back side but this shows how steep this was.

Of course I’m pretty sure or at least I hope that isn’t the case so I start to focus on a book I read several years ago. It was written by Stephen Olsen and is called The Slight Edge. The whole premise of the book is that to effect any real change in your life you have to take tiny steps in the direction you want to go. For me, today, that means one small step up, down or sideways to reach this waterfall and so I just keep going. Of course that doesn’t happen without a lot of stress, complaining and moments when I think I will literally pass out from not being able to catch my breath; but Dan stays by my side encouraging me the entire way.

It seems like the endless hike from hell but soon we hear and then see the waterfall at the top of the mountain. We bypassed waterfall #2 to get to the top first and plan to hit the second one on the way back down. This one at the top of the mountain is stunningly spectacular and very much worth the pain to get here but there is one problem. To actually reach the base of the falls I have to trek down a steep and muddy path that has a rope on one side to keep you from falling down. The moment I see this I plant my feet firmly in the mud and say, “No more!” I have done all I am willing to do and as enticing as that cool water looks I am not, under any circumstances, traversing this steep trail only to have to try to come up it again. Nope, no way I’m doing it and I don’t care what you say!” After all, sometimes a girl has to stand her ground and this is one of those times.

So, it is here that I encourage, whine, beg and even demand that Dan continue on and enjoy the pool. After all, he shouldn’t pay for my bad lungs by missing out on this experience. He’s already had to endure enough on the way up here. Of course he fights me tooth and nail saying that you never leave your partner behind but I can be pretty tough and I tell him he can see me from the pool so he needs to go. Eventually I win this battle. I watch as he carefully makes his way down the path and I stand aloft taking photos of the falls, our friends, and Dan.

As I watch them all enjoying themselves in the cool water I suddenly find myself inching my way further down the path. After all, I earned a moment of enjoyment in the clear, fresh water and honestly, after everything I endured to get here, how hard can it really be to get out? I have Dan and three other people, including a strapping young 21 year old who can help if needed so why not finish the mission? So yes, despite my determination to quit, I find myself moving toward the finish line. I slowly and cautiously make my way to the base of the falls. Once there I don’t waste a second as I strip down to my bathing suit and begin to work my way across the slippery rocks to the ice-cold water at the base of this most magnificent waterfall. I step in gently at first but then decide I just have to go for it and I push off from the shore and duck my head under the water. Ahhhhhhh! It feels so refreshing after the long, hot, sweaty hike a hundred miles up into the sky. Oh wait…it was more like a mile but it sure felt like I was climbing Mount Everest!

Dan smiles at me as he sees me in the water. I sense he’s a bit proud of me for going the full distance. In actuality, I’m grateful he pushed me to get here. It would have been something I’d have hated to miss. Of course he knew that the entire time which is why he kept pushing me.

We all enjoy a wonderful swim in this clear, cold water. Sanaila works his way up the waterfall on the steep rocks and before long he is perched there preparing to take a plunge into the pool below. We all watch from the pool and I know at least I am holding my breath and praying he doesn’t get hurt. Of course I’m certain this isn’t his first rodeo so I’m pretty confident it will turn out okay. After a few moments of preparation Sanaila jumps from the rocky cliff and splashes into the pool below. We all applaud as he comes popping up in the frothing, whitewater at the base of the falls.

We spend about forty-five minutes here at this enchanting spot before we decide it’s time to get back on the trail. While I’m feeling much better there is still the thought of the incredibly long and arduous hike out of this place but there’s no time to dwell on that. I just have to focus on one step at a time. And, of course everyone is telling me that it’s going to be much easier getting out so off we go.

Once again we send Sanaila, Lutz and Gabi ahead and Dan follows me up, over and around the slippery, muddy trail. About ten minutes into the return hike I misstep and go sliding through the muck. I’ve got one leg flying up and out to the right and the other to the left as I land on a log that crosses the trail. Fortunately I don’t go too deep into the muck so I’m only partially covered with this goopy, wet and very sticky mud. Even more fortunately I do not appear to be injured. Dan rushes to help me up because I’m spread out like a deer that’s been strung up for slaughter and if I move to either side I’m going to sink into the mud. Back on my feet I do a quick physical assessment and find I am indeed, uninjured. Thank you Lord! I can’t imagine how I would have gotten off this mountain with a broken ankle or something like that.

As you can imagine, It’s about now that I’m ready for this entire adventure to be over. I mean really, I’m a pretty adventurous gal and I love to hike but I’m feeling like I’m in a bit over my head. Of course Dan continues to prod me along and I do my best to keep moving forward with as little complaining as possible. (He’ll probably tell you a different story on that part though.)

Pretty soon we come to the fork in the trail that leads down to the second waterfall. We don’t see our compadres so we can only assume they are already down there. I take one look down the steep trail and decide I have definitely had enough. Nope, I’ll stay right here and this time I mean it! 

As Dan walks a short way down the path to see how steep it really is our friends come walking toward him. They have already visited the falls and are on their way out. YES! I have been saved from additional torture! There truly is a God! At this point we all continue heading down the mountain. The hike still has about forty minutes to go but knowing that it will soon be over keeps me moving. 

We do stop again at the shelter on the mountain shelf and take a breather. This time, however, we stop a little too long. The lactic acid in our muscles begins to build and by the time we start the very steep downward hike my thighs are trembling with each step. All I can think of is reaching the bottom and finally, after what seems like forever, we do! Can I get an Amen or more importantly, a beer?

The hike up to Tavolo Falls, while it tested my lungs and my will, is one of the highlights of this circumnavigation around Vanua Levu. Sanaila has been an incredible guide and we thoroughly enjoyed all of the knowledge he shared with us about his country, his village and his people. He is a wonderful new friend and we are grateful he took his time to accompany us on this journey.

This is just the first part of today’s adventure and while I’d love nothing more than to get back to Dazzler, shower and sit in the cockpit tipping a few cold ones to celebrate the fact that Dan’s prodding and pushing me up the mountain didn’t result in my demise, we have more plans for the day. There’s a tour of the village and lunch at the Chief’s home to look forward to so be sure to check back to find out what else happens to this motley crew of sailors. 

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

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All For The Money

After the rollercoaster ride here to Rabi (pronounced “Rom BEE”) Island we were delighted to find an absolutely stunning anchorage to call home for a couple of days. It’s surrounded by a reef and the water inside the reef is clear and a lovely shade of aqua. We were all delighted with our decision to come here. 

We were also exhausted from the trip so we decide to remain on our respective boats that night. Not long after we arrive the sun begins to set. The coconut trees are gently swaying in the breeze as the sun casts its golden light onto the shore. The deep gold color of the sand is a beautiful contrast to the bright blue sky, green palms and aqua blue waters. In this moment as we sit and enjoy a few sundowners we realize that all of the rough seas and bouncing about were definitely worth the effort. 

The following morning we awoke to a picture perfect day in paradise. The sun was shining brightly overhead and there was just enough wind to make sure it wasn’t too hot. Lutz & Gabi hopped in their dinghy and we in ours and we headed off to the village of Nuka just two miles away.

Here I should stop and give you a brief history lesson about this island as it’s very interesting even if it’s somewhat disheartening. You see, this island is not full of Fijians. No, its main inhabitants are Banabans. Who are they you ask? Well, Banaba also known as Ocean Island is a Pacific island located near the equator and is part of the Republic of Kiribati. In the mid 1800s a Tongan army conquered Fijian rebels on the island of Rambi. When they left the island a few years later they sold it to some Europeans to cover their many debts.

In 1900 a New Zealander by the name of Albert Ellis discovered phosphate on Banaba. These were considered the richest deposits of phosphate in the world at the time. Mr. Ellis worked for a London based company called Pacific Islands Phosphate Company. They ultimately exploited this newfound treasure as Ellis went around the island negotiating the purchase and lease of property for his company to use to mine the phosphate. Since the Banabans were simple-minded, highly trusting islanders the result was devastating to them. They ultimately sold a 999 year lease to PIPC for £50 per year. Yes, they were completely taken advantage of and ended up losing the rights to much of their island.

To add insult to injury during WWII the island was invaded and taken over by the Japanese. Once in control of the island the Japanese exiled the Banabans sending them to labor camps on islands such as Tarawa, Kosrae and Nauru. In these camps they were forced to do farm labor, growing crops to feed the Japanese forces in the Pacific theater.

At the conclusion of WWII the British came to these camps and “rescued” the Banabans sending them to the island of Rabi in Fiji, which is over 1300 miles from their homeland. This is the island we are now visiting. 

The British claimed they were helping these people because their homeland was devastated by the Japanese. In fact, the mining had done more to devastate it than the wartime occupation of their enemies. They told them Rabi in Fiji had nicer homes and was a better place to live as it was a “land of plenty” filled with cattle, pigs and fields of coconut trees etc… They talked up the beautiful island saying it had plenty of water and rich soil to grow things. In actuality, the British appear to have lied to them on several accounts. 

In their haste to take over Banaba and become wealthy from its phosphate deposits they simply dropped these people off with two months of provisions and food because remember, they claimed this to be a “land of plenty”. These people who had been in labor camps during the war were left in a fragile state with very little to keep them alive. The homes? They were hastily constructed military tents that provided little shelter from the much harsher elements in this region. 

And this was just the beginning of their disaster here as they were now in an entirely different climate…a much colder climate that is prone to harsh rains and cyclones. Their homeland is located near the equator so cold and cyclones were not something they were accustomed to experiencing. In addition to not having good shelter, they also had to deal with mosquitoes for the first time. Many fell ill with Dengue Fever and many more with Pneunomia. In relatively short order many of the young and elderly succumbed to illness and the elements.

There were other challenges to be faced as well. You see, the Banabans had never learned to hunt or to slaughter animals. They were fishermen so dealing with wild pigs and cattle, many of which were inflicted with TB, was entirely new to them. Not knowing how to properly slaughter and handle the meat from these animals created other illnesses among the people.

As if what the Brits did to them, all in the name of money, wasn’t enough, they also told them when they relocated them that they could return to their homeland in two years if they didn’t want to stay here in Fiji. They were assured that their return passage would be paid for at no cost to the Banabans. Once again, they were untruthful and never lived up to this promise forcing the people to accept living somewhere they never wanted to be in the first place.

These days, the island of Banaba is home to less than 500 Banabans. The many years of phosphate mining took its toll on the once tropical paradise. Out of 1500 acres of land only 150 remains habitable. When the mining companies finally left the island in 1980 they left behind all of their equipment and machinery, which now lies strewn about the island in heaps of rust.

The above are photos of Banaba Island before the mining and then after the island was ravaged by mining companies. These photos are share courtesy of: Ministry For Cultural Heritage. All rights to the photos belong to: Alexander Turnbull Library, Colville Collection  
Reference: PAColl-6044-15; PAColl-6044-01 
Photographs by Lilian Arundel

Today Rabi Island in Fiji is home to approximately 5000 Banabans. Most of these people long to travel to Banaba Island but sadly most will never have the chance to see the land of their ancestors. It’s said that the elders talk often of being buried on Banaba. They all have a very strong sense of attachment to the homeland that was stolen from them. 

The island itself is considered a closed island and permission to visit is to be sought from the Rabi Council of Leaders in Nuka. We didn’t know this when we arrived as it was not mentioned in the Fiji Tourism Guide we used to learn about it. All the guide told us is that it is an amazing place and one that every cruiser should visit.

This misinformation led to a mild confrontation when we went to shore in the main village. After walking through the village for about an hour we ran into two men. One was a Council Leader and the other an American doctor from California. I’m sure this will be hard to believe but the American doctor, Roger, was the one who was rather abrupt and rude to us, not the Banaban Council Leader. Roger asked us who exactly gave us permission to be on the island. We told him that we read about it in the guidebook and it said this was a place we should visit. He very cavalierly said, “Well, I guess we’ll give you permission then.”Honestly he was quite a pompass ass at first and while he did settle down a bit and talk to us about the island after that, we were all completely put off by him and disgusted by the fact that he thinks it’s his place to say anything at all. Yes, he does come to the island and help administer healthcare, which is admirable, but he is not a Banaban and has no right to say if we should or shouldn’t be on the island. If there was a problem then we would have expected the Council Leader to address it. He, on the other hand, was kind and welcoming and had nothing to say about the fact that this is a closed community that requires permission to visit it. In fact, he is the one who gave us all of the history of the island and their people. 

Despite Roger, we did have a wonderful visit to the village and are glad we made a point to stop there. After our visit we headed back to the boats, took a quick break and then headed to shore there to see if anyone was living there. We found a couple of huts that appeared to have someone living in them but we never found a single soul there.

One thing we noticed here is that the coconut palms all have one side that is orange in color. At first glance it appears they are painted but it turns out this is natural. It certainly explains some of the beautiful sunset photos you see of Fiji where the trunks of the trees have that orange glow. Here, the trees near the shore also had carvings on them. They looked as if they had names carved onto the trees. Since no one was around we’ll never know why.

Our trip ashore was nice and relaxing. Lutz even had us doing hermit crab races. You carve one small circle in the sand and then carve out a larger circle around that. Then you go in search of a hermit crab. When everyone had one you set them in the small circle and wait for them to start walking. The one that exits the larger circle first is the winner. Yes, four extremely mature adults were playing this silly game on the beach and having a ball. 

Later that day we decided we were hot and needed a swim. Since there was a beautiful reef here that protected the anchorage from the ocean we donned our snorkel gear and headed out. It’s a wonderful reef and has quite a bit of interesting living coral and marine life. 

That night after a full day of visiting, swimming and beach walking we had Lutz and Gabi over to Dazzler for dinner. Dan made his fabulously tasty stir fry chicken which was devoured by these four adventurous souls. After dinner I asked them if they would mind participating in a Dazzler tradition where we scatter some of my father’s ashes. This island is one that struck a chord with me and I felt it was a perfect place for this. They agreed and we scattered one more vial of Dad’s ashes in the lagoon and afterward I shared stories of my father, which kept them rather entertained.

The following day we left Albert Bay and headed around the corner, just ten or twelve miles away, to Catherine Bay. This is also part of Rabi Island. Once our anchors were secured in the very muddy bottom we headed to shore to explore. At least this time we are going with the blessing of one of the Council Leaders.

Grape Ape loves his Uncle Lutz and Uncle Lutz loves him back!

This village is pretty small. There were probably only about twenty houses on it and it was rather stretched out. As we approached the shore we could hear singing coming from the church. It’s Sunday so we knew the majority of the people would be in this very large Methodist church up on the hill. The singing was beautiful even if we didn’t understand the words.

First we walked to the north end of the village where we encountered some young men sitting in the middle of the dirt road drinking the local coconut toddy. We hear it’s a pretty stiff drink and have been warned to drink it with caution.We chose to forgo the offer to taste it. The young men appeared to have been drinking this most of the day. You see here on Rabi alcohol is prohibited so the only intoxicants found here are Kava and this coconut drink that has been fermented. Apparently these two items are okay as they are made on the island.

Anyway, these young men were obviously intoxicated and acting a bit unruly. While they asked questions of us and answered some of ours we sensed that when they were talking amongst themselves in Fijian they were talking about us and making fun of us. Of course, we can’t be sure, it was just a feeling we all had. And let’s be honest, we are all far too old to care!

After our encounter with the young men we headed back to the south end of the village where the church was up on the hill. There were lots of people milling about outside and kids were everywhere. We walked up the steep road and were greeted by a throng of children all calling out Bula as we walked up to listen to the pastor banging on the large wooden drum. This drum is used to signal the village that church is about to begin.

The pastor was a lovely young man who offered to take us into the church. Of course he had to seek permission from the village elder first. We’d have like to have visited with him but it seemed he was just content with watching us from afar.

The church is very large and has been around since the early 1900s. It’s the largest church on Rabi Island. Inside the pastor told us all about the church, their ministry, how they were affected by Tropical Storm Winston in 2016 and more. We spent a half hour or so talking with him before we decided we’d taken enough of his valuable time. After all, in just another hour he had his third service of the day.

We continued to walk to the very end of the southern part of the village before making our way back to Sparkle and heading out to our boats for the evening. Yes, our visit here to Rabi Island was one we will always remember. The people were lovely and learning about the history of the Banaban people was very educational even if a bit sad. It truly is a shame what people and governments will do in their search for wealth. 

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

For more information on the history as well as the current situation of the Banaban people you can visit the following sites. Some of the information contained in this article came from these sites.