Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Thoughts on the culture of Fiji

The Fijians that I spoke to seemed universally lovely people and very friendly.They always greet you with a loud 'Bula', which apparently translates as both 'hello' and 'alive'. It's certainly said in a way different from the western 'hello', being yelled and gesticulated. At first I thought that this was a sort of tourist shtick (and I'm sure to some extent it was) but it seemed to persist outside situations where the person had anything to gain out of you, and outside the main resort areas. I came to the conclusion that they were actually just really nice people. The only other comparable place I've been in this regard is India. The main difference is that Fijians seem far less inclined to try to rip you off, at least in taxi interactions (which, given the large information asymmetries inherent and unlikeliness of repeat interactions, seem to be a reasonable proxy).

On the other hand, there is a certain rawness to the Fijian culture. I don't know exactly what word I'm after here - something like 'primitive', but without the condescending connotations that has. 'Primeval' perhaps, but that's not quite right either. I was on a whitewater rafting trip inland, and there was a village there. We were going down the river, and heard a commotion ahead including some loud animal noises. As we got closer, I realised that the noise was coming from a group of small children, perhaps around age 5 or 6, holding large sticks and laughing while attempting to beat a stray dog to death. I yelled out at them angrily as we approached, and they stopped, unsure of how to respond to the adult authority figure yelling in a foreign language. This gave the wounded dog enough time to jump in the river and escape. 1km downstream, we came across other children from the same village, happily swimming up to our rafts and playing around with us when we got out of the water. The juxtaposition was quite jarring. Particularly so since I'm sure that if we'd come across the children in the former group on a different day, they would have been just as adorable, out in the water greeting us too.

Wikipedia tells me that warlord who united Fiji, Seru Epenisa Cakobau, renounced cannibalism in 1854 on his conversion to Christianity.

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