I had to go back to Fiji, what I call the Motherland, why? Because Fiji is essentially the Garden of Eden and the perfect site to reconnect to the truth of nature. Spread out across hundreds of miles of ocean, Fiji is home to three hundred and thirty-three islands covered in rich, beautiful rainforest, pristine coral reefs, and some of the happiest people on Earth. It has become my second home. I first discovered Fiji through a Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship that allowed me to go to graduate school at the University of the South Pacific way back in 2005. I studied traditional environmental knowledge capturing the wisdom of women fishers and documenting their intimate relationship with the sea and her creatures.
To enter a village in Fiji one must partake in a sevusevu ceremony where yaqona, or kava, is presented. The ceremony calls upon the Vanua, the ancestors of your homeland and the ancestors of the village to allow your acceptance into the village and provide protection.
I went back to Fiji, escaping from the grind of the USA. I was seeking the deep connection Fijians share with their land and to explore the Fijian concept of Vanua. Unity is the fabric of Fijian culture, one’s identity is not the individual, but rather the collective, the “Vanua”: the land, the sea, the people, and all of its resources. My mission of reconnecting to Nature and investigating this concept of Vanua lead me to my first research site as a graduate student, the Village of Silana and the home of Makalati or ‘Moon” reef.
Makalati or Moon Reef. The ancient village of the Lau clan.
I moved in with familiar faces, my Mother, or “Na” in Fijian Ms.Tuli, and my father “Ta” Mr. Sailosi. I had my own little room in the house, a simple home made of corrugated steel, where I placed a sponge mattress down and hung a mosquito net. Na and Ta, of course, just slept Fijian style in the main room of the home on hand-woven mats. Sometimes they used a pillow, sometimes not.
My Mother and Father in Silana village.
My mission this time was to capture the unique spiritual relationship shared with a pod of spinner dolphins who reside at Makalati reef, a sacred site. It is the ancient underwater village of the Lau clan. Sailosi, my father, is a member of the Lau clan and he shared with me the story regarding the home of his ancestors. He explained that Makalati reef is an ancient submerged village where the ancestors of the Lau clan still reside. Shaped like a crescent moon, the reef is also home to a residential pod of about sixty spinner dolphins. The dolphins sleep and rest inside the reef during the day and exit each evening to hunt in the nearby waters. The dolphins are guardians of the reef. Sailosi told me that the ancient village remains there, in fact, he could point out where the center or village green was located, where the ancients used to play sports and games, and even where they threw their rubbish.
He recounted a day when divers went out to the reef and found pottery of the La Pita people, the ancient people of Fiji and Polynesia. These pottery pieces, which Sailosi witnessed with his own eyes, are now with the Museum of Fiji for research. Sailosi continued on with his story speaking of the deep connection that Fijians have with their ancestors and the natural world. He explained that when a member of the Lau clan dies the spirit of the member travels to Uda Kula (pronounced Unda kula) point, just outside of the village, where it will leap from the point and be met by the dolphins of Makalati reef. The spirit then rides the dolphins like a horse back to the reef returning to the ancient village to reside with the ancestors.
Many people, scholars, and scientists would classify such stories as myths or legends which in general are considered fictitious. In my younger days, having been educated in classical western universities, I would have agreed. However, life experience has taught me to be a critical thinker, open my mind, and embrace all information. Personal research into the underlying question of science: what is life and where does it come from, has taught me that the vast majority of the world in which we live is unknown. Further, studies in physics inform that most of our reality cannot be perceived through our five senses. We live in a world of continual energy and the space that surrounds us, which appears to be empty, is not. Rather it is a field of energy packed with information described by physics as dark energy, light energy, and the list goes on.
Relating physics to indigenous knowledge reveals a parallel existence. Indigenous cultures and ancient mystics have always been informed of unseen energy, the information in between the lines so to speak. One avenue of passing this information from generation to generation is through legends and the verbal resonance of the spoken word. So, I ask the question: what exactly is a legend? Legend simply means undocumented. Fiji like many indigenous cultures passes information through language, songs, and chants. The information is recorded and retold for centuries in this manner. In the west, we document through written language. Fijians simply remember. Thus Sailosi, in true indigenous fashion continued with his story and began to validate the legend of his ancestral home through recollection of a time from his past when he was a teenager.
Coral reef of Naigani island near Moon reef
Sailosi was in a boat with his father and a handful of other youths all from the Lau clan. They went out to sea to fish. Suddenly they had engine trouble and began drifting farther and farther away from their village Silana. After five hours they finally were able to get the engine to start again, but at this time darkness had set in. They were lost. It was before any electricity and they could not see anything to indicate the islands and their villages. Suddenly, they spotted a fire on the water, a huge fire, it was burning bright like a beacon. The fire was from their ancestors of the ancient submerged village signaling them. Immediately Sailosi’s father knew where Makalati reef was, where the narrow passage to enter the reef was located, and most importantly the way back to his village. I asked my Father, who like most Fijians is a Christian, if he truly believed his spirit would return to Makalati reef and his ancient village. He replied, “Yes, that is what our ancestors have told us.”
Rainbows from the beach and Na, Miss Tuli, fishing near Moon reef