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Sloggs' Travel Blog A journal of my travels in 2008 & beyond...

Tribewanted's 2nd Birthday!

FIJI | Tuesday, 2 September 2008 | Views [2445]

The whole Tribewanted Team before the 2nd Anniversary Birthday Party!

The whole Tribewanted Team before the 2nd Anniversary Birthday Party!

What a day! Tuesday the 2nd of September 2008 was the 2nd birthday of Tribewanted on Vorovoro, and the preparations and subsequent celebrations were fitting to say the least! We also recieved a wonderful news from Tui Mali in what was his first English penned speech given on the island, but I'll leave that to Bengazi to reveal in detail...

For me personally the day itself and the preparation couldn't have been more surreal. I had been installed as chief on Monday the 1st of September! Having been part of the tribe for two months already had readied me in a sense, I knew what the island was all about and knew all the key members of the team already, but to take over and chair my first morning meeting with a large tribe, the day before the party, and to then take part in the chief handover in front of all of the guests for the party, was NOT your average day-in-the-life! I have been very lucky and highly privileged to be here as chief for this time, and I thank everyone that gave me the chance to have this opportunity.

A few days before the celebrations, team Fiji built some shelters around the rear of the Great Bure, where we would hold the ceremony, and on Monday the tribe helped cut and collect leaves to use as cover, flooring and decoration for the posts. The posts were all wrapped in coconut leaves, weaved around them and tied off at the foot, and then flowers and decorative leaves were attached. The shelter for Tui Mali was decorated with traditional Fiji cloth with shelves either side with huge shells and ornate pieces of drift wood from around the island and lots of colourful cloth was hung all around the shelters... it looked beautiful!

The morning began with a VERY excited Ben Keene running around the village waking everyone up personally at 6am. He slid running into the chiefs bure with music blaring out of the speakers in his hand and busted out some typical 'pointy-elbowed' Ben Keene moves whilst shouting happy birthday at the top of his voice! I was genuinely excited to be here for this time, for Ben and for everyone that has worked on the project, as the work they have done in taking Tribewanted this far is always so understated to the outside world. Ben and his team have worked immensely hard to make this work, and so they should be congratulated. Congratulations!! :)

I got myself up, and after a pretty hefty grog session the previous evening (my first as chief) had to blow a few cobwebs out of the head to get started. I had also woken with what felt like another ear infection starting (this was to be my third on the island!). The day ahead was huge though, and I wasn't going to let that detract any enjoyment from the celebrations. [The rest of my day was fueled by pain killers, antiinflammatories and grog! ;)]

By the time the tribe were up and about, team Fiji had a huge fire pit ablaze behind the kitchen area, filled with large rocks, heating up ready for the Lovo. In what often provides a contentious discussion, the killing and preparation of the pigs for the lovo, I found it to be very educative and interesting to observe. This is an age old tradition of cooking in an oven dug into the ground, with hot rocks put inside the pig to help cook evenly. The pigs were here for this purpose, after being given to the tribe by Tui Mali some time ago, and they were killed quickly and cleanly with the minimum of noise or fuss. The process of wrapping all of the fish, pig and veg is quite an artform, all neatly and tightly tied into palm leaf baskets for cooking in the lovo. This is all then piled into the 'oven' and covered with huge leaves and then soil and left to cook for a few hours.

The tribe split up into teams to help with the final preparations, helping descale the huge fish that Marau had caught the day before, grinding the coconuts to make the sauces and preparing the veg. All three kitchens on the island were in full flow, with team Fiji, their family members and the tribe all helping. The newly constructed table and original dining tables were decorated and laid and a final sweep up of the paths around the front of the village was done.

Once everyone had eaten a bit of breakfast and completed most tasks, we all gathered in the Great Bure for a quick meeting about the day and then had a sing-song with team Fiji, singing Isa Lei to say goodbye to the last year and happy birthday for the special day on the island. The boys got carried away and we had a few more songs and lots of dancing, whooping and laughing, it was a wonderful moment, as a tribe, before all the guests arrived.

Through the rest of the morning the tribe readied themselves washing in the sea, dressing up and helping to guide guests around the island and village as they arrived. [Hassan is a legendary Vorovoro tour guide!] We had a cameraman from Fiji 1 TV, local villages and organisation representatives and VIP guests all over the village. Just before twelve thirty, myself, Tevita, Ben, Jim and Dan walked down to the Fijian village to address Tui Mali and tell him that we were ready to recieve him. We presented him with some grog and a bula shirt to match those of team Fiji and the TW team members, these were brought from my budget as chief as a gift to the gang so that we can all look smart in the same colours when we attend events or host visitors.

Everyone in the village had readied themselves and Tui Mali and his guests were the last to be seated after approaching to the sound of the Lali drum being beaten to announce his arrival. There were five sat in the head position, Tui Mali, his wingman who is a chief from a neighbouring village on Mali, a pastor from Mali, the head master of the All Saints Secondary School, and the Mali Sharks rugby team captain. I sat as wingman to August chief Dan in a seperate shelter to the side, which was shared by Giles (project director until this day), Jim (the new project director), Ben Keene and Pupu. The rest of the tribe and some guests were sat opposite Tui Mali under a large shelter and more guests were seated off to one side under the trees. Team Fiji and Ben Katz were sat off to one side of the central mat, ready and dressed in the traditional costumes for the Kava ceremony, with Kimbo being back on the island for the anniversary in the full dress as server for the day (he did a superb job!).

The formal part of the day consisted of a speech from a Tribewanted village elder, Leavi, for Tui Mali and his wingman receiving the kava. Tevita, the Vorovoro community manager, then spoke for several minutes about the project and the island was utterly silent for this, he also presented a Tabua (whales tooth) to Tui Mali. I have no idea what exactly Te said, but everyone could feel the emotion and passion from the man, who is "a force of nature", to coin a Ben Keene phrase. The grog was then brought forward and mixed for Tui Mali and his guests to drink. After this came the chief handover, and the heart started racing a bit more! Dan went up to have the Salusalu* removed from around his neck by one of Tui Mali's guests and then sat to speak to the tribe (and guests) about his time as chief, and then it was my turn to approach Tui Mali... the etiquette is to clap three times for Tui Mali and then I went along to the guest and he shook my hand and offered some advice and asked me to carry on the good work of previous chiefs and continue to educate the world about the Fijian culture, he then put the Salusalu around my neck and I turned to address Tui Mali and the tribe. I thanked everyone involved in the project for allowing me this opportunity to be chief and expressed my desire to take the project forward as best I could into the third year, and thanked the previous two chiefs for their good example during my 2 month stay.

After the handover and formalities were finished, Giles gave a speech to Tui Mali and Team Fiji in Fijian, which was very moving for everyone, even though we only understood a few words. His demeanour and body language said it all. He then went on to tell us his thoughts in English and after working on Vorovoro for a long time and having close personal bonds with everyone on the island he will be leaving in a happy mindset thanks to the experience and lessons learnt here. Ben Keene spoke next and talked about the project from its beginning and how it has evolved and developed with the hard work and leadership of the team. He presented some gifts to Tui Mali, Giles (receiving on behalf of the island) and Tevita (on behalf of Fiji). Tui Mali then spoke of his pride and admiration for those who brought the project to life and worked hard to make it work, of his own personal pride in being involved in something so special and of the future for Vorovoro.

Next came our entertainment for the guests... the tribe left the mat and went to put on our grass decorations and paints ready to perform our meke. I led the tribe back to the mat and the men seated with their backs to the assembled crowd for the Vuki Malua. It was met with the usual joy and enthusiasm and we were 'hit' with the normal talc, sulu's, sweets and kisses routine designed to put us off, always great fun! The girls of the tribe then joined us and we performed the six meke's individually and then a complete runthrough of one to six and then the girls performed their own meke for the crowd. Giles and Ben then stitched up a few members of Team Fiji after Kerekere-ing Tui Mali, and had them up to perform the girls meke, which was hilarious! Tale and Sosi are naturals... Fafaas, heheh.

We then went and enjoyed the wonderful Lovo feast and sat on the dining tables and beach to eat with our guests. The food was amazing, its incredible how they manage to make so much and such good stuff with such limited resources.

After the Lovo we went back to the mats, which were now out from under the shelters after the midday sun had passed, and got stuck into some grog. I asked Will, one of the new tribe members, to come up and sit with me on my mat near the top, partly for selfish reasons (company at the head of the mat!) but also to give one of the tribe a different view of the whole thing. It was nice to sit and get to know him and help fill in some blanks for him about the day and its formalities.

The ladies had baked a large birthday cake for Tribewanted, with the 'X' logo on the top and lots of icing, and so this was presented and then the candles (all two of them) were lit. Tui Mali offered the blowing out of the candles to me, but I suggested that we both did it, and so we both leaned in and blew them out together, which was quite a nice moment! During the late afternoon hours the guests began to leave a boat at a time, until it was dark and just the Tribewaned tribe remained. Most were tired, as the night before was quite full on and late, but I was determined to enjoy the full day to the max, as much for Ben as anyone else, it was his baby's second birthday after all!

Early evening Va brought out a second birthday cake, this time it was for Emma who turned twenty two today, what a birthday party she had! We sang the usual 'happy birthday' and 'happy longlife' songs for her and then I installed her as 'wing-chick' for the rest of the night... which was to be long! A core group of us carried on into the early hours, including Leavi, Pupu, Save and Sosi and we had a good singing session and lots of grog. [Emma got to the point of seeing things that weren't there, quite an amusing side effect of late nights and lots of grog! ;)]

We closed the day and said a final happy birthday to Ben as we all went off to a well earned sleep. It was going to be short as the next day we had a huge amount of people leaving early and Pupu's birthday to celebrate... making it a three day-long 'session'!

What a great honour, and great privilege it is to have been installed as chief for this time. It was a very special day, in the company of some very special people, and I will never ever forget it.

If you get the chance, be here for the third birthday, you won't regret it! ;)

Pics from the day are here!!!

Vinaka Vaka Levu for reading...
Tui Paula.

* The Salusalu is a colourful traditional Fijian woven piece worn around the neck of the chief for official formalities.

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