Monday Sept 26
Last night we sampled the food at Kim’s White Gold Dragon Wine and Dine upstairs on the main road, and found ourselves the only guests there for dinner. We ordered the Kim’s special chow mein, fried rice and chili chicken, all of which was good (although too much for us). The décor inside was an intriguing blend of Chinese watercolours, pencil drawings of Fijians in traditional garb, an old 70s silver disco ball, a large red and gold chandelier, and wooden tables from the 40s – quite surreal.
Today dawned nice, with a high overcast cloud cover, just perfect weather for an extended town walk with Nox, the Homestay’s gardener. Nox has lived in Levuka his entire life (and has not gone anywhere other than the capital Suva) and knows everyone in this town. To begin, we walked with him to the Cession Stone, the area commemorating the cession of Fiji to Great Britain in 1874 and Fiji’s independence in 1970. According to John, the Fijians love Britain’s Royal Family, attributing all the good things that have happened in the country in the last hundred years to the Queen.
Nearby the cession stone are government buildings, formerly for receiving visitors to the island, now the residences of managers and other dignitaries of the Bumble Bee tuna packing company. From there, we walked back through town with a stop at the Queen’s Wharf, the current home of the former Queen of Prince Rupert, where Fiji’s first post office is still in business.
Strolling past the shops, we headed up past the convent primary school, one of the secondary schools (Fiji’s first school dating from the late 1890s, I think), the police station, the court house (both in small wooden buildings), the Town Hall, the Ovalau Social Club, and the burnt-out hulk of the Masonic Lodge.
Apparently, some of the locals considered the Masons to be evil and fulminations against them were preached in the pulpits of the local churches. One day in 2000, when visitors from another village were displeased with activities at the wharf and wanted to cause trouble, instead of burning down the wharf (which would have sent them to jail), they set fire to the Lodge, causing a great conflagration watched by hundreds, and were allowed to get away with it.
We continued up the hill, climbing a long string of stone steps up one of the peaks ringing the town, past several corrugated tin homes
and a pig sty to a flat cleared dirt area at the top, now used by school kids for rugby games, with a panoramic view of the islands beyond.
Coming down the other side we passed through the Methodist boarding school and teachers’ residences, by the hospital, a 49 bed structure near the shoreline, and St James Anglican Church,
on our way through the village of Levuka in which the grand chief of the area lives. Each of us were required to remove our hats and sunglasses in deference to the chief. Past this small village is another area of houses along the water, many owned by foreigners; this section of town reminds me of Birch Bay with its beach side summer homes.
The last house on the strip is owned by Sandy, a New Zealand ship’s captain, who is fixing up what was thought to be a tear-down. We had a look around at what he’s done and then headed back, stopping for a glass of juice with Mike, a former North Vancouver bus driver now living in Fiji with a young wife from the local village and three sons.
Our final stop on the tour was the World War One Monument with its plaque commemorating the Fijian dead.
See more pictures here.
Other bits and pieces we have discovered:
The inmates at the prison here are responsible for looking after the cemetery (the jail can hold up to 20 people) and, after a mourning period of 100 days, the mounds of local people are “cemented”; a blank white box of cement is put over the entire mound. The cement pagoda which we presumed to be disused is actually the site for large funeral pyres.
Village life is very strong and continues much the same way it has for hundreds of years. The social and political structure of village life is hierarchical: each village has a chief who runs the show and in turn reports to a higher chief. Villagers have hereditary rights to land, even if they move to the city. In general, villagers do not work at outside jobs; as in Samoa, they grow their own food and fish for their dinner.
If a married couple is unable to have children, family members with children will give the couple one of their own so that they will have someone to look after them when they’re old. This practice is very accepted. There are no “old folks homes” here.