We left the cafe fortified and ready to bimble. The High Street was a real mix of posh sari shops, hideous shirts and every shaped torch known to man, all with a variety of Bollywood classics softly or blaring as a ‘welcome’. The townsfolk were every bit as friendly as in Savusavu.
The clock, watch and stereo shop, the butchers and Halford’s – Labasa style.
A high end fashion shop called Jack’s, St.Mary’s Junior School and a chap ‘phoning a friend’ for some engine maintenance advice.
Fijian, European and Asian dress
Indo-Fijians are Fijians whose ancestors came from India and various parts of South Asia and South-East Asia. They number 313,798 (37.6%) (2007 census) out of a total of 827,900 people living in Fiji. They are mostly descended from indentured labourers, girmitiyas or girmit, brought to the islands by Fiji's British colonial rulers between 1879 and 1916 to work on Fiji's sugar cane plantations. These were complemented by the later arrival of Gujarati and Punjabi immigrants who arrived as free settlers in contrast to their counterparts who were brought under the indentured labour system. They have adapted to the new environment with changes to their dress, language and culinary habits, although they have maintained their distinct culture and physical appearance. The Indo-Fijians have fought for equal rights, although with only limited success. Many have left Fiji in search of better living conditions and social justice and this exodus has gained pace with the series of coups starting in the late 1980’s.
Eighty seven voyages were made by forty ships that brought Indian Indentured Labourers to Fiji. Of these ships, twenty seven were sailing ships taking an average of seventy three days and thirteen were steam ships taking thirty days. On the fifteenth of May 1879, the first ship called the Leonidas carrying four hundred and sixty three pioneering sorts docked, the last called the Sutlej arrived on the eleventh of November 1916 carrying eight hundred and eighty eight. A total of 60,965 passengers left India but only 60,553 (including births at sea) arrived in Fiji. A total of 45,439 boarded ships in Calcutta and 15,114 in Madras. Average numbers compared to the 337 that went to St Kitts to the massive 453,063 that landed in Mauritius.
The six hundred yard walk stated in the guide book was clearly an understatement as it was that far to get to the edge of town. We turned left at the petrol station and the Stealthies headed out into the countryside asking anyone we saw for directions to the ‘head stone’.
Some rather posh Berger Houses and a more humble abode.
Monday is clearly wash day wherever you are in the world.
Two new chaps – the woodswallow and the red-vented bulbul of course mynah birds were everywhere.
After about a half a mile we were scooped up by a lady and followed her between some houses to the back garden, there she pointed to the first of the sacred stones, believed by the ancestors to have grown out of the ground. Our guide explained that her extended family had formed a village around these stones and had been here since 1984. The word ‘village’ should have rung alarm bells but we were none to the wise. A lady came over to welcome us and then got about her day.
The elders were sitting watching a younger man putting ‘eyebrows’ on the Kindergarten and a couple of little girls saw us and posed.
Our guide led us through the family graveyard, pointed to the vatu ni bokola - the flat ‘head chopping’ stone and then on to the brain serving stone that Bear clearly couldn’t get down to.
The reason for our visit. The bowl-like stone in which the brain was placed for the chief. It was at this point our guide gently told us that on entering a village we should present sevusevu. Oh dear. A certain certain amount of looking at feet and admitting we were caught short. Note to self – always carry a bundle of kava wherever we go, just in case we end up venturing into a village. We apologised profusely, shook hands and made our exit.
The children raced in for a pose, the cow opposite was completely unfazed.
And then there were four.
On our walk back to town we saw a ‘one careful owner’ to calm the nerves, made a quick stop in a tiny temple and admired the smart Labasa College before needing a long, cool drink in the highly recommended Chinese called the Oriental. Not an Indian restaurant to be found anywhere, would you believe.
After our hearty meal we bimbled around the market, huge compared to our one in Savusavu.
We crossed the Labasa River.
Over a pretty thread-bare bridge, parallel to the old rail bridge that took the sugar cane to port five kilometres away.
Then it was time to take on the bus station.
School children appeared by the hundred, the heavens opened and I took to studying feet of all things to pass the time.
This young trendy has allowed for ‘growing room’. Then a very loud bus coughed in front of the University.
Happy face waving off her family. A passenger fascinated by her neighbour and our last Berger House of the day before the rain was so hard we could see vey little. We chatted to one college lad who was on the bus at six thirty each school day and after his walk from the bus stop at the end of the day got home at six thirty. Supper, then economics and geography homework. Indeed a very long day. We pulled in to our bus station in heavy drizzle, just as we walked into the marina the heaviest of the days rain fell – nothing for it but to stop for a cool one.
ALL IN ALL QUITE A DAY OF AT-VENTURE
A FULL, INTERESTING AND VARIED DAY