Manta & Masi Magic

Wed 3 Oct 2018 03:03

Manta and Masi Magic


That’s one of the advantages of having over 300 islands in Fiji – there’s so many wonderful places to go!  After our tour around the northern part of Fiji, we had some beautiful sailing down through the Koro Sea stopping in Koro and Gau.  Koro was “ground zero” for Cyclone Winstone and the effects are still prominent.  Large trees stripped of all branches now just standing like fields of telephone poles and coral that looks like it’s been mowed down.  Fijian’s are resilient though and with the kiwi Navy being the first on the scene a couple of days after Winstone, people here still hug you purely for your nationalityJ


No time to loiter however, we were on a mission southwards to catch up with friends Steve & Michelle on the big yellow cat “Citrus Tart” in Kadavu.   Michelle’s brother was visiting from NZ so we had a great team.  We would plan our activities from the bow of Citrus Tart each evening during happy hour/s – with Navara being the only other boat in the bay. 


Our main goal in the Astrolabe this year was to hunt down some manta rays.  Given our wonderful experiences with them here in the past – we knew exactly where to go and how to find them – and find them we did!


Manta’s are plankton eaters so we would anchor our dinghies and swim out to the drop offs where the current wraps around – bringing the nutrients.  Their food preferences can mean that the water is not as clear as we are used to in Fiji – especially when the coral is spawning as that puts a whole lot more goobies that manta’s like to eat into the water.  We found a bommie on the drop off that I could balance myself standing on the tips of my flippers – high enough to stick my head out of the water so I could see the tips of the manta “wings” cruising along the edge.  I give the call – camera’s ready – and get ready for the “drive by”! 


 There was a HUGE almost jet black – we figure solitary male – that was always swimming ahead of the main pack and he would just emerge out of the blue like some kind of weird alien.  They are honestly the strangest looking animal morphing their lobes into giant scoops to funnel in the microscopic food.




Like many animals, mantas have unique markings of black, grey and white.  Their eyes are on the outside of their lobes which they would swivel around to look at us – very strange to eyeball these guys as they are not insignificant in size with a wing span of several metres.



Something special this year that we hadn’t seen before was such large groups in one place at one time.  After the big daddy had gone through, the rest of the team would suddenly appear – usually in a long line or two abreast – sometime 6 or 8 in a single “drive by”.  We kept hanging around the drop offs and before long they would come back the other way.  Each day we would be in the water for up to 2 hours at a time – usually until you got cramp in your legs and your fingers had gone way past shriveled – it was truly a case of “manta magic”.



It was great also to share this experience with friends – and we were all as excited as each other by the amazing spectacle – we couldn’t stop smiling!



Well – good times can’t last forever, and we all needed to head for Suva as time was ticking on.  It seems that all Fijians in the outer islands on the eastern side of Fiji have families and contacts in Suva.  If children are to go to high school they need to come to the mainland, so many families relocate here for periods of time or send their children to live with family members.  A lovely friend of ours from Namuka-i-Lau – Sofaia – was doing exactly this – and we were invited to visit.  Sofaia and her 3 oldest children.



Namuka is one of the islands in the Southern Lau that make masi – Fijian tapa – and Sofaia is a true artist.  Her daughter in law had given us a pile of unpainted masi to take to Sofaia and she proceeded to paint it for us to take back to NZ.  She remembered that we like the finer work – just in black and white – so she set about her work.  Painting masi is done by making stencils – x-ray film is the preferred material these days as it’s nice and stiff with a clean edge. 


The ink is made from boiling and straining the bark of a particular tree and then this sticky goo is applied either with your fingers or a wad of thin masi.



 Every island has some common designs, plus some particular to various clans, so an expert can see by looking at a piece which island it came from and even what family.  Masi is still an integral part of traditional Fijian life used as dress for weddings, wall pieces / backdrop at birthdays and special occasions, laid over people and graves at funerals, and gifted between families as a sign of respect and belonging.  We are delighted with what Sofaia has painted for us.  She also made a banner binding our two families together – we are very humbled as they take this stuff very seriously.


Being back in Suva means we can also get our fill of the “Indian-ness” of Fiji.  There are no Indian people in the outer islands – it’s all very much traditional Fiji – but back here it’s a different story.  We particularly like the streets of Indian stores selling the most beautiful sari and bright OTT costume jewellery.  It must be a sight to see at a wedding or something where everyone is dressed up in this stuff.



We go all over Suva on their most excellent bus service.  Usually less than 1F$ for wherever you want to go - there’s no windows (natural air-con) and they come in two types :

  1. The reggae music bus – this is the Fijian bus driver  – music really loud – lots of references to god, Jesus and being saved - general bus smell of protex soap and hair gel.
  2. The Bollywood music bus – this is the Indian bus driver – music really loud – lots of coloured flashing lights and glitter – general bus smell of incense and karma love oil.

 We are certainly going to miss Fijians.  Even in Suva they are simply the friendliest people you will find anywhere.  Walking down the street, they just can’t help themselves - they smile and say good morning and sometimes offer you a cup of tea if they are already having one and you walk past their house.  In NZ, once you take out the phone zombies, if you say hello to people you don’t know in a too friendly fashion, people look at you as either an “over-friendly” old person or some kind of potential threat to the community (especially children).  Clearly, no-one has shared this frame of reference with your average Fijian – and we hope they never change.


So for now, we are still being invited to various people’s places (even the CEO if the Fijian Development Bank whose brother we have known in the Lau for over 6 years now), plus the ex-school teacher, plus a member of our host family in Suva to have a baby, plus her auntie, plus her neighbour ……….. you get the picture – we need to sail back to NZ for a rest and I don’t think we will ever want to eat cassava again for life!! 


So now the trip is coming to an end, here’s where we’ve been over the past 5 months – about 1,000 miles to Fiji – about 1,000 around Fijian waters – now we’re waiting for the weather to head back another 1,000 to NZ (and have a rest).


Looking forward to seeing you all soon.


Lots of loloma

Linda and Carl.














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