South Pacific is one of my favorite classical musicals. Apart from its ear catching soundtrack it evokes many great associations of the distant land the South Pacific really is. Tranquility, bounty, warmth, mesmerizing sounds. Studying the map of this region I always marvel at the number of little island states scattered thousands of kilometers apart. The 2011 Pacific Games (the local equivalent of Olympic Games) taking place right now in New Caledonia, south-west of Fiji, are a great opportunity for us to see the cultural diversity of this region. Tonga, Vanuatu, Tahiti, Palau, Kiribati, Niue, Fiji and still other nations with populations sometimes smaller than the south-east part of our home town, Wroclaw. Those colorful flags, pompous national anthems, diverse languages and different physique of the athletes.
The first white discoverers of this region in XVI were surprised to find the small islands so densly populated. They wondered how those people, with their limited sailing technology, could populate such distant places. Melanesia (generally, west of Polynesia), which Fiji is part of, seemed to the first European explorers also quite barbaric. It was not until middle of XIX that the new Fijian High Chief, Ratu Thakobau, banished some brutal local traditions such as cannibalism or ritual murders, and accepted the God of the white people. Before that time a popular ritual greeting from a commoner to a chief was “Eat me”!
Today the Pacific region is a popular, though expensive, tourist destination. The weather here, even in winter, is spectacular. The hurricanes are not so common as they are in North or Central America. The local bounty has attracted some other industries as well such as sugar production (sugar cane), coconut, timber. Over a century ago a big migration of people from India helped to address the local labor shortage in Fiji. At some point around half of Fijian population was of Indian descent. Up to this day, being more entreprenurial than the indigineous Fijians, they control most of the local businesses. what
Though tranquil and very welcoming the local culture is full of extremes. The number one sport in Fiji is rugby, which fits the local warrior traditions. A still widely practised tradition here is firewalking or deferring to a local chief for guidance. Lastly, this seemingly peacful place, since gaining independece in 1970, has witnessed a few military coups. Though still governed by the military they proudly feature Queen Elizabeth II on all Fijian dollar notes. I wonder what the Queen says to that?
The Rugby World Cup is starting in a few days in New Zealand. I am looking forward to experiencing here the passionate support of the Fiji national team. Four years ago the Flying Fijians almost won against the final cup winners, South Africa. Not bad for a country with less than 1 m people!