A Rare Cultural Adventure

16 January 2009 By David Jamieson

Interested in exploring unspoiled tropical islands with unchanged customs and traditions? May we suggest the Fijian Lau islands?

There is one snag, however – the islands are closed to visiting yachts without an invitation from the Ratu (chief) of each island. With no tourist activity in these islands, it’s not surprising that the group is known as the “exploring islands” and have only a handful of superyachts visit them each year.

The rare cultural adventure begins with the presentation of the yacht’s invitation to the house of the Ratu. Keep in mind that strict etiquette must be observed. Revealing clothing, such as swimwear, is considered impolite, as are hats and sunglasses. Wearing the Fijian sulu or skirt is acceptable for male and female visitors.

Collectively, all visitors to the islands must present a gift of a half kilo of the pepper plant root, from which kava, the social and ceremonial drink, is made. Now begins an ancient ritual known as Sevu Sevu. This usually takes place in the village longhouse, where the invited party sits on the floor opposite the Ratu and his elders.

The Ratu appoints a spokesman to speak for the visitors, although the entire proceedings are held in the Fijian language. The spokesman ceremoniously requests the Ratu to accept the gift of kava. The Ratu places his hands on the gift and thanks the visitors. All present clap three times. The yacht’s guests and crew are now officially the guests of the village.

The Ratu will then conduct a village tour; remember that removal of footwear before entering a house is culturally respectful. After that, guests and crew are free to explore the island for themselves. Anchor on its picturesque shores while guests dive and snorkel on the pristine coral reefs. Guests can fish, but bear in mind that fish are a vital food source of the islanders.

Sometimes the villagers will put on a lovo for visitors. This feast involves meat, fish and vegetables wrapped in banana tree leaves and cooked to delicious succulence in an earth oven covered with hot rocks. A meke may follow in which all the men, women and children take part in traditional dances while singing the harmonious and hauntingly beautiful songs of the islands.

The Lau Islands, carpeted by verdant tropical foliage, is made of limestone rather than the volcanic rock predominant on other Fijian islands. Dramatic mushroom-shaped islands rise 1,000 feet high, the limestone base carved away by the eroding sea.

Lying to the east of the main Fijian islands, the Lau group comprises some 50 islands, islets and atolls – of which about 30 are inhabited – that stretch north to south for about 250 miles. A minimum of two weeks is recommended for a one-way cruise through the group.

Superyachts may find Port Denarau a convenient place to first clear customs, immigration and quarantine formalities before heading to the Lau Islands. Based on the main Fijian island of Vita Levi, Port Denarau is the only marina with the draft to accommodate superyachts; it also has bunkering facilities and Fiji’s most complete range of marine engineering and electrical services. The complex is home to many retail and dining facilities with several international hotels within walking distance as well.

Port Denarau is 20 minutes' drive from Nadi airport, the only airport in Fiji to accommodate direct international flights from the United States, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand. For the owner and guests wishing to join their vessel already in situ in the Lau Islands, it's possible to fly from Nadi to landing strips on three islands in the group. Equipment, spare parts and provisions can be delivered from Port Denarau to these airstrips within 24 hours.

Captain David Jamieson works with Yacht Help Fiji. Invitations to visit islands in the Lau Islands can be sought through Yacht Help Fiji, along with advice on safe navigation, itinerary planning, cultural guidance and all superyacht services.; mobile: + (679) 992 0972; tel: + (679) 675 0911

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