A Multicultural Feast for the Eyes, Ears and Stomach
I woke up in the morning of Saturday, October 11, 2009, with a feeling of great delight and cheerfulness for it was the day we Fijians here in the Philippines were going to celebrate Fiji’s independence from Great Britain. The actual date of independence is October 10, but since it fell on Friday, a work day, we decided to have the celebration the following day.
Exactly 134 years earlier Fiji was ceded to Great Britain due to unpaid debts to some Americans. Fijians then were living under the traditional chief system and money was of no value. People were tricked into the barter system where land could be exchanged for an axe or a bottle of whiskey. Settlers from Europe, America and Asia combed the Fijian shores, and traces of their blood still linger in the Fijian population. At this time, a Fijian chief by the name of Seru Cakobau declared himself to be King of Fiji without consulting all the other chiefs. This was quite astonishing because chiefs were only respected in their own province or vanua (in Fijian terms).
If someone crossed boundaries, it meant war.
It was during this time that the house of Cakobau’s ally, an American, was razed to the ground. Cakobau was blamed for the fire and the looting that came with it. There was nothing he could do since he did not have money, and the only solution was to seek help from another country. Therefore, on October 10, 1874, Cakobau and the other chiefs of Fiji, with heavy and sorrowful hearts, signed the deed of secession to Great Britain.
With that deed, Fiji became a British Colony for the next 96 years. On October 10, 1970, another deed was signed, this time with celebrations and joy as Fiji became known to the world as the Republic of the Fiji Islands and severed its colonial ties with Great Britain.
Although we are living and working in the Philippines, we Fijian Columbans wanted to celebrate the anniversary of Fiji’s independence with a fiesta. We passed out invitations to the Columban community here as well as to other Fijians and Pacific Islanders. The venue of the fiesta was the Columban House of Studies. It was our turn to host the community night, and it was a good opportunity to show off the new basketball court with floodlights in which the entertainment was to be held.
The celebration began with Mass in English at 5 p.m. The liturgy was led by the Fijians with the help of “The Boys of 42” (the Columban seminarians from 42 Rosario Drive, Cubao, Quezon City, Philippines). The main celebrant was Columban Father Vincent Ratnam, a Fijian, and he reminded the congregation of the importance of joy in life. The Gospel that weekend was about a wedding feast, and Father Vincent connected it to the theme and celebration of the day.
After Mass, a traditional kava (a Fijian traditional drink) ceremony of welcome was conducted. This was done to formally accept and welcome visitors and to show that we, the hosts, had no feelings of resentment towards them and at the same time we were asking God to protect them during their stay.
The highlight of the evening was the entertainment. While Fijian Columbans took part in the dancing and clapping, others did the watching and laughing. For one hour everyone in their different colors danced to the Pacific beat until dinner was served. Dinner was cooked in a lovo, or earth oven, a traditional Fijian way of cooking in which the food is cooked by the steam of hot stones. Anything can be cooked in a lovo, and in this case it was chicken, pork, fish, potatoes, cassava and palusami (taro leaves in coconut milk). Our cook produced some Filipino dishes, and the Columban lay missionaries displayed their creativity with a touch of Indian cuisine. Thus everyone enjoyed a banquet fit for royalty.
Everyone dispersed after dinner, happy, excited and fulfilled after a complete and lovely evening enjoyed by all. The Fijians continued their celebration with more kava and singing late into the night which brought back memories of home. It was a night to remember; I felt proud to be a Fijian.
After studying in Quezon City, the Philippines, Columban seminarian Etuate Tubuka returned to Fiji to complete his education.