Na iLululu – a review

THE iTaukei drama Na iLululu (literal translation — The Handshake) depicts the life of an average iTaukei family trying to make ends meet on the income of a police officer with three young adults and an industrious mother who bakes and sells pies and grog to supplement the family income.

The drama consists of two acts with five scenes in each act. It takes the audience from Suva to the make-believe village of Navatudamu located in Navakasiroya in the northern part of the country.

The opening act is set in the family living room in Suva where Kalesi and Saverio are discussing plans to take their three children to her village for the first time in the practice of kau ni matanigone. Kalesi’s views on the significance of the occasion are quite clear.

She has raised Saverio’s two sons and a daughter and helped establish his family, so it was now time to reciprocate and strengthen relationships with her side of the family through the practice of kau ni matanigone.

The discussions quickly establish this is not going to be a cheap exercise, with a tabua or whale’s tooth now costing up to $1000 and the budget expected to increase quite significantly with the purchase of drums of kerosene and bales of material.

The three children will be draped in traditional masi as they participate in the ceremonial exchange, which is recognised as an added cost.

Saverio quickly reminds Kalesi that the money spent cannot compare with the value of what they are embarking on, as the strengthening of kinship relationships between the children and Kalesi’s people cannot be tagged with a price.

The couple openly discusses the assistance they expect from members of Saverio’s extended family overseas with an air of confidence about the extended family’s contribution to the occasion.

The remaining four scenes in the first act, focus on the family preparations for the visit and the three children who try to come to terms with the necessity of such an elaborate expensive ceremony.

Their reluctance to go and be part of the occasion gives rise to many discussions with their parents and their peers about the importance of maintaining traditional practices as a means of preserving one’s identity which is encompassed in connections to the vanua (land, people, custom).

Na iLululu touches on a myriad of issues faced by iTaukei families straddling two worlds in a humorous lighthearted manner with the cast performing their roles superbly under the guidance of director Larry Thomas.

The conflict faced by iTaukei Fijian youths growing up in the city and the traditional way of life is clearly reflected in the way the three children relate to their parents, friends and as siblings.

What is also clearly depicted is the influence of the internet, particularly the social media site, Facebook, on social relationships of young people growing up in urban centres.

Act Two opens in the village and one now gets a glimpse into the preparations taking place among Kalesi’s immediate family.

The women in the village including Kalesi’s mother, Bu Resina are putting the finishing touches to the mats and also discussing who the three children are expected to present their gifts to, in the ceremonial ilululu or handshake.

This is considered the most important aspect of the ceremony and is the culmination of months of preparation. The ilululu is carefully considered with children expected to present their gifts in order of importance to the highest-ranking family member.

Scene three opens to the much-anticipated day and the children come in to present their gifts to the extended family members but something goes terribly wrong. As the day comes to an end, it is clear that traditional protocol has been bypassed due to “outside” influences.

The implications as far as Kalesi is concerned are irreversible.

Na iLululu is a well-written simple stage production which covers extensive ground in two acts and 10 scenes.

The play highlights the shift taking place in the lives of iTaukei families the world over as they try to blend living in a Western society with all of its demands to maintain kinship ties and relationships through traditional practices such as kau ni matanigone.

The subtleties are clear for those who understand the dynamics of relationships within extended families and the audience is treated to an array of these subtleties interwoven into the more serious aspects of the drama.

The play, which opened this week at The Playhouse at Selbourne St in Suva is an initiative of the iTaukei Trust Fund Board with the support of the French Embassy and has been written by Larry Thomas and Dr Apolonia Tamata.

It is the second play in a trilogy that uses drama to promote language, culture and heritage with the first play Lakovi performed to sell out audiences in 2010.

Tickets are $10 and are on sale from the USP Book Centre, Veivueti House at Draiba and The Playhouse at Selbourne St with the shows expected to run until October 18th from 8pm.