VISITORS to our shores have always been amazed with our different cultures as Pacific Islanders.
The uniqueness of our friendly islanders and their traditions set us apart and make Fiji a highly sought among visitor destinations. Yet many of us locals have not experienced our own diverse culture and tradition in which our foreign visitors have experienced in villagers.
With this in mind I travelled up to Dreke Village with fellow volunteers from Laje Rotuma Initiative, Rupeti (Fey) VafoÃ³u, Seline Faktaufon, our cameraman from the SSDNP, Sakiusa Bulivorovoro and Isaia Rasila, who has family conections in Dreke, looking for an adventure that was totally different from our everyday routine.
Dreke as I have been told means "where important things are kept".
Having a tanoa that can hold 140 litres of water is truly of massive importance in terms of size.
Located at the border line of three provinces, Ba, Navosa and Nadroga, the people of Dreke are closely linked to Nadroga in terms of culture and dialect. Even though a border village, Dreke has always strongly supported the champion Nadroga rugby team, contributing in its many young men playing and working for the Nadroga Rugby Union set-up.
Arriving at the village we, were directed to vakatawa (steward) Nemani's house as he was the brother-in-law of our colleague Isaia Rasila, and was to host us for the night. As usual village protocol of yaqona presentation and acceptance, the team of volunteers from the Sigatoka sand dunes were made welcome by the elders of Dreke to move around the village and of course partake in consuming yaqona with elders and guide Kalioni Ratu.
Dreke is where it is today because of a move by a man by the name of Setareki Vidiri from the koro makawa (old village) of Tore. Because of the outbreak of measles and frequent flooding of the area in 1921, Setareki moved his family to the present location where Dreke sits today.
Following Mr Vidiri's move, three brothers made their move also with the eldest settling in Dreke, whereas the other two went to Narata and Rararua.
The first tanoa made to commemorate its people's move from Tore in the 1920s was put into retirement when the massive tanoa was made from vesi wood. "Border tanoa" as it is called took three weeks to complete, starting from cutting the huge vesi tree to final touches of glacing and completion. Its name indicates the location of its people and the pride of having the biggest tanoa in the area, possibly the country. You need a stool to sit on to be able to serve the yaqona as reaching in to taki would be quite a challenge if one is sitting on the floor.
The smiles and laughter of its people was typical of the friendliness known to foreigners, of the Fijian hospitality. As we arrived into the village, one could not help but notice the village hall situated on high ground facing the access road into the village.
The were ni hoqo as it is called in the Nadroga dialect, sits high on a small ridge, fenced with a large billboard which reads, "Muju cola vina Welcome to Dreke Village" and "Tabbacco free community hall" within the fenced boundary. Next to the were ni hoqo is the local dispensary built through contributions by visitors from Rustic Pathways tour who frequently bring in tourists to the village.
Dreke was one of the first villages in the area to have smoke free zones within its boundaries.
The Qalitala River which flows beside Dreke provides sufficient water supply and food for villagers. The beautiful clean water which runs swiftly along tempts one to just jump in, to cool off from the hot and dusty journey from Sigatoka.
As we walked further along the river, there were spots where small pools of water were as wonderful to swim in as the first sight of the river.
We couldn't help ourselves but jump into the cool water to fresh and psych up for the yaqona session that was waiting for us at the vakatawa's house.
Truely beautiful was all we could say, as in a few minutes of being in the water, the cold had caught up, forcing us to return to the village.
With a change of clothes given to each one of us by the lay preacher's wife, dinner was next on our agenda. This consisted of cassava or tavioka and waci poki (taro leaves cooked in coconut cream). Cassava cooked in bamboo on an open fire amazed us all as there was no water involved in the cooking. Interesting enough, upon opening the cooked bamboo, the cubes of cassava chopped inside, looked very delicious. With the waci poki still cooking we helped ourselves to the cassava cooked in bamboo, tucking it into it with salt, chilli with lemon for that extra taste. Hungry and cold, the cassava tasted wonderful.
Fijian hospitality never seems to matter whether you're a local or a foreigner. The welcoming expression and the desire to give or serve never ceases to amaze me.
As we sat around the tanoa to wind down the day, stories of old were told by elders, funny experiences within the village created laughter. As usual the session started with a bang with noise of laughter in the air. As time passed quickly, everyone hardly spoke, just the sound of the bilo fetching up the concoction and being passed around.
The people of Dreke without hesitation welcomed us among them and treated us with sheer respect and hospitality, even though we were locals. The respect and friendliness of the people, is certainly the most important thing kept in Dreke.
* Rupeni Fonmanu is a ranger at the Sigatoka sand dunes.