CENTRAL to the inaugural Food Safari event held at Castaway Island Resort this week was the re-enactment of the vakatutucina or Fijian New Year, a tradition banished at the onset of Christianity because of the early missionaries linking the ceremony to pagan worship.
And instead of hiring a professional meke group, choreographer and iTaukei arts and culture advocate Manoa Rasigatale, challenged staff to rise to the occasion. Six weekends of practice and education on the deeper meaning of the Fijian New Year and the movements incorporated in meke resulted in an emotional and inspiring delivery by the employees.
"Almost all the staff members did not know the significance of the meke or what each movement meant," Mr Rasigatale said.
"Neither were they aware of why warriors were adorned differently depending on rank and position. In the past they simply performed meke because that was what they were taught. It was a ritual without depth or meaning.
"Because of the limited preparation time I had with them, I had to get the significance of the event (Fijian New Year) and the meke across. I knew that once they understood how deep and meaningful it was and developed pride in their culture, the rest was history."
The performance was lauded by guests as comparable to musical productions performed at the Sydney Opera House or in musical theatres worldwide.
"We need to instil pride in our people," Mr Rasigatale said.
"Fijians have a long and proud history of theatre. Everything we do is theatre — from kava ceremonies right through to our everyday activities with family and friends. All I did with the Castaway staff was refine what they already knew and presented it as a show."
Resort dining room staff member Livinai Tuwai, who led close to 100 fellow workers in performing the vakatutucina, described the process as an emotional experience.
"In the beginning when the idea was first floated, we thought it was going to be easy," he said.
"But after the first practice with Manoa, we realised that performing the meke was much more than just going through the motions. If you put in the effort and understand and believe what you are doing then the performance comes across and reaches the audience."
Resort manager Steven Andrews thanked the staff for their outstanding performance and hinted at more authentic iTaukei events for Christmas and the New Year on the island.