[100826; 2319 UTC, Dere Bay, Koro Island, Fiji; 17°16.47'S / 179°21.54'E]
We arrived at the village of Daliconi (nd dahl ee thoni), Vanua Balavu, Lau group on August 6, three weeks to the day after we left Savusavu to travel there. Accelerated trade winds blew night and day for most of this period, forcing us to wait at anchor for a week at Lesiaceva Point (a.k.a. Cousteau anchorage) and then an additional two weeks at Fawn Harbor. Even then, we had to motor into light SE trades for 30 hours before finally dropping our hook at Daliconi.
The reason we chose this village to visit as our first on Vanua Balavu is that their vanua (or lands) include the unusual and gorgeous Bay of Islands cruising ground. Qilaqila (ng illa ng illa) as it is known locally, is tucked in the far northwestern corner of island north of the village and inside the atoll named The Exploring Islands by the schooner Alacrity that charted it during the years of 1878-80. It would be only through the benevolence of the chief, mayor and elders of Daliconi that we would be able to visit Qilaqila. But first we would have to perform the necessary sevusevu and present, not only kava root, but donations of building materials, food, school supplies, etc.
We were the sixth boat anchored in the large west-facing bay and the villagers were thrilled to have visitors to their isolated and incomparable corner of Fiji. As such everyone we met welcomed us warmly. The people here are anxious to bring in visiting yachts because, in their experience, yachts bring with them donations of time, fix-it skills, and materials. Copra production, which produces cash, has declined due to cyclone damage to plantations, low demand and low prices. Such visits have, however, historically been prevented by the capricious Lau Provincial Council which STILL seems intent on limiting yacht visits by recently demanding over $600 FJD for the privilege of possessing the special Lau cruising permit which is necessary before Fiji Customs will issue an internal clearance for travel to these islands. Our own permit was facilitated by an elder of Daliconi village who, while visiting Suva, personally expedited permit applications at a cost of only $50 FJD. Joeli, this elder, visited Carina in his punt soon after we had anchored, and greeted us with a typical Fijian smile and a bellowing "bula".
We were also pleased to meet again, friends on Lightheart, Kind of Blue and Taremaro, and to make new friends with the crews of Sagittarius and Kira. We had carried from Savusavu a large box of medical supplies, which had been purchased by s/v Kira, to be donated as additions to the first aid kit for the local village primary school. Aboard Carina we had more donations, including 24 glass louvers for windows and paint brushes designated for the village's cyclone-damaged community house, plus school supplies, story books, a dictionary, tea, sugar, breakfast crackers, a frisbee and 2' long bars of soap in electric colors. Kind of Blue and Taremaro, both Dutch boats, had arrived the previous day, so we were invited to join them to present sevusevu in the village.
Still a bit bleary eyed, we traveled by dinghy up a narrow channel studded with vibrant, colorful coral to the beach, donned pareos, took off our hats and sunglasses, and ambled through the village accompanied by village elders Israeli and Joseses. Upon reaching a modest rambling wood home in the village center, we removed our footwear and were invited to sit, cross legged, on a woven pandanus mat that covered the entire floor. The only furniture inside this room was a table with an am-fm radio, photos and a kerosene lamp. Also in the room was pretty Lagi (Lang ghee), a representative of the village's tourist committee, whose lovely children kept wandering in and climbing onto her lap to view, with wide eyes, the vulagi visitors.
Dick, of s/v Kind of Blue, acted as our spokesperson, taking our bundle of newspaper-wrapped kava roots and combining it with their own and that from Taremaro, and while handing it to Israeli, described our intentions and our pleasure of visiting. Israeli, a fit, handsome man at 78 years old with receding grey hair, asked us a bit about where we were from and then chanted what sounded like a prayer in Fijian with numerous references to our homelands in English. After he was finished, we were told we were free to wander the village, use the beach, take photos, visit the school, etc. We were welcome everywhere. Sitting on pandanus mats, our butts soon were numb and the bones in our bare feet ached, but Israeli continued to entertain us with stories of village life while we waited for a signal that a planned reception was ready.
The village of Daliconi, though modest, sits on a broad bay looking west over the reef towards the island of Kanathea and, to the south, is Mago Island (reputed to be owned by Mel Gibson). A narrow white sand beach widens at low tide to reveal a broad bank of healthy coral that stretches 50 yards or more into the sea. Most of the homes sit together in this lowland behind the beach, but a few are scattered up and over the rise where a rough road begins. Many homes still show damage from cyclone Tomas, the worst storm to hit the island in over 60 years. Israeli's home was one of the larger homes in the village and constructed of concrete with a concrete foundation; it was one of the few with glass windows. Most homes were built on wooden platforms held about 2 feet off the ground by dozens of short stumps. Inside the main room of Israeli's home, the walls were covered with photos of Israeli's family, both contemporary and historic. Like almost every family in the village, Israeli has ties to the first world. In his particular case, he and his wife Eleanora, both from Vanua Balavu, lived and worked in Suva for 40 years. All of his children live in urban Fiji or abroad. Though tied to the first world, the villages of Vanua Balavu are conservative and traditional village hierarchies and practices dominate.
The Lau islands of Fiji, including these northern islands, have an interesting history. Lomaloma, the principal village of Vanua Balavu, was Fiji's first port and was once a small city with hotels, restaurants and even a botanical garden. During World War II, large US warships anchored in the narrow waters off the town. Today, it is little more than a quiet seaside village with two tiny grocery stores, a post office, a secondary school and a rudimentary public hospital. Lomaloma's "suburb" of Sawana was the site where Tongan Christians, led by Ma'afu, arrived to subdue Fijian heathens after the murder of a missionary. After this, the Lau became and remained a province of Tonga and the Roko Tui Lau (King of the Lau) was the ruler of Fiji. Tonga ceded the Lau to Fiji when Fiji became part of the UK but the Tongan architecture, art and language are still represented in the Lau. The people of the province are a mixture of ethnic Fijian and Tongan peoples, with only a smattering of Indo-Fijians working mostly on island plantations. Tongan is spoken in the far south of the archipelago. Also, the chief or king of the Lau is now called the Tui Layau and is located in Lakeba (lah KEM bah), the present day administrative capital of the Lau, far to the south. Even today, leaders of Fiji often come from the Lau.
Life IS grand here, homes are small and simple, they have fresh clean well water on tap, the fishing is good (whales, turtles, lobster, and pelagic fish inhabit the lagoon) and the village lands produce staple crops of taro, kumala (sweet potatoes), cassava, pineapple, and coconuts, though cyclone Tomas destroyed fragile crops such as papaya, stripped bare breadfruit and mango trees and shredded coconut palms. The village is quiet and safe; diesel-generated electrical power is limited to a couple of hours each evening. (A real plus is that there are no TVs in the village.) The most significant challenge for the village is to develop new opportunities to earn cash to purchase the things they cannot grow - from fabric to flour to books for their children. Prior to cyclone Tomas the villagers were learning and implementing methods to produce a type of virgin coconut oil for market. They now have the skills to make the oil but the coconut trees will need approximately five years before producing coconuts again.
The children of Daliconi are bright, healthy and extremely curious about outsiders and a small group of them followed us whenever we were in the village. Children were apt to shimmy up to you and quietly take your hand and when you looked down at them, they'd smile a bright wide smile that melted your heart.
We spent three interesting days visiting Daliconi, which included numerous visits to the primary school, ably managed by teachers Polini and Levi. The school consists of four tiny buildings, built on wooden stumps, set on the far end of a rugby playing field. Two of the buildings house classrooms and a small library (impressive in its collection of books), while the other two buildings were housing for the teachers. Thirty two children are educated in four rooms, inclusive of grades 1-8. There is little that is modern here, no audio-visual aids, no computers, not even electric lights, but the rooms are filled with creative stimulating visuals, including dozens of rhyming chants for learning languages (English and the Bauan dialect of Fijian), math, biology, reading, etc. Many posters warn of the hazards of substance abuse. Polini and Levi seemingly love to teach and even took a couple of hours of their Saturday to give us (primary school level) lessons in Fijian.
While there, we also traveled across the island to visit Lomaloma and Sawana. One hot day we started out to hike there but had to abandon the trek just beyond the village of Malaka when we realized it would be 2 more hours of walking before getting to the village. (Much of the island's jungles around the villages has been clear cut making the hike especially warm due to lack of shade.) Instead, we decided to make the trip 2 days later on the next run of a truck transport. The truck transport costs $2.50 FJD ($1.25 USD) each way and travels the full length of the island three times a week, carrying passengers - young and old - and freight: pandanus leaves for weaving, fuel jerry cans, groceries, building supplies, etc. We were accompanied on our trip by Israeli who, unbeknownst to us had called ahead to John, an elder of Sawana. John met our truck and gave us a tour of Sawana, its meeting house and the chief's residence, all the while explaining its history. This was a surprise and we were a bit chagrined that we had no gifts to thank John for his warm hospitality. John also commented that the village was keen to attract more yacht visitors and he asked for an email address where he might be able to write us for more ideas.
Hoisting anchor once more on our fourth day at Vanua Balavu, we reluctantly departed the village of Daliconi for Qilaqila, where we tucked into a snug, private 250' wide cove with turquoise water set between two cave-studded limestone cliffs. Strong trade winds formed a wind eddy there and the harder the winds blew in the channel nearby, the closer Carina backed up into the cliff, settling in 15-30 feet of water almost within spitting distance of the rock.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake