28 March 2013

Labasa Town, Northern Division, Fiji

The incredibly efficient and fired up WWF South Pacific team in Fiji has given us a packed itinerary for our five weeks stay to document the entire length of the Great Sea Reefs of Fiji. Locally known as Cakaulevu, the Great Sea Reefs is the world’s third longest continuous barrier reef system. It runs for over 200km from the Northern Division’s north eastern tip of Udu point in Vanua Levu to Bua at the north west edge of Vanua Levu, across the Vatuira passage, veering off along the way to hug the coastlines of Ra and Ba provinces in Viti Levu and into the Yasawas of the Western Division. This amazing area in the South Pacific is barely known to the world. It is our job to showcase it and try to heighten the world’s awareness to this globally significant reef system and the people who call it home.

We started our first day in Labasa in pouring, pelting rain. The locals say this is not the usual weather for late March and recognise that the climate is indeed changing.  Nothing is predictable anymore.

First on the agenda for our first day’s shoot was to visit the Labasa Provincial Office together with WWF staff Akisi and Koli to officially present ourselves and our plans. Then it was off to the sugarcane fields.

Fijian sugarcane farmers maintain their fields.

Fijian sugarcane farmers maintain their fields.

Harvest starts in June so while the farmers wait for harvest time, they maintain the fields by cutting out the weeds and keeping their crops tidy and ready for manual cane cutting. The processed sugar coming from Vanua Levu is exported entirely to the UK and this industry is the biggest income earner for the people. Agriculture affects the sea’s water quality through run offs and as a consequence, degrade the complex marine ecosystems & marine life. It is highly important for the farmers to work hand in hand with conservation organisations like WWF to figure out how best to manage their industry to produce the best sustainable product, to have land and industry that can last many Fijian generations.

This Fijian sugar cane farmer is on his way to work on horseback in the rain.

This Fijian sugarcane farmer is on his way to work on horseback in the rain.

By late afternoon, we travelled from Labasa town to Naduri Village with Koli Musudroka (WWF Field Officer) with an official visit to the Tui Macuata, Fijian monarchy for the Province of Macuata, meeting the Paramount Chief Ratu Aisea Katonivere.

Tui Macuata. Paramount Chief Ratu Aisea Katonivere

Tui Macuata. Paramount Chief Ratu Aisea Katonivere

Here we experienced our first traditional sevusevu. When we arrived Naduri Village, Koli introduced us to the paramount chief and to his high officials as we offered our gifts of grog or kava and photographs.

The Freunds with Tui Macuata, Paramount Chief Ratu Aisea Katonivere. We were properly dressed and even Yogi was looking very formal with a newly bought sulu!

The Freunds with Tui Macuata, Paramount Chief Ratu Aisea Katonivere. We were properly dressed and even Yogi was looking very formal with a newly bought sulu!

The intention of our visit and our Great Sea Reefs mission were made clear by Koli and to explain our plans visually, Yogi & I gave a short slideshow presentation of our WWF Coral Triangle Photo expedition. This was the manner we wished to photograph the chief’s province and the waters surrounding it and we received the Tui Macuata’s words of wisdom and his wholehearted blessings. This was indeed the best way, a good start to our important mission.

The Tui Macuata called the three women who has just come out of the mangroves to pose with him.

The Tui Macuata called the three women who just come out of the mangroves to pose with him.

Earlier on, while we were waiting when our important meeting with the Tui Macuata was going to happen, we visited the local market with colourful fresh produce of vegetables, fruits and fish. But we spent the longest time in the dry goods section of the market selling kava roots, woven mats, and masi, the wonderful Fijian tapa cloth. I am forever enthralled with cloth and it is through handmade textile I experience the different cultures of a place.

Masi cloth with sperm whale tooth necklaces. A young man traditionally presents the father of the bride with a wale's tooth as  a gift: showing his status and financial stature.

High grade Masi cloth with ceremonial sperm whale tooth necklaces called Tabua. A young man traditionally presents the father of the bride with a whale’s tooth as a gift, showing his status and financial stature.

I asked the masi vendor Lupe a magic question, “Is there going to be a traditional wedding soon?” Lupe immediately exclaims: “Tonight!” “You come. My nephew is getting married!” And so to add to Koli’s busy schedule organising us two newcomers, we push a wedding on him. And everything fell into place – like it was meant to be.

Traditional Fijian wedding with Niumaia Ravasua & Nancy Maqosa as the newly weds

Traditional Fijian wedding with Niumaia Ravasua & Nancy Maqosa as the newly weds. What a beautiful celebration!

Niumaia and Nancy kneel with their pastor on woven mats as they receive the Traditional Fijian wedding rites.

Niumaia and Nancy kneel with their pastor on woven mats as they receive the traditional Fijian wedding rites.

So much food prepared for a traditional wedding feast, mainly cooked in an earth oven.

So much food prepared for the traditional wedding feast, mainly cooked in an earth oven.

Tradition transforms into the modern. As the food was getting prepared, the bride, groom and their entourage changed into their modern wedding outfits.

Tradition transforms into the modern. As the food was getting prepared, the bride, groom and their entourage changed into their modern wedding outfits.

I am a happy wedding crasher although I felt pretty under dressed in my cotton garb surrounded by shiny finery. Koli sits diagonally from me.

I am a happy wedding crasher although I felt pretty under dressed in my cotton garb surrounded by shiny colourful finery. Koli sits diagonally from me.

And so happens an incredible finale to a first day’s work photographing life in the South Pacific. We are truly blessed!