Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Presenting sevusevu

There is a curious requirement in certain islands and villages in Fiji. Visiting yachts must 'present sevusevu'.

This is a ritual in which one essentially makes a gift to the local chief and asks his permission to utilize his anchorage, bay, island, or village. We just went through this process on Yadua Island, just off the west coast of Vanua Levu, the northern of the two main islands of Fiji. 

We anchored in a bay on the west side of Yadua (pronounced Yandua). Pretty soon a boat loaded with people on a fishing trip arrived and came aboard. Very friendly. We showed them over the boat. George gave them some chocolate slices to eat. Nobody ate them. Then the senior man, fourth from left, said 'Grace' in Fijian, and then everybody got stuck in.

They then explained that 'sevusevu' was required. We needed to be taken by one of them to meet the chief in the village at the far side of the island. They nominated Labby, a thirteen-year-old girl, who would accompany us and arrange the formal introduction.


The options were a four hour trek overland or a two hour dinghy ride, in choppy conditions. We chose the dinghy.

Ratu Jone Cakau, chief of Yadua Island. See the bundles of kava roots we have given him. He and Labby's uncle Jerry went through a ritual involving speeches in Fijian, and clapping. At the end of it we were told we were welcome. We gave the chief and Jerry some reading glasses, which went over very well.


One of the fishing party.

Fishing party depart. French boat 'Ganesh' behind.

Sevusevu for Dummies.  A good overview.

Although our initial reaction was that it was all a bit weird to be required to hand over drugs as a price for anchoring, on reflection, we have come to see the process as having a real value. It formalizes the relationship between local inhabitants and visitors, and initiates a period of hospitality and cordial relations with the hosts. There is clarity about the roles, rights, and obligations of visitors.

When serious misunderstandings are apparent about these things, especially with migrants and host populations around the world, there might be something we could learn from the Fijians.

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