Gauguin or Michener
horizon lust inspired,
The South Pacific desired.
From early childhood on.
Fiji in the 70’s all alone in
A Personal journey of self
and world discovery.
From the big island of
Viti Levu, embarked
By native small boat, fifty
miles out to the Yasawa group.
Reaching tiny Yanggeta, with 300
souls living close to the bone,
No Running water, or electric spark
glowing. Bright stars shine at night
no city lights showing.
Unspoiled Melanesian Island people
Meagerly surviving only on the sea
and a thousand plus years of tradition.
I welcomed like a friend of long
standing, with smiling faces and
open sprits. Once eaters of other
humans beings, converted now to
Their Island beautiful beyond belief,
Azure pristine seas in every direction,
Coral reefs abounding with aquatic life.
Paradise found and deeply appreciated.
I swam and fished, played with the kids
and laid about in my hammock, enjoying
weeks of splendor alongside people
I came to revere, they generous and loving
at peace with themselves and nature,
Embracing a stranger like a family member.
My small transistor radio predicted a big
Storm brewing, of Hurricane proportions.
My thoughts turned to Tidal Waves
coming. The village and all those people
living a few feet above sea level.
I tried to express my concerns to
My host family and others, getting
but smiles and shrugs in return,
Spoken communication almost
Nonexistent, me no Fijian spoken,
Them, little English understood or said.
It started with rain and strong winds,
Worsening building by the minute.
The villagers’ merely tightening down the
Hatches of their stick and thatch houses.
Content it seemed to ride out the storm,
As I assumed they always did.
Shouldering my heavy backpack
I hugged my friends and headed
For high ground, the ridgebacks
Of low mountains, the backbones
Of the Island. Feeling guilty leaving
them to their fate from high water,
Perplexed, them ignoring my warnings.
In half an hour the winds strong enough
to take me off my feet, blowing even from
the other side of the Island.
On a ridge edge I hunkered down,
Pulling a rubber poncho over my head,
Laying in watershed running inches
Deep, cold rain cascading down the
slopes to the sea below.
The wind grew to astounding ferocity,
Later gusts reported approaching
180 miles per hour. Pushed me along
the ground closer to the cliffs edge
of a 90 foot plunge to the sea below.
Holding on in the mud with fingers
For three hours it raged, trees blowing
off the summit above, disappearing into
the clouds and stormy wet mist beyond.
A false calm came calling, unknown to me
the eye of the Hurricane hovering over the
Island, as I picked my drenched self up
and returned over blown down trees and
scattered debris to the Village of my hosts.
Most wooden structures were gone or caved in,
The few Island boats broken and thrown
up onto the Land. Remarkably many of the
Small one room “Bure” thatched huts still stood.
The high waves had not come as I feared.
Badly damaged, yet the village endured,
As did most of the people, some broken bones
But, thankfully, remarkable no worse.
Back with my host family, in their Bure,
new preparations ensued, the big winds I was
informed would now return from the opposite
direction, and would be even worse.
For another four hours the little grass and stick
House shook, nearly rising from the ground,
Held together only by hope and ropes laid
Onto roof beams held down by our bare hands
and some good workmanship two years prior.
Faith and old world knowledge a wonderful thing.
Three days past the storm and no one came to
check on the Island, alone the people worked to
save their planted gardens from the now salt water
contaminated ground, cleaned up debris and
set to mending their grass homes. The only fresh
Water well still unpolluted was very busily used.
With a stoic resolve, from these self-reliant people,
life seemed to go on, this not the first wind blown
disaster they had endured, hurricanes I learned
came every year, though this one, named “Bebe”
worst in the memories of the old men of the island.
On the fourth day a young boy came running,
Having spotted and hailed a Motor yacht,
which dropped anchor in the lagoon on the
opposite side of the Island.
I swam out to the boat and was welcomed
aboard by the Australian skipper and crew.
Shared a cold Coke, ham sandwich and tales
Of our respective adventures of surviving.
They agreed to carry me back to the Big Island.
A crewman returned me ashore in a dingy.
I crossed the island and retrieved my things,
Bidding and hugging my friends in farewell.
I asked permission to write a story about the
storm and the village, the elders' smiles agreed,
they had nothing to loose, seemed pleased.
One last time I traversed the island and stepped
Into the yachts small rowboat, my back to
the island. Hearing a commotions I turned
seeing many people gathering along the
shore line of the beach. I climbed out and
Went among them, hugging most in farewell,
some and me too with tears in our eyes,
Fondness, respect reflected, shared, received.
As the skiff rowed away halfway to the ship,
the Aussie mate made a motion with his eyes
and chin, back towards the beach.
Turning around in my seat I saw there
most of the island population, gathered,
Many held aloft small pieces of colored cloth,
Tiny flags of farewell waving in the breeze
They were singing, chanting a island song,
Slow, like a lament of sorts.
Overwhelmed, I stood and faced the shore,
opened wide my arms, as to embrace them all.
As tears of emotions unashamedly ran down my face.
Seeing the people on the beach, the Aussie crewman
intoned, “****** marvelous that. Good on 'ya mate.”
Yes, I remember Fiji and Bebe and most of all
I fondly remember my Island brothers and sisters.
Two years later I returned to that island, lovingly
received like a retuning son, feasted and drank
Kava with the Chief and Elders most of the night,
A pepper plant root concoction that intoxicates
And makes you sleep most all the next day.
My newspaper story picked up by other papers
Galvanizing an outpouring of thoughtful support,
A Sacramento Methodist Church collected clothes,
money and donations of pots and pans and Gas
lanterns along with fishing gear and other useful things.
All packed in and flown by a C-130 Hercules Cargo plane
out of McClellan Air Force Base, U.S.A and down to Fiji,
earmarked for the Island of Yanggeta and my friends.
On my return there was an abundance of cut off
Levies and Mickey Mouse T-Shirts, and both a
brand New Schoolhouse and Church built by
U.S. and New Zealand Peace Corps workers.
This island of old world people were some of the best
People I have ever known. I cherish their memory and
My time spent in their generous and convivial company.
Life is truly a teacher if we but seek out the lessons.
This memory may be too long for HP reading, was
writ mostly for me and my kids, a recall that needed
to be inscribed. Meeting people out in the world, on
common ground is a sure cure for ignorance and