We went back to the resort and spent the next couple of days enjoying our vacation, except I couldn’t get the story of Tevita’s cousin George out of my head.
Looking back on it, I don’t know why the story struck me. Maybe it was just the juxtaposition of such a beautiful paradise and a horribly traumatic death. The vision of morbidity stuck out in stark relief against all the vivid sights, sounds, and smells of such a perfectly enchanting world. Even these incredibly happy souls who were always smiling and greeting you with a cheery “Bula!” were not immune to the long, stretching tentacles of death and sorrow.
I realize that the Fijians had a notorious history because they used to be cannibals. I didn’t expect a bunch of people who have a reputation for cooking strangers to be so friendly. I also understand that the act of cannibalism was reserved for bitter enemies and not just anybody and everybody they bumped into and didn’t know. At the time I didn’t really dwell on why Tevita’s story kept picking at my brain. It just did.
Our last night arrived and the Koro Sun Resort held a Meke for all the guests. A Meke is pretty much the exact same thing as a Luau. The Fijians have slightly different traditions, but overall, the two are very similar. For example, the Fijians are really big on a tradition of sharing a drink called Kava. It’s used as a sign of goodwill between people. Kava, from what I could gather, is a type of pepper or root. The ceremony entails mixing the Kava powder in a large bowl of water. Then, you clap your hands one time to accept the cup when offered, drain the cup, and then finish by clapping three times.
It tastes pretty grungy, kind of like a cup of dirty water. But the Kava has a weird effect of being tingly and causing your lips to go numb. I did some research into it when I got back from Fiji and as far as I could find, the effect is euphoric and does have a slight narcotic effect on the face, but it’s not a hallucinogenic. After some good food, tribal dancing, some drinking of beers and some Kava, Tevita cornered us and asked if we were still interested in going to Bat Island. I had actually forgotten about it, but Hans was really curious to go check it out. So I immediately concurred and then we convinced Kate and Trudy to go as well. No one else wanted to go so the five of us set off in the boat the resort used to take guests out SCUBA diving. It took us about twenty minutes to get to Bat Island. We pulled up to the beach and there were many other boats already there. The moon was full but the island was still dark and gloomy. Tevita produced a couple of flashlights and gave one to Hans. We followed Tevita through the jungle as he picked his way along a path that was barely discernable in the swaying flashlight beams. Another fifteen minutes of hiking and I could finally see flickering lights ahead in the jungle, and then the sounds of drumming and chanting. It was like something out of a movie. We emerged in a clearing surrounded by broken ruins scattered here and there. The ruins were worn and covered in creepers and vines and other various types of jungle foliage. There were sections of weathered and worn walls or structures that were now completely unrecognizable after untold years of neglect and decay. Torches blazed all around and in the middle of the clearing was one huge fire. About this large fire danced twenty or thirty Fijians. Off to the side were several drummers pounding out a hypnotic tribal rhythm. We approached the throng of dancers and several of the Fijians gathered around the outside greeted Tevita and all of us as if we were guests at a church service. We were instructed to take a seat and watch the dancing and drumming. This went on for another ten or fifteen minutes more and then, abruptly, everything just stopped. The crowd parted and the crone emerged. This was Lelia. She was, by far, the most ancient specimen of a human I’ve ever seen. She was frail and withered and hunched over. Her skin was wrinkly yet stretched taut over her bones. Eerily, she looked like a mummy with long, stringy white hair. She shuffled with the help of a knotted walking stick to the middle of the circle of people next to the fire. There was a pregnant pause and then, just as suddenly as the drummers ceased drumming, she erupted into a moaning chant. Strange words babbled from her mouth as she rocked and waved her hands in the air. Then began a call and response with her and the crowd. She crooned a raspy phrase and the natives chanted short calls in unison. After this, people tentatively began to get up and move toward the crone. Tevita explained that the people were going to receive the shaman’s blessing in order to be healed of whatever afflictions they had.
After the natives went up for the hands-on portion, people began to form a line for what I would call “virtual” healings. Everyone who hadn’t been up already rose and formed a line, including us. Tevita ushered us into the line and we weren’t really clear what exactly was going on. Tevita then explained that we were supposed to tell Lelia the name of a friend or loved one who we wished for her to heal. The problem was that I couldn’t think of anybody. In hindsight, I don’t know why I didn’t just ask Kate who she was going to say, but, at the time, I was just caught up in watching the whole procession and ceremony that before I knew it, I was stepping up to old Lelia. It was a weird moment. I expected it to be like greeting an old woman at church, but she radiated a vibrant energy for such an old person. She took both my hands in an amazingly strong grip and I looked into her old, gray eyes. They were powerful. I gazed transfixed by her deep wisdom for a moment and then I was leaning towards her ear like the others before me had done. I got my mouth close to her ear and before I even realized what I had done, I said “George”. I guess the name that had been rolling around in my head just rolled right out of my mouth. At the time I didn’t think it mattered at all. I actually chuckled to myself about it.
The ceremony ended and we filed back through the jungle and went back to the resort. I asked Kate later in out Bure who she had said and she told me a friend of hers who obviously hadn’t even crossed my mind. She asked me whom I had said and I suddenly felt embarrassed. But I told her and she laughed about it. Then she said, “Well, if she can heal a dead man, I’ll really be impressed”. We went to bed and I awoke a few minutes after midnight to the sounds of yelling coming from the village. Koro Sun Resort is only about a half mile from the closest village. When Kate and I first awoke we didn’t have a clue what was going on. I got out of bed and opened the door and that’s when I could discern that the commotion was coming from the direction of the village. I told her that it sounded as if there was something happening in the village and that I was going to get dressed and go see what was going on. She urged me not to leave her alone. I told her to come with me but she wasn’t too keen on that idea either. I told her I would just run down to the main office area and come right back after figuring out what was happening. She reluctantly agreed and locked the door behind me as I hurried down the path to the main lodge. I could still hear intermittent screams and voices shouting. Once I got to the main area I ran into Hans; Phil, the New Zealander; one of the Germans; and Dale, the Aussie SCUBA instructor. Dale was in the process of speaking to a group of terror stricken Fijians from the village. Hans explained that the Fijians were panicked because apparently, some creature had entered the village – probably a mongoose or wild pig running amok in the village. But I could tell it was more than an animal running through the village. These people were terrified. You could see it on their faces that they had seen something that had given them a real shock. I couldn’t understand what the Fijians we’re saying because they were speaking rapid fire Fijian. But I tell you, on several occasions I heard them say “George” and it sent a chill down my spine.
I didn’t go to the village but Dale retrieved his rifle and went down to the village with the Fijians. He returned shortly saying that whatever it was had been scared off into the jungle. He thought they were just a bunch of superstitious natives who had seen an animal and then fabricated a fanciful tale about seeing a ghost or monster of some type. I went back to the room and told Kate. She thought I was being ridiculous, but I was really shaken up myself. The coincidence was just too uncanny to fathom. I barely slept at all that night.
We left the next morning. Dale took us to the airport. But before we left I found Tevita and asked him what had happened in the village. The color drained from his face and was replaced by look of fright. He said, “I don’t know what it was. It was hideous and misshapen. But I swear that when it came into the light of the full moon, for a moment I thought it resembled my cousin George”.
That’s exactly how it happened, Mr. Brecklin. I don’t know if you can help with a rational explanation or not, but I anxiously await your thoughts on this matter and am curious to know just why you are so interested in it.