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Many years ago I had a back-and-forth correspondence with Michael Shermer  about something that happened to Kirsten and me in Fiji. Here’s the story:

Mr. Shermer,

You asked me for more details on the thing that occurred while in Fiji. I’m not even sure that there would be any record of the incident, but maybe a local news station or newspaper carried the story and would have archives of it. I must tell you that I did not directly witness the incident, but I feel almost certain that I caused it. I don’t understand everything that happened but I hope that you’ll be able to provide a rational explanation that fits into the natural laws of this world.

Something bizarre did happen in Fiji and I really don’t know how to come to grips with it. I have never been one to put much stock in supernatural or paranormal phenomena like ghosts, ESP, UFOs, a close encounter with an E.T. or any of that X-Files type of stuff. While I admit that there are many strange things in this world that the brightest scientists just can’t explain, I would say I’m agnostic when it comes to God. I’m not going to bet my chips one way or the other on something that man hasn’t been able to agree on for thousands of years. And before this trip I had only experienced one unusual incident that could be considered paranormal. You asked me to provide the details of that too. I really never believed it was a real paranormal experience but I’ll tell you just so you know.

[A souvenir from our trip to Fiji.]

The encounter was at my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Cooper’s house in Huntsville, Alabama. They built this nice A-frame house by a creek when my cousin Trace, my sister Joanna and I were teenagers. While they were building this house they began uncovering all of these Indian artifacts like arrowheads and stuff. So, it was obvious that the place where they built their house was once an Indian village of some type. After the house was built and they had moved in, they said that they would frequently hear someone walking around different parts of the house. They had a huge deck that was accessed by two sets of sliding glass doors. They said that they would hear someone walking across the deck and then go to investigate, thinking it was a real visitor, only to find the doors open but no one to be found anywhere.

Even as a young teenager I doubted that it was true. Now, my sister and cousin are older than me and we went to visit them one time. My sister and cousin were like 17 and 18 and I was only 12 or 13. So, being typical teenagers, they wanted to go out with my cousin’s friends. Of course, I wasn’t invited. My Aunt Nancy and Mom gave them a curfew of 11 p.m. As I said, my aunt’s house was an A-frame and they had built this really cool loft in the upper part that looked out over the living room. They used it for an office area and it had a desk, bookshelves, and a couch that folded out into a sleeper, which was where I was assigned to sleep. The loft was built directly above the front door of the house. That night I fell asleep at around 10 o’clock or so. I woke up shortly afterwards to the sound of the front door opening and closing. I looked at the clock and it was about 10:30. I just assumed it was my sister and cousin coming home and went back to sleep. The next morning I woke up and went down to breakfast and my mom and aunt were discussing how they were going to handle punishing Trace and Joanna for breaking their curfew. That’s when I asked them what time they got home and they said it was close to midnight. I then told them I heard the door open and close at about 10:30. No one knew what could account for it, though. My mother, aunt and uncle were sleeping and my sister and cousin admitted to breaking their curfew. What teenager would lie about getting home on time? It just didn’t make sense. I have to admit, I got a chill thinking about it. I just kept picturing this apparition coming into the house while I lay there, oblivious to its presence.

I believe that it was my aunt or uncle getting up to let the dog out or something. Even though they didn’t admit to it. Maybe they just didn’t remember or didn’t check the time or something, I don’t know. But I don’t believe it was a ghost of an Indian coming through the front door.

As to the events in Fiji, that’s a whole other matter. My wife Kirsten and I went there for our honeymoon because it was recommended to be even better than Hawaii – our first choice. Kirsten and I flew into Suva, which is the largest city. It’s on the main island, although the island of Vanua Levu is just about the same size. From there we took a tiny little island hopper to Savusavu on Vanua Levu. I knew we were removed from civilization when we landed and the airport was nothing more than a corrugated tin shed. While we were there we had no cell phone coverage, no cable T.V., no Internet access, nothing – which was just exactly what we wanted.

[Honeymoon in Fiji!]

When we arrived at the airport at Savusavu, Tevita was there waiting on us with a van. He was the Fijian tour guide who worked at the Koro Sun resort where we stayed. He was great. He greeted us with a huge smile and said, “Bula!’” That means hello in Fijian and everywhere you go the Fijian people are always so friendly and they always give you a cheery “Bula!” The resort was several miles from the airport on the Hibiscus Highway.

The resort was pretty small. In my mind I pictured a resort as a huge condo, but it was actually very quaint. In the middle of the resort was the main building with the office, restaurant, bar, souvenir shop, a game room, and a swimming pool. Surrounding that were scattered numerous small bures – which is basically a hut. They were pretty nice, though. Each bure had a bed draped with mosquito netting, a small fridge, and a large stone bathroom.

There weren’t that many people staying there. We went in our summer, which is actually the winter down there. There was a couple from New Zealand, a couple from Switzerland, and a group of four from Germany; other than that, it was just the handful of Fijian staff and Kirsten and me. They also employed an Australian SCUBA instructor and diving guide named Dale. But we never got SCUBA certified so we hardly interacted with him until the very last day.

It was their little tradition to serve a group dinner every night at one large table, so we were encouraged to meet the other guests.All the Fijians seemed to speak English since Fiji was a British colony, I suppose. Of course, the New Zealanders spoke English. The Swiss couple spoke numerous languages, including English. The Germans’ English were a bit rough, but they conversed well enough to join in conversations. Many times the Germans and the Swiss couple would carry on conversations in German, but there was never a lull in any conversations going on at dinner, especially after everyone got a few drinks in them. Everyone pretty much had breakfast on their own time because everyone was getting their days started at different times.

[Kirsten and me on the beach in Fiji near the Koro Sun Resort.]

Tevita, as I said, was the Fijian tour guide and he had a trip or activity planned every single day. One day we went and found a group of dolphins to swim with, another day we went snorkeling close to the resort, another day we did a jungle trek. The trips were free to whoever wanted to go along and it was usually hit or miss with the Germans and the New Zealand couple. They were a bit older, after all. The Swiss couple, Christian and Christina, and Kirsten and I were the regular couples who went every day. All except one day that Christian and Christina didn’t go.

That was the day that began the whole series of events. This particular day Tevita had scheduled a kayaking trip that was actually pretty cool. Since it was just the three of us going, Tevita invited a Fijian girl named Karalaini to go along. I didn’t ask, but I believe that there was something going on between Tevita and Karalaini. Anyway, the trip was very educational because the two of them told us all kinds of stories about Fiji’s history and some local folklore. One story that the locals believed was that the place where we were kayaking to was one of the places that their shark god Dakuwaqa (pronounced duck-wah-gah) liked to frequent. The Fijians believe that he can change shape between a man and a shark. His image even appears on Fijian money.

[Dakuwaqa appears in the security mark on the far right of the Fijian money.]

Another story Tevita related to us while we were kayaking was about how Tevita’s cousin George had drowned in a freak accident near the spot where they said Dakuwaqa frequently rested.

There was nothing really horrific about the story itself; just that it stuck in my brain like an annoying little splinter. I can’t really explain why.

We went tooling around this little inlet and these networks of small islands and then we took a break on one of the beaches and ate a lunch Tevita had packed. Then we went tromping around this tiny little island exploring.

[Kayaking in Fiji.]

After our little jungle exploration, we headed back to the kayaks. Tevita had been adamant about us getting back to the resort before the tide changed because we could’ve been stranded out on the islands. Just as we started heading back I asked him about one particularly large island further out that had somehow struck me as rather ominous looking. Something about the island just didn’t sit right with my psyche. I couldn’t really put my finger on it other than to say that the island exuded an aura of doom and gloom.

Tevita then went on to tell me that the island was called Bat Island and there were ancient ruins on it called Nananu-i-Ra. The ruins were so old that no one knew who had built them. The crazy thing was that there was this old crone, a witch doctor or shaman or something, that lived in the ruins. Every full moon people would go see her because they believed she had magical powers and that she could heal the sick. Well, it just so happened that on our last night there the moon was going to be full.

[Kayaking in paradise!]

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.

[A view of the Koro Sun Resort. Bat Island is further out of the shot on the left.]

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 Christian was really curious to go check it out. So I immediately concurred and then we convinced Kirsten and Christina 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 Christian. 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 Kirsten 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 Kirsten 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 Kirsten 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 Christian; 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. Christian 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 Kirsten. 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. Shermer. 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 what you make of it.

Yours truly,

David Garrett

 

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