Last Friday the Fiji community in Korea were hosted to a Christmas fellowship by the Fiji Embassy in Seoul. Despite the ice, rain and freezing temperatures, a number of us managed to congregate at the chancery, located in the “foreigners” area of Seoul, Itaewon.
We were also joined by visitors from the Ministry of Health in Suva and a number of Korean businesspeople in the process of or interested in investing in Fiji.
Of course, the trademark of the Fiji Resident Mission in Seoul, since it opened only 5 months ago has been to do things “Fiji-style,” as Ambassador Filimone Kau likes to put it. In July, it was a combined display of diplomacy and culture as the opening of the Fiji Embassy included Fijian warrior escorts, a sigi drigi group to welcome guests and breathtaking performances from Kaba ni Vanua. In October, Fiji-Day celebrations were combined with an investment seminar which included senior government representatives.
So last Friday it was time to give those who not only see Fiji as a place of business, but also as a paradise, a taste of the Fijian way of celebration. Embassy staff cooked up a storm with everything from chicken and crab curries to baigani vakalolo, roast pork and chicken, kumala, chilli chicken, and even lovo dalo and palusami fresh off the plane from Fiji.
I entered the chancery to the sound of Fijian serenades being sung. Of course it was a CD being played but the music certainly warmed up a chilly day. The second thing I noticed was that there were no chairs. Early guests were invited to join the Ambassador on the mats and to talanoa as the final preparations were being made to the food and we awaited the rest of the guests to arrive.
In true Fijian hospitality words of welcome were said by Ambassador Kau and after a short lotu (devotion) by yours truly (as resident talatala), a small sevusevu was presented to the Korean friends of Fiji.
Here I learned a very important lesson about knowing one’s culture as a Fijian. As most of our Fijian community were still on their way to the embassy (a minimum 1-hour train and bus ride from our various universities and residences) I was called to be part of the traditional ceremony of welcome. Having observed, filmed and participated in many sevusevu, I made sure that I (in rugby language) didn’t drop the ball. I was fortunate to not only have experience in drinking kava but to also have prepared it on occasion, although I had to be constantly reminded to consider that it was, for most of our guests, the first time to try our traditional drink and to keep every bilo at low tide.
While for some, that first bowl was also their last, a number of our guests continued to call for another bowl with the traditional cobo hand-clap. I was grateful when, our community members arrived and having eaten, relieved me of my duties at the tanoa and allowed me to escape to the food.
The experience of this “Fiji-style” Christmas gathering was not lost on our Korean friends. It was a momentary escape from the very formal culture to which they belong. It also allowed us as Fijians to showcase our sense of community and hospitality that is an integral part of our way of life, regardless of who were are and how little we may have. For a few hours, that gathering could have been inside a house, or office in Suva or Bua. The evening offered them a taste of Fiji, not just food and drink, but of who were are as a people.
As I sat on the mat in Korea, my family were preparing for a gathering of their own. Last weekend, the descendants of Charles Pickering (including my wife and children) gathered in the village of Lomanikoro, Rewa to renew their ties as vasu (maternal links) to Rewa and to count the branches (and leaves and fruit) of the Pickering family tree.
It was a time of celebration, but also of meeting and reconnecting with close and distant family members. A time to acknowledge the past and the present and a time remind themselves of the importance of family and their connection with the vanua.
As we pick up the pieces in the aftermath of Severe Tropical Cyclone Evan, there will be many people who will not have much to celebrate with. For some, the only thing that they can celebrate is the fact that they are alive.
This is a good time for us to remember that Christmas is not about feasting, and buying and giving presents. Sure, it is a time of celebration, and we in Fiji and Oceania know how to celebrate. However we remember is about peace on earth and goodwill to all. This is the joy that Christians feel at this time when they remember the birth of Jesus, is supposed to be shared in the form of peace and generosity of heart.
Jesus was not born in a hospital, or a nice home, but in a stable - the equivalent of a corner of an evacuation centre. He did not enjoy disposable diapers and soft nappies, but strips of cloth. Jesus was not born into a rich and privileged family but one that had to work with their hands in order to survive and came from a province that was often looked down by the upper-class of Jerusalem. Jesus was not born into a community of equality, justice and peace. He was born into a society that was socially, politically and economically oppressed.
Yet this little baby rose above all of this to offer the world an alternative vision. A vision of a community where the last would be first and the servants were the greatest. A community where there were no social, religious or ethnic barriers.
As we approach the last 6 days before Christmas let us approach it with the anticipation of a time when we as a people will be able to manifest the vision of such a community in our own nation.
If you are in Suva and looking for somewhere to celebrate this vision, you are welcome to join me at Dudley Church on Christmas Day, beginning at 9am.
May you have a happy and meaningful Christmas!
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.