The South Pacific is near the top of my travel wish list and I’m determined to visit someday soon. Until then, I will have to live vicariously through those who have traveled before me, like the travel writer and social media expert Angie Orth. Today Angie was good enough to pen an introduction to Fiji and its lingo, giving you a leg up once you do finally visit. You can find more by Angie on her website Angie Away.
Pretty beaches with swaying coconut trees, pristine diving, rainforest trekking and cozy bungalows make a trip to Fiji a no brainer. For a cultural brush-up before you make your way to the South Pacific, memorize the following four words, pack a few swimsuits and enjoy!
Bula is Fiji’s aloha. It can mean hello, goodbye, what’s up, gesundheit, welcome or I’m SOHAPPYYOUAREHERE! Fijians are some of the warmest, most welcoming folks I’ve met in my travels, and a hearty bula is just one of the ways they show it.
You land at the airport in Nadi – BULA, says the pilot. You meet your taxi driver – BULA! You check in to your hotel – BULA! You take a shower – BULA! Just kidding. There was no one unexpected in my shower welcoming me to Fiji… but after 10 days and 10,000 bulas, I wouldn’t have been too surprised.
After traveling around the world and coming across several destinations that would prefer to be left off the “must visit” lists, it was refreshing to visit Fiji, where bula is a way of life.
You’ll quickly add bula to your vocabulary, and it’s a good thing, because you’ll need it for your first kava experience. Kava (also called yaqona, or grog) is a non-alcoholic, non-narcotic drink made from the root of the pepper plant, and it’s a part of daily Fijian life. The kava drinking ceremony is a highlight of all important local happenings.
When presented with half a coconut of kava, here’s the protocol:
Clap once with cupped hands, not flat palms
Drink ALL the kava
Clap three times with cupped hands
Say BULA! again
Don’t get me wrong – the stuff tastes like watered down mud and it made my lips and tongue tingle immediately. But it’s rude to refuse if a village chief offers it to you. Go with it!
After a few days in Fiji, once you’ve integrated bula and kava into your vernacular, it might be time to buy a sulu – that is, a colorful Fijian sarong. Not only is it ideal to respectfully cover shorts when visiting a village, or as a swimsuit cover-up or shawl for a cool evening, it’s an easy-to-pack souvenir to take back home.
Combine all the words you’ve learned so far – bula, kava and sulu – in a distinctly happy Fijian event – the meke. An indigenous dance, the meke is basically a rhythmic storytelling of ancient gods, historic battles or even just everyday life. Along with the kava ceremony, mekes often mark significant events or entertain VIPs and visiting dignitaries, though most hotels in Fiji’s 333 islands will offer a cultural night each week where you can participate in a meke even if you aren’t a diplomat or rock star. It’s a joyful party that will make you so glad you came.
All Photos courtesy of Angie Orth