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Fiji local justice

Dec 28, 2018
The Danforth anchor and chain.

The Danforth anchor and chain.

Michael Hawkins

To the editor: Fiji is one of the favorite places we sailed in our Moody 422, Astarte. Fiji is a relatively large island group with a wide variety of locations and things to do. We decided to go where fewer cruising yachts travel and visit more remote villages. As a result, we had an interesting experience with local justice.

For the second year in a row, we chose to circumnavigate the second largest of the Fijian islands, Vanua Levu (“Circumnavigating Vanua Levu,” January/February 2018). Many cruising yachts love this island because of the town of Savusavu and the great snorkeling and diving areas around the southern and eastern coasts. Few boats make it to the northern coastline, even though the world’s third largest barrier reef — the Great Sea Reef — protects the north side. The water is not very clear close to the coastline, but the anchorages do have great holding near the mangroves in mud and sand.

On one of our stops in the village of Koroinasolo on the northwestern side of the island, we had a new experience. We had been in the village for a few days and had done the proper “sevusevu” upon arrival. Sevusevu is a tradition where visitors present the village chief or his representative (the “toronga ni koro”) with a bundle of specially wrapped “yaqona” (the plant from which the drink kava is pounded). This is done while requesting permission to anchor off the village and walk around, snorkel and visit. Once the kava gift is accepted, you are a welcomed guest in the village. We always perform the ritual, as we do try to represent the yachting community correctly. Plus it is a great way to make introductions in the village. We performed our sevusevu in the Koroinasolo community and settled into the anchorage.

Low tide at the Koroinasolo village dinghy beach. The tides are large enough to leave dinghies high and dry.

Michael Hawkins

After a few days, Michael decided to go for a walk up the road. Upon his return to our anchored dinghy, he discovered that the anchor and chain were gone and the dinghy was now tied up to a small float used by one of the village boats. This is the first time we had ever lost anything in Fiji — and we were quite surprised it happened in this relatively remote village. He proceeded back up the hill to seek out Philip, the toronga ni koro to whom we presented our sevusevu. He was not around. Michael then sought out Milly; we’d met her the day before and took a picture of her baby girl, which we printed and gave to her. Milly’s English was very good and Michael wanted some advice on village protocol. He confirmed that he needed the toronga ni koro to introduce him to the chief. The police from a nearby larger town were in the village and, knowing what the issue was, Milly asked if he wanted to see the police. He told her, “No, I would rather deal with the chief and address the problem locally first.”

Michael returned the next morning, attired in the traditional Fijian “sulu” (men’s skirt) to meet the chief. We had no hope of seeing the anchor and chain again, which would make the rest of our trip around the island more challenging. Michael was met by Philip and taken to the chief. There was a large meeting going on with the chief, several village elders and other men. Michael explained what had happened. He told the chief that the anchor and chain were worth about 100 Fijian dollars, and that he chose not to go to the police but rather to deal with the chief. To this, there were several nods of approval from the gathered men. He also mentioned that the young men in the village make their living from the sea and so he was surprised that someone would take critical boating gear from a fellow seaman. He also told the chief that the village’s reputation would most likely suffer as yachties were like a small village and talk among themselves, recommending or warning other boats about certain places. Michael was then invited to sit in a place of honor next to the chief, and the chief asked if they could continue their meeting, though one of the men had left.

After about 15 minutes, the man returned and said something to the chief in Fijian. The chief turned to Michael and said, “Your anchor and chain are back in your small boat.” Michael thanked the chief and departed, and sure enough the anchor and chain were next to the dinghy. We were very pleased with the unexpected outcome, but also not terribly surprised knowing that the Fijians are honest people.

Michael, dressed in traditional Fijian “sulu” (men’s skirt) and “bula” shirt, has a presentation bundle of yaqona/kava to present to the village chief.

Michael Hawkins

Word spreads rapidly in these small tight-knit communities. The entire village knew what had happened. When we went to the school later that day (we had committed to taking class photos for the school), the teachers asked us about it. When returning from the school, Milly came out of her home and knew the anchor was returned; she was very sorry we had such an experience and complimented Michael on his handling of the situation.

The next morning, we left the anchorage to proceed with our trip. Upon arrival in the next village, 24 miles by water away, the second question we were asked when we went ashore was, “You lost something in Koroinasolo?” The coconut telegraph was working rapidly — even to nearby villages. This also indicated that this was an “unusual” circumstance.

We were very impressed by how it was all handled and feel like we did the right thing as well: not being rude, pushy or accusatory, but simply stating the facts in a respectful manner. Fiji is a great place to visit and we continue to learn more and more about its people and the way village life works.

—Barbara Sobocinski and Michael Hawkins left St. Petersburg, Fla., aboard their Moody 422, Astarte, in 2009. They sold the boat this year in New Zealand and are planning their next adventure.

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