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Traditional Fijian village, Navala

Navala, Fiji: A Village Of Exquisite Beauty and Fascinating Culture

Fiji is renowned for its beaches and scenery, but the Pacific nation is less well-known for its history and culture. In Fiji, traditional society is still alive, and visitors can look forward to a unique and authentic experience. One of the most special locations in the islands is Navala Village. Here people still live the life of days gone by, and this, as well as the beauty of the village, is ensuring that Navala is becoming an increasingly popular destination.

A Brief History of Fiji

Fiji is part of Melanesia and was settled by Austronesian people around 4,000 years ago. The islands have been inhabited by a series of different peoples and this has led to a great deal of diversity in Fiji. A number of sophisticated cultures emerged in the archipelago - rudimentary writing and monetary systems were even developed by the early Fijians.

Abel Tasman , the Dutch explorer was the first European to visit the island in the seventeenth century. Captain Cook was to explore the islands of the region in the eighteenth century.

Captain James Cook (Public Domain)

Captain James Cook ( Public Domain )

Fiji was then colonized by the British who were fiercely resisted by the local tribes who were determined to stay independent and to maintain their customs and religion.  The Fijian opposition, however, was futile and the British came to dominate the population for decades while also establishing many sugar plantations on the islands.  Fiji was Christianized and yet the local people were able to maintain their traditions and cultural identity. This is what makes the islands so unique.

The Location of Navala Village

The village of Navala is located on the island of Levu, which was formerly known as Sandalwood Island. The nation’s capital, Suva, is also on Levu.

Navala is approximately 2 hours from Suva and can only be accessed by road. It is located on the Nausori highland, which is covered by a mountain rainforest. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and very important to the environment of Fiji. It is set amongst stunning valleys and mountains from where it is possible to appreciate the stunning landscape of Fiji and also to see the Yasawa group of islands on the horizon.

The Appeal of Navala Village

The village was founded about 200 years ago, when the Europeans were beginning to transform traditional Fijian society.  It is believed that Navala came about when three neighboring settlements combined. The remote location of the village has allowed it to preserve a traditional way of life, one whose roots go back centuries.

Navala is built on the slopes of a mountain ( donyanedomam / Adobe Stock)

Navala is built on the slopes of a mountain (  donyanedomam / Adobe Stock)

Upon entering Navala, the local people perform a kava ceremony , during which visitors are provided with a locally brewed alcoholic drink.  The homes, known as bures, are all thatched and made from clay, straw, and wood from the local forests.  About 1000 people live in the village as their ancestors did and there are some 100 thatched homes which are all approximately the same size. There are hardly any windows and each house has a low door. The rectangular-plan houses have a central timber pole structure, stone plinths, and interior walls woven from split bamboo. Some homes still have stone hearths where meals are cooked, but kitchens are typically in separate bures, and toilets are in specially built structures. The huts’ floors are pounded earth and covered with coconut leaves woven into mats. 

Thatching a roof, Navala village (Heard, M / CC BY 2.0)

Thatching a roof, Navala village (Heard, M / CC BY 2.0 )

The village chief enforces strict planning regulations and houses can only be made from local renewable materials. The only stone used for construction is in the local Catholic Church and the school. Navala has a radio shed, which is used in emergencies. The village is on a slope and there is a promenade along the Ba River.

Getting to Naval Village

It is possible to visit the village as part of a group or individually. Anyone who enters the village must pay a fee of 15 dollars and this is payable to the village chief or one of his assistants. There is not a lot of accommodation near Naval, due to its isolation, but there are regular tours to the village from local luxury hotels. Once you have paid your fee you are provided with a traditional Fijian lunch. You can also visit the village market and learn how the locals hunt wild pigs and gather fruit in the same way as their ancestors.

Top image: Traditional Fijian village, Navala                         Source: Henryk Sadura / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

References

Knapman, B. 1983. Capitalism and colonial development: studies in the economic history of Fiji , 1874-1939

Available at: https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/121637.

Jones, R. Pinheiro, L. 1997. Fiji: A Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit, Fourth Edition . Melbourne: Lonely Planet Publications. pp. 206–208.

Anderson, A. and Clark, G. 1999. The age of Lapita settlement in Fiji. Archaeology in Oceania, 34(1), pp.31-39

Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/j.1834-4453.1999.tb00424.x

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