Chief For A Day.
I was elevated to the post of Chief undemocratically. Like all great rulers, I acquired my title without the consent of the people who would become my subjects for the duration of my reign.
I would occupy the throne without a mandate from any deity and I am not aware of any royal lineage, though I’m pretty sure my Dad was once captain of his touch footy team.
I was chosen to be Chief of our little tribe of travellers for the Fiji Experience tour cultural visit to Nasautoka Village.
So why did our guide choose me?
Was it my regal bearing?
Was it my aristocratic poise or assumed propensity for cruelty and oppression?
It was probably just my receding hairline.
I began my reign poorly.
I struggled through the traditional Fijian Kava ceremony which served as our official welcome from the village elders and required me to consume an unreasonable amount of a liquid that looks, tastes and smells like a puddle of muddy water.
First, my tongue went numb, but it felt quite nice, certainly more interesting than other cultural experiences I had enjoyed on my travels.
Then my whole mouth went numb, as I adhered to the strict instructions from our guide to drink every time the real Chief drank.
Soon I started to feel very calm. My body sunk into the matting and I felt at peace with the world. The soothing and dignified voice of the Chief surfed the ocean breezes which licked off the waves lapping the nearby shore and floated through the palm fringed hut.
But soon the trouble started.
The Cheif drank again.
So I drank.
My body went numb. I struggled to grasp the coconut shell containing the Kava and I don’t know if I would have even realised had I spilled it all over the floor.
I had to force myself to look respectfully at the Chief, because I didn’t even know if I was still sitting upright, or if I was slumping or even if I was sprawled on the floor.
Then he drank again.
So did I.
Surely that’s enough, I thought, he can’t drink any more, please don’t drink any more, because by now I can’t actually distinguish between the other local men and the Chief. Were there other local men, or am I seeing double?
Did the Chief just ask a question, was it addressed at me?
I hope not, because he just took another sip, then waited; waited for an answer.
I know I said something, but what did I say, was it a response carrying the requisite dignity and gratitude towards our hosts, or did I just declare war on his village?
Not that I could rouse myself for combat at this juncture, which is apparently the traditional purpose of Kava in the Islands of the South Pacific — to calm participants in inter-tribal meetings in an effort to maintain harmony.
Hopefully, he’d just asked me something about Fiji’s second religion — Rugby Union, and if I’d discussed the game they play in heaven while in an inebriated state, I wouldn’t have been the first.
I do remember that we drank some more and that our tribes did not go to war.
Somehow I was finally able to stand up and walk around the village for the remainder of the day and visit the school, the farm and the houses and have a chat with the locals before being fed a very hearty meal with the community.
So how was my taste of power?
Did it whet my appetite for authority?
Will I commit myself to pursuing Pippa and marrying into royalty?
Perhaps not. I think I’ll content myself with remaining one of the great unwashed.
Images: Rachelle Blake.