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We head to a remote village on the mainland of Fiji, where an unlikely spiritual awakening and bucketloads of brew await

It’s a number of years since I’ve stepped inside a church for a Sunday service. I’m wearing some rosary beads that were bought by a friend – an ironic gift to an atheist. Despite the heat, we are told to cover up out of respect for the locals. Noticing that I’m carelessly under-dressed, my tour guide rummages through the bus and finds me a sarong and an oversized T-shirt with ‘Fiji’ written on the front. I’m now fit to be seen, even if I do appear to have been styled by a church charity.

Inside the House of God, in the remote Navari village amidst the Nausori Highlands, about an hour’s bus ride from the Fijian capital of Suva, it’s not our clothing that attracts stares. Rather, it’s the 12 of us, mostly faithless Westerners, crashing the small community’s Sunday church service that solicits constant attention. The children can’t concentrate on the service, their eyes transfixed on the two rows of foreigners cooling themselves with woven raffia fans.

They whisper to each other, grin and giggle when we smile back. Intermittently, the all-female church choir, decked out in white dresses, breaks into song and the room fills with beautiful music. Putting my own reservations about organised religion aside, I am overcome with a heart-warming feeling, coupled with what I suppose must be the last remnants of Catholic guilt.

The people in this village, who have no access to electricity, are happier, more grounded and more enlightened than most city slickers I know.

 

Finding my religion

After the church service we stand outside, greeting the congregation as they come through the doors. We form
a line, shaking hands with each person, exchanging “bulas” and smiling from ear to ear. Some of the older ladies kiss us on the cheeks, touch our heads and treat us like they’ve known us their whole lives. Ordinarily, I’d find this a bit awkward, but their genuine warmth and excitement is infectious – I’ve even forgotten that I look like a castaway in oversized clothes.

One of the churchgoers who speaks English takes us on a tour of the local village. His name is Samuel and he’s one of the Christian missionaries. He wears a crisp white shirt, navy sulu – basically a man-skirt – and a very serious demeanour. This is in stark contrast to our Fijian guide, Jerry, who drinks beer with breakfast and tells us he falls in love with a new girl on every tour. Samuel shows us inside some of the houses, made mostly of tin. They’re humble and unadorned, with outdoor toilets and beds on the floor made from layers of pandanus leaf.


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Visiting Fiji: Finding the pacific island's religious past, amazing seafood and dark secrets
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