After two full days of diving in Fiji, we are reducing our number of dives for the day so that we can visit a neighboring island. One of the things I love about traveling with Oceanic Ventures is that they always include cultural aspects to their trips. Although within Fiji, the island of Kioa was purchased by people from the Viatupu atoll in Tuvalu.
Both yesterday’s diving and this morning’s held many special treats. We visited the white wall, one of the top sites in the world. You submerge to below 80 feet through a passthrough to reach the coral wall filled with white coral that looks like neon blue up close. For the coral to remain open, the area needs a strong current. We were moving pretty swiftly along the wall. It was not an easy dive and one best done with a local guide who can show you the passthroughs in the coral wall. The white wall is usually done as the first dive of the day due to depth.
Some of the other highlights from my dives included the blue ribbon eel (the most hoped for sighting for at least one of our group members), nudibranchs, a pufferfish in a mango color, anemones in a variety of colors, a free swimming green moray eel (usually only seen popping their head out of their cave), a hopping scorpion fish (a well-camouflaged fish normally not seen moving), and a Leaf Fish (rare).
We returned to the resort after for lunch and showers. In the late afternoon who took the dive boat over to Kioa.
In 1946, a Fijian island-that had been previously bestowed on a single individual by a Fijian chief-went up for auction. That June, people from a Tuvaluan atoll purchased the private island for 3,200 pounds; in 1947 the first group of 35 colonists came to the island of Kioa. A second group of 235 came in the 1950s. Today there are between 500 and 600 Tuvaluans on Kioa due to population growth. Additional tribal members are off island studying. In 2005, the Fijian government granted the people of Kioa citizenship certificates entitling them to rural assistance.
The original colonists came due to overcrowding on the atoll. Today the Tuvaluan people suffer much as the people of the Maldives do. Their island is sinking. In 2006 a Tuvaluan-born scientist suggested that the entire population of Tuvalu be relocated to Kioa as climate refugees to preserve their language and culture. While previously under consideration, in 2013 the Tuvaluan Prime Minister stated that this option “should never be under consideration(.)”
We originally thought we would be entertained with cultural dances. However, when we arrived we were told that there had been a miscommunication. In spite of the miscommunication, many of the women (some with children) came and filled the beach pavilion with baskets, jewelry, carvings, and woven mats. We were invited to shop their handicrafts. They were simple, but lovingly made. After we made our purchases, a tribal council member appeared to give us a tour of the village. I got the distinct impression that he had waited to see if we bought anything before he appeared.
There are no chiefs, but a elected chairman who serves a two year term; there is no questioning the decision of the Chairman. The islanders survive on sales of their handicrafts and fish. Our host back at the resort told us that their handicrafts are well known for their quality. The Tuvaluans of Kioa lead a basic life. We walked through village with a clinic at one end and the school at the other.
There is a kinder school and a primary school on the island. After primary school, children go to boarding school on the Fijian island of Tavenui and come home for the weekend. Their primary language is their own, but they also learn Fijian and English in school. There ancestry is Polynesian, not Melanesian like the Fijians.
Today, there is a lot of intermarriage between Indians, Fijians, and Kioan islanders. However, children of these intermarriages often go to live with one set of grandparents. It is a patriarchal society. Many of the educated Tuvaluians chose not to return to Kioa; quite a few work in the tourist industry. The islanders themselves do not like tourists.
After returning back to the resort, we hung out in the lounge and I visited with our host and the dining room manager about their impressions of the Tuvaluans. We closed the day with another candlelit dinner.