The Tuvaluans of Kioa in the Fijian Islands

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©Jean Janssen. A Tuvaluan child from the island of Kioa.

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.

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A nudibranch (commonly referred to as a sea slug) in Fijian waters. Most of the nudibranchs we saw, in a variety of colors, were no more than two inches long. Photo ©Zaide Scheib.

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The white wall dive site, Fiji

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.

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The blue ribbon eel in Fijian waters. Photo ©Zaide Scheib.

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Can you spot the scorpionfish in this photo from Fijian waters? Photo ©Zaide Scheib.

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).

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©Jean Janssen  Tuvaluan children playing in a boat on the shore of the island of Kioa.

We returned to the resort after for lunch and showers. In the late afternoon who took the dive boat over to Kioa.

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©Jean Janssen  An outrigger on Kioa Island, a traditional craft still used by the islanders today.  When made from softwoods, the boat lasts about 4 years and is then replaced.  The hardwoods are generally saved for building construction.  Outriggers made from hardwood (you see some logs in the picture) last about 10 years.

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.

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©Jean Janssen  In the Tuvaluan village on Kioa in the Fijian islands.

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©Jean Janssen  Meeting Hall on the Tuvaluan island of Kioa.

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(.)”

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©Jean Janssen  When we arrived at Kioa, the uniformed children were just getting out of school. Some played in the lawn area with colorful umbrellas.

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.

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©Jean Janssen On Kioa, one of the council members gave us a tour of their main village.

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©Jean Janssen  On Kioa, in the Fijian Islands.

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.

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©Jean Janssen  On the island of Kioa, the islanders make a wine from the sap of the palm tree. At the top of the photo, you see the sap being collected.

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.

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©Jean Janssen  On the island of Kioa in the Fijian islands.

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.

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©Jean Janssen. Children swimming on the shores of Kioa in the Fijian islands.

About travelbynatasha

I am a retired attorney who loves to travel. Several years ago I began working on a Century Club membership achieved by traveling to 100 "foreign" countries. Today, at 49 years of age the count is at 82. Many were visited on land based trips. Some were cruise ports. Some were dive sites. Most have been fascinating.
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