By Patricia Page
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Additional info for Across the Magic Line: Growing Up in Fiji
Gay is a school teacher and encourages an interest in multicultural musical instruments. She meant a miniature model, of course. A normal lali is a bath-sized drum — a hollowed-out tree trunk hit with two squat sticks to call people to meetings and church. For us it was a symbol of Fiji. When we were children we used to visit an old lady who could remember the cannibal era. Once she saw a group of Fijians go by, carrying bunches of human arms and legs on a pole. She would lie in a long basket-weave chair on her private veranda at 26 Across the Magic Line the Grand Pacific Hotel and cool herself with a plaited palm frond fan as she told us her stories.
A guidebook published in the Eighties mentions how Fijians and Indians lived apart and didn’t intermarry but they united round the kava bowl. Kava drinking is an ancient and almost sacred pastime in Fiji and for Indians to be included in the ritual must mean they are considered mates. Nevertheless, reasons for tension were there. Indians were brought into Fiji as indentured workers by Sir Arthur Gordon, the first British Governor, in 1879. He and the chiefs protected the Fijians under their care from being coerced into commercial labour on the European plantations, but Across the Magic Line 29 vast numbers of cheap workers were needed to make the new colony profitable, especially in the sugar cane fields.
From May to the end of September Fiji has a balmy climate: sunny, slightly breezy. For the rest of the year it’s either too hot or too wet. Sometimes the dry season starts earlier than usual and we’d vainly hoped it would be the case, April being the only time Gay could get away. Although both sun-lovers, we had now become reconciled to the weather. After all, we weren’t on a hedonistic holiday, lolling by the water drinking cocktails, acquiring a tan to show our friends. We were on a trip back in time, delving for memories, reliving my diary.