Thursday, 1 Nov 2001

SANTA CRUZ, Calif.

I started my day today by reviewing 30 emails and other such office chores, but I’ll spare you the details. Luckily, I had a much more interesting task awaiting me: This morning, I transcribed my notes from a great adventure I had in Fiji earlier this year. What follows are parts of a description of a day I spent with a pal of mine as we went on a traditional Fijian pig hunt.

My first sensation of the morning was a desire to choke one particularly enthusiastic rooster that had apparently assumed full responsibility for summoning the sun to rise. It was totally dark and, in my opinion, the rooster’s biological clock was way off. Reluctantly, I accepted the fact that the day I had been anticipating for four years would begin a bit earlier than I had hoped.

Breakfast consisted of cassava, rice, bananas, tea, and bread. By the time we were finished a group of six men and their 15 dogs were sitting outside the door, and it was time to go. I had no idea what to expect, beyond the short explanation that we were going into the bush after wild boar. Not being a bushman, I decided to travel light, taking only a camera and Swiss army knife. I wore hard-soled dive booties, shorts, a T-shirt, and my favorite hat of 20-plus years. Most of the others carried a bush knife, some had a small backpack, two had a heavy iron spear, and no one wore shoes.

Niumaia leads an adventure in the Fijian rainforest.

Photo: Richard Murphy.

After a mile or so, we stopped under a large banyon tree. There was no underbrush, as the density of the leaves and secondary trunks prevented most light from penetrating to the ground. It was under this tree that Niumaia explained our strategy: We would proceed toward the top of the mountain, dividing into two groups so the dogs could roam between us, scouring the bush for pigs. He then walked some distance away and returned with an armful of leaves. These were salusalu leaves, used, as Niumaia put it, “to make the dogs hungry for the hunt.” He then called a dog, held it firmly, and buried its muzzle in a handful of leaves. The dog did not resist. Subsequently, the leaves were rubbed over its head and shoulders. The dog was then released. The procedure was repeated with a number of the dogs. Niumaia explained that this was do
ne away from the village to avoid exciting the dogs where they could kill a chicken or pet pig. He also mentioned that after the hunt, boar blood is rubbed all over the heads of the dogs to “calm them down.” If this is not done, they will continue to hunt, including back in the village.

Having completed this ritual, we trudged on in single file up the muddy trail. As we proceeded, Niumaia pointed out mango trees, citrus trees, and pineapples planted in years past. The planting was done to ensure that future travelers and hunters would have food during their journey. He seemed proud that people had been considerate to think of others in this way — a gesture of good will and bonding between the past and the present. He cut a small pineapple and gave it to me. I thanked him and wondered how to thank that unknown hunter of the past who had the courtesy to plant the pineapple in the first place. Probably the only appropriate thanks would be to do something comparable for the next generation. At the time this seemed simple and obvious, but reflecting on it later, the pineapple episode took on a profound meaning. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such a sense of the unity of past and future were common in our modern, “civilized” communities?

Three hours into our trek, Niumaia suddenly stopped and began to examine tree trunks, explaining that he was looking for traditional Fijian war paint. With a whoop he said, “Over here, I’ve found it!” He pointed to a black cone-shaped fungus called a gumu drooping from a tree trunk. Breaking it off, he streaked its “paint” across my forehead and cheeks and then did the same to himself, exclaiming that we were ready for war. It was unmistakably a “Kodak moment,” and we laughingly documented two of the least warlike people on the planet trying to act tough.

As we continued on, we came upon a wider trail that was the remnant of an old logging road; some years ago, the village had leased logging rights to a foreign company to harvest the trees. Surprised, I asked Niumaia what he thought of the project. He said, “We are more educated now and won’t allow anyone to come and cut our trees again. The forest is more valuable as a forest than just money from trees. When the bush was destroyed, we lost hard wood for house frames, places to hunt for boars, medicine plants, ota ferns for eating, war paint, and even fishing. When the forest is gone the soil turns the streams red and we can’t catch prawns or eels.”

I guess that, too often, we all learn the hard way.