Fiji: Delve into cannibal territory

By Pam Neville

Pam Neville leaves the resort and heads for the hills on a Fijian cave safari

Naihehe Cave was used by locals hiding from cannibalistic rivals 200 years ago. Photo / Chris McLennan
Naihehe Cave was used by locals hiding from cannibalistic rivals 200 years ago. Photo / Chris McLennan

Cannibalism is on the menu throughout this excursion into the wild jungle outback of Fiji. Apparently, the locals have given up eating people - since yesterday - but that courtesy is not necessarily extended to New Zealanders.

Two young guides, bubbling with more than their share of the teasing, in-your-face Fijian sense of humour, can't resist ribbing the Kiwis.

It's all to do with rugby rivalry. Deep inside an eerie cave with a grisly history, they show off a "cannibal oven" under limestone rocks. Just the right size for roasting Richie McCaw, they reckon.

There are cannibal jokes, cannibal recipes and cannibal history from the times when Fijians did, in fact, eat one other. The practice continued well into the 1800s, when Fiji was known as the Cannibal Islands. In London earlier this year, a set of Fijian cannibal forks sold at auction for £30,000 ($54,245).

But on this bumpy four-wheel-drive trip, history is mixed up with humour and, as the guides admit, a certain amount of "bula-s***".

The only reason Japan invaded the Solomon Islands rather than Fiji in 1942, we are told, is that the invaders had heard Fiji was full of cannibals particularly keen on eating Japanese.

We're a couple of hours' drive inland from Sigatoka, one of Fiji's bigger towns and the capital of the Coral Coast. This is Rugby Town: home to Fiji's most fanatical rugby supporters, the top provincial team and a host of top players. Former All Black Joe Rokocoko, current New Zealand Sevens player Waisake Naholo and Australian rugby and league star Lote Tuqiri are all from this area.

The sign at the entrance to Sigatoka could say "Welcome to the Coral Coast", "Welcome to the salad bowl of Fiji" (most of the country's vegetables come from Sigatoka Valley), "Welcome to Sigatoka river adventures" or "Welcome to some of the best resorts on Viti Levu". Instead, the sign proclaims "Welcome to Rugby Town".

The closest five-star resort to Sigatoka, the Outrigger on the Lagoon, sponsors the local rugby team, the Stallions. "The most successful and greatest provincial rugby team in Fiji rugby history," the team calls itself.

An eye-opening Saturday can be spent watching a match in Sigatoka, or better still, watching the spectators. The Outrigger on the Lagoon takes resort guests to a roped-off sponsors area during the April-October rugby season. It's a favourite out-of-the-resort tourist activity.

Everyone talks rugby - man, woman, child, Fijian, Indian, tourist - so no wonder it's on the minds of our guides as we tour Naihehe Cave.

This is an immense network of caverns deep under a marble mountain. Sculptured human-like limestone formations of "cannibal man" and "cannibal woman" are stunning in the weak light from head torches. Access is through a crevice between rocks where a stream emerges from the mountain. We crouch and bend double, then crab-walk while gripping a bamboo pole laid in the creek bed. No built-in lights or hand-rails here.

Difficult access made this cave a haven for locals escaping a rival cannibal tribe 200 years ago. The population hid deep in the caves (where only they knew the location of air vents and crevices for smuggling in food) for months. The slit-like entrance, which tourists now squeeze through in ankle-deep water, meant residents inside the cave could easily club to death any rival warrior who came looking for them. A tasty addition to their vegetable diet, the guides say. "No bula-s***."

Fiji Checklist

GETTING THERE: Fiji Airways flies daily from Auckland to Fiji.

WHERE TO STAY: Outrigger on the Lagoon resort

ON THE WEB: Off-road Cave Safari

- NZ Herald

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