Describing Sabeto

It strikes me I haven’t written much of a description of my site. So, ten months in to my time here, it’s time to do exactly that: describe this super dope place I’ve come to call home.

I can say that by far and away the best thing about Sabeto is that it’s not just a village, but is in fact an entire beautiful district, complete with five villages, multiple natural attractions and a mountain range that competes with Kilimanjaro in mysticism, if not in height. When I refer to Sabeto village, I am referring to the large amalgamated combination of Narokorokoyawa and Koroyaca, which together look like a single, gigantic village stretching from the school towards the Queens road in the West.

Na Tuwawa
Na Tuwawa

The mountains come to life as na tuwawa (the giants) in old stories, where they dispense justice after being called by men drinking at a clay tanoa (grog/kava bowl). These kind of stories, however, are disappearing from talanoa sessions, as part of the general disappearance of traditional culture. Nonetheless, there is solace to be gained from the steady presence of these resting guardians of Sabeto.

The five villages include Narokorokoyawa and Koroyaca, which make up the giant “village of Sabeto” next to me. Natalau, just across the river, is home to the well-known and successful Tora family: farmer/agrotourism operator Livai (written about here), headteacher and respected Fiji academic Mela, and patriarch and politician Apisai Tora. Naboutini, halfway up the valley, is home to the police station, post office and my rambunctious colleague and namesake Master Epeli (still not sure why he is my namesake, actually, but it’s always nice to have more namesakes). And finally Korobebe village, formally named and still often referred to as Nadele, the closest village to the source of the Sabeto river.

There is also Nagado, sort of opposite from Nadele, but it is technically a part of Vaturu district. Nagado has hosted lots of volunteers in the past – one from the last group served there for a few months – and has a beautiful view of Sabeto, all the way out to the sea (which you can’t see from my area).

Villages, clans and districts usually have foods associated with them, which are considered somewhat tabu, but are most prominently used as jokes. For the wider Sabeto area, and the chiefly village of Koroyaca, the food is breadfruit, or kulu. Though kulu can be used for all kaiSabeto, there are also foods for each village: fish in Narokorokoyawa; river mussels, or icara in Natalau; and pork, or qo in Nadele.

These foods are an easy way to break the ice and solicit some laughter when meeting people for the first time, and yet remain funny to the 100th time they are referenced. Just yesterday, when the school manager told me his mother is from Natalau, I said his father must have loved river mussels. He thought it was hilarious; and after a year here, so do I.

In terms of tourist attractions, we are doing very well. For starters, we have the always popular hot springs and mud pool, which is in fact two different hot springs coexisting side-by-side. Next we have the Garden of the Sleeping Giants, which is a well-maintained, beautiful orchid garden owned by kaivalagis but staffed by Fijians. Then there is the Sleeping Giant Zipline, which I still have not managed to visit, but I swear I will soon (they have a deal for locals, I hear). And there is Stoney Creek Resort, a quiet resort up the valley with a beautiful view where my folks stayed while in town.

In terms of where I spend my time, however, I’d say the places I visit the most are the Naboutini Post Office (I go at least every two weeks – it’s an excuse to get out of the village while still being productive, and I often get mail from friends and family) and Aviva Farm, which I like because it’s a fun romp over the cane train line, through some fields and a river and past my favorite tree in Sabeto. Recently I’ve been hanging out at a nearby store and billiards hall, where a cool, well-travelled Indo-Fijian keeps watch over a bowl of grog with a few companions.

Over the next few months, as this dictionary project progresses I’m looking forward to visiting all of the villages of Sabeto, presenting sevusevus to ask for permission to collect their language. And promptly getting grog-drunk and teasing koiSabeto about breadfruit, pigs and river mussels.

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