Friday, June 1, 2012

Fiji: The Meke

This is the last post about our adventures in Fiji. Life in Maine has been moving so fast that the Fiji photos have gotten pushed aside by all the cool stuff happening right now. It's late spring, the birds are mating, baby barnacles are settling over everything, the lilacs are almost over and the lupines are starting ... which makes it hard to focus on amazing things that happened three months ago on the other side of the world.
 But I really wanted to show you the meke. One evening, a troop of boys and girls from the Ratu Varani School (you saw it a few posts back) came over to perform for us as a school fundraiser. I think most of the boys were between 8 and 13 years old, although as I've mentioned before I stink at age-guessing.  Here they are with their teachers, coming across the mudflats from the village, partially in costume.
I think the skirts are made of banana leaves.
The meke is a combination of song and dance that tells a story, but I never figured out what most of the stories were. One particularly wonderful dance had George (the guy who brought us the baby boa, who is fantastic at the traditional dances) imitating the animals of the jungle, and the audience guessing which ones. 
Boys and girls danced separately - unfortunately I didn't get any good pictures of the girls, who looked like they were in their early teens.  They wore white shirts with red sulus, which was charming but not nearly as picturesque as the boys' banana leaves. I've seen videos from the main islands that show girls dancing in outfits that look more like my sterotypical image of a hulu dancer, with grass skirts and skimpy tops, but Kadavu is more isolated and fairly conservative, so it was shirts and sulus for the girls.
I've attached a video (not mine) at the end to give you a rough idea of what this sounded like. You'll notice there are limited instruments, but amazing vocal harmonies. Richard, one of Matava's owners, said that if you get four Fijians together, you get four-part harmony, and if you get ten Fijians together, you get 10-part harmony. My ear isn't good enough to really sort out what I heard, but everyone I met could (and did) burst into song at some point, and never alone. Every night a group would sing around the kava bowl until the kava ran out. I would listen from my bure (my young daughter made sure I got to bed very early every night) and savor the music.
[Warning, a full paragraph of photo jargon follows, for those who are interested.]
It was dusk when they began, which presented a few challenges photographing the dancers. The only lighting was kerosene lanterns. I had my Nikon on  a tripod (which makes me insanely self-conscious because I look like a TV news crew and am not nearly at a skill level that lives up to my gear) and just kept upping the ISO as night came on. By the time it was fully dark in the photos below, I was at ISO 5000. I confess I hardly saw the dancers, I was trying so hard to photograph them! I shot in RAW and cleaned up the noise in post-production. I also took about 800 shots, of which I kept 139 (so far) and of which only 9 are worth showing you. TGFD = thank god for digital.
[End of jargon.]

The dances look and sound something like this:

Video courtesy of YouTube.

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