During my stay of 5 days on Mana Island I was immersed in the culture and life of those living on the Island. I was interested in documenting this and the best way for me to do was to talk to the locals. I would like to thank the Kindergarten teacher, School Headmaster Mr. Seranaia Gauna, and one of the ladies at the hostel named Maria that helped divulge some information on the local life.
I learned a bit regarding the local story of the island and where it got its name. The Fijian people had a magical box that contained their language and culture. The people were boating by the Island with this box and all the Fijian people valued were also contained on the boats. When they started to approach the island a storm started to form and then got really intense the closer they got. This storm ended up capsizing all the boats and from then on they called it Mana Island(Magic Island) because of the force it had to force them to lose this box and all their valuables.
I was able to talk to the headmaster after school was out on my last day on the island and ask a few questions about the school and life for the children. The kindergarten teacher that I spoke with briefly on more of a personal level about my travels, did divulge that the kindergarten classes all over Fiji receive aid in the form of school supplies, teaching materials, and work shops for teachers from the Fiji Kinde Project(USA). It was humbling to know that these children are fortunate enough to get off to a great start in their educations through a program like this.
She then informed me about the structure in which the kids proceed through school. The education system for elementary school is not free in Fiji but as of next year(2014) the government will be paying for free education for elementary students. Once the students finish with elementary school on the island they then must pay for High School or if fortunate enough boarding school, both of which are located on the main island, Viti Levu. After High school the kids head off to University or if they cannot afford it they return to the island to live and preform local trades. On the main island there are two Universities and also a school of agriculture.
The school on the island was called the Mana Adventist Primary School. Immediately I could tell that Catholicism and religion played a big role in the schools teachings and operation. Through further inspection the school had children of all different religions attending and one of the points on the Fijian Education Mission statement was in fact to be accepting towards and promote all religion in the schools.
The curriculum was quite similar to that in North America, at the school they teach Maths, English, Fijian, Science, Health, Physical Education, and the Arts. While visiting the school I was informed that they were in the last few days of exams before the kids are on a 7 week summer break, good for them cause it was really starting to get hot!
Though some may not be able to move on to University or to college, they are taught local skills such as fishing, growing, building, and cooking at a young age. For the 256 locals living on Mana, Fish was indeed one of the primary diet items so learning fishing is a matter of survival. There were many locals arriving back on boats in the evenings with nets to bring in the daily catch. Among fish the other major dietary items were cassava, clams, spinach, fruit, seaweeds, and sea grapes.
There were noticeably lots of plantations on the side hills which contained cassava, sweet potatoes, and yams. The fruit that grew and was consumed on Mana included coconuts, mangoes, bananas, papaya, and bread fruit. In terms of meat and protein, all I noticed was fish and a few goats lazing around in the small pasture. All the fruit, meat and vegetables that are cultivated on Mana are only for consumption by the locals. All food for the Resort and two hostels is brought in from the mainland.
The island has a leader, Mr. Jeramiah, who looks after the well being and affairs of the village and making rules for the residents. After work activities on the island were primarily relaxing, playing rugby, volleyball, or swimming in the ocean. Most of the residents are able to join into playing a game of volleyball at night as it is more inclusive and does not require a lot of fitness like rugby. Most of the men in the village and working at the resort gather on the old airstrip to play rugby or sometimes soccer.
All in all the people were very friendly and relaxed. On Mana Island it was obvious that the locals are on a whole different schedule to the rest of the world. When referring to a time to meet or do something it was usually referred to as "Fiji Time". Even some of the guests at to hostel were late for a boat while getting caught up snorkeling on Fiji Time. I know it rubbed off on me while I was there, kinda just letting things happen, no schedules, no worries.