Kerekere is the Fijian custom of making requests of relatives and friends that are difficult (and often rude) to refuse– Kerekere nomu masese? Can I use your matches? Kerekere dua na kequ dalo? Could I have some dalo? Reciprocity; it’s a social system based on mutual supportiveness, and the basis of functional community life.
In the village context, kinship relationships are of greater importance than individual advancement or accumulation of wealth. Here we receive freely from the abundance of nature: fresh fish from the sea, vegetables from the mountain top farms and forest. “Fijian’s relationship to their vanua or land is an extension of the concept of self”, and this concept of self is one that is greater than the individual. It encompasses the land one occupies and the community of which one is apart. The generosity of nature is thus mirrored in village ecology; when one experiences abundance, it is only natural and right to share, knowing the courtesy will be returned.
Kerekere was initially an intimidating and frustrating concept for me. I remember after receiving my site placement learning that there are no markets on Koro. “How will I get food then?” I asked a staff member. “Just ask anyone for what you want, and they’ll bring it!” “…umm… just like that, huh? What about money?” I asked incredulously. “You should try to pay them of course, but they more than likely won’t accept payment.” Absurd, I thought. They will have to! Who gives food away for free?
Turns out everyone. And at first, the generosity was totally overwhelming (beautiful and appreciated, but overwhelming). They simply would not accept payment, and my inner cynic poked it’s head out of dirt whispering doubts. As a foreigner in a Fijian village, I wondered if maybe they just expected more from me. Maybe they just don’t want a few dollars in exchange for a few bananas, maybe they expect that I’ll build a new school? Or bring back each child a new pair of shoes when I return from trainings in Suva?
It’s now been seven months here, and I know what my community wants. They don’t want a fat check or new shoes (though ya’ll at home are welcome to send that =P ), they just want me to be apart of the community! They taught me by their example how true interdependency functions, and gave me time to assimilate organically to this way of life.
Just this morning I returned from my run and stopped by my Na’s vale ni koro (kitchen). I wanted simply to say good morning, but she refused to let me leave without a pile of food–freshly picked bananas, eggplant and plantain. Had she not seen how much dalo I’ve already eaten this week she would have insisted on my taking a plate of that too! I quickly returned with my own offering: a grapefruit (which had been given to me yesterday in exchange for chocolate), ginger (also given to me yesterday in exchange for bananas), and granola bars (thanks to ya’ll at home!). As if that wasn’t enough, my Ta soon returned, two eggplant plants in one hand and a shovel in the other. “E vei me’u tea ka ‘qo?” Where should I plant these? Each exchange is simply part of a network of reciprocity, continuously flowing “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” (call me a Marxist, but this socialism 101!).
And just now? The conclusion of this post was interrupted by a knock at my door: the nurse bringing by a bag of fresh baked buns. I refused to let her leave without a big slice of moli kana!
It took a while to learn this lesson. To learn how to be apart of this system of reciprocity and put to rest my inner cynic. But, what was once an intimidating aspect of Fijian culture is now most dear to me! Feeling like you’re truly part of the ecology of a place is a way of living that cannot be replaced modern individualistic culture. Connection, belonging, fulfillment… you can’t find those things in the mall or on Amazon. Don’t believe me? Next time you cook, bring some over to your neighbor and notice how it feels. That right there? That is true living.