Tribal tourism Fiji


THEY were cheering Fiji-style at Vorovoro Island last week. This as the innovative tourism project Tribewanted celebrated its three year anniversary with an announcement that the successful tribal tourism project would be extended for five more years.

And it seems the widescale success could see Fiji set the pace for more such projects across the world. Tribewanted founder Ben Keene says the community had all proved that such projects could work.

“I always hoped the idea of Tribewanted could go beyond Vorovoro. Now is the time to do this as we have proved that it can work,” he said.

“Next year we will be launching a worldwide search for new tribes in new locations. The values of the projects will be the same – to empower both locals and visitors to live more sustainably whilst celebrating the local culture.

“The goal is to build a collection of the best community tourism projects anywhere and use social networking to fund, connect and scale them. It’s ambitious, but then again a lot of people thought what we’ve just done on Vorovoro as just a dream. Tribes – people connected to one another, a leader, and an idea – can change the way we all live, for the better,” Mr Keene said.

“I don’t particularly see Tribewanted as voluntourism – it’s more adventure meets education meets community – it’s tribal tourism. On Vorovoro you belong to something and you play your part.”

The three year anniversary began at sunrise with members and locals preparing the lovo, an earth oven that cooked pig, chicken, fish and root vegetables. Guests from neighbouring islands and the mainland arrived by boat and at midday Adam Carter, a 24-year-old Australian accountant on his sixth visit to Vorovoro, blew the conch from a bilibili (bamboo raft) to announce the arrival of the islands chief – Tui Mali.

A ceremony consisting of sevusevu (kava drink), tabua (whale’s tooth presentation – the contract) and meke (dances) followed. The rest of the day and all through the night the 35 visiting tribe members and 100-plus locals sat under the stars singing Fijian songs and drinking kava.

“It’s been an unbelievable three years,” Mr Keene said. “The first few months were the hardest… but we got through it and the tribe have flourished. I’m very proud and grateful for the way the two cultures have integrated on Vorovoro to form one community. When I return now I can sit back and enjoy being part of one of the happiest little villages in the world. There is nowhere I’d rather be.”

Tui Mali, chief and landowner says: “In most of Fiji there is a line in the sand between the locals and tourists. On Vorovoro there is no such line. That is why I’ve invited the tribe to stay. They are part of our community here on Vorovoro now, we feel sad when they leave.”

The lease agreement between Tribewanted and the landowners of Vorovoro has been extended for a further five years.

In April 2006 an online community was launched with the mission to recruit a ‘tribe’ of adventure travellers to help develop a sustainable community tourism project on the Fijian island of Vorovoro.

A partnership had been formed between Vorovoro island owners who were advertising for a tourism development and two young British social entrepreneurs. The project opened on September 1, 2006 with 13 of the online tribe members arriving on the beach to be welcomed by the island’s chief landowner, Tui Mali and his yavusa (tribe).

Over the next three years a village has been built using traditional craftsmanship and materials. Several ‘bures’ – thatched Fijian houses – now nestle between the palms where visiting ‘tribe members’ sleep on drift-wood beds. All water is rain-harvested from a tribe-made dam on the hill and other roof-tops. The average tribe member consumes just 6.2 litres of water a day compared to 200 litres per person per day in the United States. A small amount of energy is generated by wind and solar power sponsored by UK green energy company, Ecotricity. Area for biggest improvement is needed in the kitchen where 12.5 per cent of the food comes from the island, but the project has almost eliminated using any imported food.

Similarly waste is minimised on Vorovoro with 40 per cent of the 13kg produced per person each month being recycled. The project currently houses several chickens and ten pigs and plans to add bee hives shortly as well as a community diving project and fair trade coconut workshop.

On the neighbouring island of Mali, tribe members have taught in the local primary school a day a week for the last three years as well as raising funds through the tribe’s own foundation and art projects for wiring and sanitation projects.

Tevita Ratunigaloa, the community manager of Tribewanted at Vorovoro island, received rave reviews that led him to be selected as one of the top six tour guides in the world.

Visiting tribe members stay for a minimum of one week at a cost of 200 Pounds which includes being met from the local airport and transfered to the island, all meals and stay.

The tribe can be involved with the daily projects and jobs as much as they like alongside the permanent on-island Fijian team. The only expectation of the visitor is that they wash up their plate and respect the local cultural etiquette in terms of dress and greetings. The average age of a visiting tribe member is 28, although the project is also seeing an increasing number of families visiting.

Jimmy and Jenny Cahill from Indiana in the US, spent ten weeks on the island with their three children Lucas, Bethany and five year old Oliver who has his own video guide to island life. The Cahill’s will return to Vorovoro in October to lead the project for one year.

Jenny Cahill says: “Our time on Vorovoro has given us gifts that will be a part of us forever.”