Fiji is a modern country, although parts the country are still making slow progress towards basic amenities such as electricity. Therefore it is not uncommon to be disorientated when the city suburbs give way to open countryside where houses can be miles apart, and their tiny beacons of light can be lost in the wild darkness that can be attractive by day yet sinister by night. This ghostly encounter comes from my father's side of the family, although he himself is not a believer, the experiences of his various family members often makes me wonder if my father is in denial of such things due to some hidden fear.
However, as I stated, this encounter is from an early period of my father's life, when he was around twelve in the mid 1970's. Growing up in one of the deepest rural parts of Fiji, my father's family has been farming the same land of sugar cane since 1879 when they were first brought there by British colonials. The land was confiscated forcefully from local Fijians, similar to how the Red Indians lost their land when Europeans took over the West. There was a lot of discontent and severe uprisings among the local villagers who took their anger out on the "White Menace". Observing the harsh cruelty being dealt on the Indian laborers, the Fijians left them alone.
It was during this period a lot of people both Indian and Fijian, died from the treatment of their colonial superiors. Finding the traditional practices of mourning lengthy and unnecessary, the British declared such practices as heathen and banned the burial rites for both cultures. This meant bodies were often buried in and around the fields, forests and gorges where the sugar cane farming was taking place, sometimes the body would be thrown into the river out to sea. Such a lack of respect for the dead coupled with the absence of proper rites designed to guide a soul to heaven meant that to this day mourning spirits walk the dark roads, river ways and fields searching for what they have lost.
My father's brothers often describe how there were set rules for anyone traveling after dark for the village is spread over several miles and covered by sugar cane fields which can be isolated; never travel alone and never follow anyone who calls out but you don't recognize.
Being young they often disregarded this rule especially when returning home from a distant neighbor's after a night of drinking and merriment. One such occasion brought home the severity of their actions and how close to death they had come. My father's brothers were nicknamed Peter and Tarzan; being hip and cool they decided to play a trick on their younger brother who had tagged along with them despite their protests. At 4 am, with the stars lighting their way vividly in gray, the three set out for home after another night of merriment at their friend's house. Walking the narrow path through the sugar cane field, they came across the river that they often followed back home. Walking along the bank at the edge of the field, the two older brothers stopped for a bathroom break. The younger one, realizing he needed more time and privacy, retreated further into the sugarcane to deal with nature's call.
The two finished their job and realising their brother was taking care of business, decided to teach him a lesson for tagging along. They quietly slipped away and raced back home to their beds, leaving the poor boy alone.
My uncle came out of the fields and approached the river to wash his hands, not realizing his brothers had left him. Looking further up the bank to search for them, he saw a figure in white moving away from him. My uncle called out and he says he heard an answering shout. Thinking it was his brothers playing a trick, uncle followed. Unable to catch up, he yelled for them to slow down but an answering shout came back telling him to hurry up. Mad at their idiocy for risking a dangerous path next to the slippery river bank, my uncle gave up and went home.
He shared a room with his grandmother, who merely got up and let him into the house before going back to bed. However she told us later that it was a night she could never forget because my uncle wouldn't let her sleep. Uncle began to talk in his sleep (He had never done this before) and then whilst in the grip of sleep, he would get up and head for the river. My great grandmother told us how she had to tie rope on one of his wrists so that she could prevent him from going. He kept repeating one thing in his sleep "They're calling me. I must go to them."
In the morning my grandfather (uncle's father) called the three boys before him and managed to get the whole story from them. Peter uncle said that he had never seen my grandfather look so grave and angry. He in turn had to get a local priest to ward off whatever it was that my Uncle had picked up from the riverbank. By calling to them, he had unknowingly invited them into his life and they would have taken him into the spirit world with him had he not been stopped by great grandmother. My two older uncles learnt a harsh lesson, my uncle had come close to death due to their foolishness. A fact that still haunts them to this day.
Even today, whenever we visit our grandparents and dad's ancestral lands, we are not allowed outside after midnight without a proper escort. The deep despair of hundreds of lost spirits still walk our lands, searching for companions on their lonely and never ending wanderings.