Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Fiji

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This post is part of a series on what I affectionately call The Educational Summer Vacation. I have six kids, ages 5 through 17, and every summer vacation we "travel" to different countries, learning about the history, the language, the customs, and the food! 

This week my 5-year-old picked Fiji off the map. Here's how it went!


There are over 300 islands in the archipelago of Fiji and over 1,500 species of sea life off the coasts. Most of its people live on the two main islands: Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

We watched this intro to Fiji video and then found Fiji on the map. Usually our giant wall map is great for this, but I felt like it was kind of misleading to see Fiji down in the corner like it was just hanging out at the end of the world.

So we brought out a globe (we have this one) to find it, as well.

That's better.

Then we watched a short video on some Fijian myths and folk stories. Legend has it that the first people to sail to Fiji in their drua (sacred canoes) accidentally dropped a sacred relic called the Katonimana off the coast and it's still there to this day.

We looked up the flag of Fiji, which was probably a 6 out of 10 on the difficulty scale to copy. My kids all start complaining when they see a flag with a coat of arms, but at least this one was pretty straightforward.

Taped up on our Wall 'o Flags.

We looked up each item in the coat of arms and why it's important to Fiji. So what might be on our family coat of arms? I asked the kids to make one, but they were in a silly mood so most of them were about Cheetos.

I don't think we've had Cheetos for 6 months, at least, but clearly it made an impression on them.


Tuesday was a complete wash as far as The Educational Summer Vacation was concerned. 

A friend of ours went on vacation and, long story short, their dog's first 24 hours at the kennel went very badly and we went to make an emergency pickup. 

After getting Murphy home, bathing him (because stress-induced diarrhea is no joke,) and giving him lots of positive attention, the day was pretty much over. But the kids liked playing with Murphy way better than anything I would've planned having to do with Fiji so it turned out fine.


Fiji has three official languages: Fijian, Fiji Hindi, and English. Today we focused on the Fijian language. It's got a great sound to it, I kind of love it.

I had the kids take out pieces of paper and write down the Fijian alphabet as they listened to this 10-minute video. Ten minutes might sound like a long time, but my 7-year-old kept yelling, "He's going too fast!" 

That's because he was also explaining how Fijian uses letters from the Latin alphabet but pronounces some of them quite a bit differently. According to this website, that's because a missionary in the early 1800s matched Latin alphabet characters to their sounds but it didn't quite represent how Fijians conceptualized the sounds in their language so they tweaked it until it did.

We also counted from 1 to 10 and learned that "kerekere" means "please" in Fijian.

Then we took a minute to talk about the ocean. We read Coral Reef by Kate Scarborough to learn how a coral reef is formed. My 5-year-old had gotten bored and wandered off by this time, so I periodically yelled out a fun fact hoping it would get him curious enough to come back in.

"Did you know that a coral reef is made of animal skeletons?" I called. 

"Yes!" he answered, and kept doing whatever he was doing in the other room. (What a punk. He totally did not know that.)

The traditional Fijian canoe is called a "drua," meaning "double." I sort of described it to the kids but when I showed them a picture and they were all like "Oh, the boats in Moana." So maybe instead just say that. 

I planned to have the kids make their own drua, but we were all kind of hot and tired so I wasn't sure how into it they would be. I ended up making it a competition: one team would make a drua from materials they could find inside the house, and the other would make one from materials they could only find outside. 

Awarded Most Natural Recreation (right) and Most True to Its Fijian Roots (left.)

The outside drua turned out great. The kids used leaves, sticks, and bark from the yard, and lucky for them I'm terrible at lawn care so they had some nice blades of crabgrass to lash it all together. I loved how authentic it all was.

My favorite part of the drua made from inside materials was the attention to detail. They put a meke dancer on board (okay, hula, but it's close enough) and added a box to represent the Katonimana from the legends.

I wasn't planning on doing this, but the kids wanted to go put some water in the bathtub and see if they would float. 

I guessed that the sock forming the sail of the inside drua would soak up water and sink first, but actually both canoes stayed afloat until we got bored and declared it a tie.


The indigenous people of Fiji were fierce Melanesian warriors. In fact, sailors avoided Fiji which had earned the nickname "Cannibal Island" for a reason. We read a few fun facts from this article and then tried to move on before the kids asked too many questions.

Meke was a popular way to pass down stories through song and dance. There are male and female mekes, and they look really different.

(As an activity, I asked the kids to plan and present a story-song to me. The topic could be anything they wanted. What they came up with was a retelling of the Star Wars story, go figure.)

What people might not know about Fijians is that a significant percentage of the population is Indo-Fijian. Yep, they're descended from people brought as indentured servants from India to work on the sugar cane plantations when Fiji was a British colony (1874-1970.)

That's why music like this Indo-Fijian bhajan, while probably not the first thing you think of when you think of the South Pacific Islands, is another style of traditional Fijian music. 

That night for dinner, we made a Fijian curry.  

Served over rice.

I chose curry because it just seemed a lot... safer than other traditional Fijian dishes like kokoda. Also called ceviche, you "cook" kokoda by soaking the fish in vinegar, which is another way of saying you don't actually cook it

I like to think I'm motivated to experience each culture we cover during The Educational Summer Vacation, but it turns out my motivation stops where the likelihood of getting Salmonella begins.


Today we talked about some of the plants and animals you might find in Fiji.

We looked up the collared lory, which is the national animal of Fiji. It's such a colorful, pretty bird you can't not color one of your own with this coloring page.

Fiji is also home to 1,500 kinds of sea life, so I got the kids a few books, including Starfish by Deborah Coldiron and Sea Turtle by Melissa Gish. We read the book about sea turtles, which symbolize good luck in the Islands.

One of our books about Fiji shows a picture of a man carving a wooden sea turtle, which gave me the idea to "carve" sea turtles of our own. I got out the playdough and some toothpicks, and three of the kids made their own sea turtles.

We then learned about mangrove trees, which are also called "walking trees" because their roots look so weird. They're actually pretty cool, as seen in this video. If the kids want to learn more, I also got them Mangroves by Beth Blaxland to read.

Tomorrow we're planning to make a Fijian dish called roro, and I'll update this post when we do to let you know how it went. Spoiler alert: I'm sure none of the kids will like it. I expect that it will be more of an experiment than a meal, but time will tell.

And that was our week in Fiji! It was a busy one doing everything from learning about animals to choreographing a dance to having a canoe-building contest. No wonder I'm so exhausted by the end of The Educational Summer Vacation.

One more week left...

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