Britian's Prince Charles sampled Fiji’s mildly narcotic drink, kava, and was presented with a roasted pig and several brightly coloured mats at an elaborate welcoming ceremony by Fijian villagers today.
Making his first official visit since 1974, Charles was greeted by Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo at a traditional welcome ceremony in Viseisei village, near the western city of Nadi.
Tribal chiefs and nearly a hundred villagers wearing grass skirts and floral sashes around their necks gave the prince a rousing welcome, singing and chanting as they prepared a ceremonial offering of Fiji’s traditional drink, kava, which is made by mixing water with the pounded roots of a kava plant.
Women in long, patterned dresses offered the prince several ibe – woven mats edged in bright colours – before another set of villagers placed a roasted pig wrapped in grass leaves before the prince.
Charles expressed gratitude to the more than 400 government officials, chiefs and villagers who attended.
“I can’t tell you with what joy I have looked forward to coming back to Fiji,” Charles told the gathering.
“I have been deeply touched and grateful for the wonderful welcome that you have given me on this occasion.”
Earlier, three generations of men in the village’s warrior tribe said they were proud and honoured to participate in the welcome ceremony.
Judas Delibatiki, a 23-year-old hotel worker, said this was the first visit by the prince to his village during his lifetime.
“It’s very exciting,” he said.
Two of Delibatiki’s elder relatives – uncle Jona Qio and grandfather Viliame Nato, who led Charles’ motorcade into the village – said they held the prince in high regard and compared the British monarchy with Fijian tribal hierarchy.
“We respect our chiefs, our king,” Qio said, refusing to comment on the controversy that has surrounded the prince since the announcement of his forthcoming marriage to his long-time companion Camilla Parker-Bowles on April 8.
“He is our chief,” added Nato. Fiji gained independence in 1970 after nearly a century as part of the British Empire.
After the ceremony, Charles sped through the streets of Nadi in a police-escorted motorcade as hundreds of Fijians waited in heavy rain to wave and cheer as he drove by.
Charles was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase later today before attending a reception hosted by the British High Commission in Fiji.
Charles was scheduled to spend most of tomorrow in Fiji before flying back to Britain late in the day at the end of a tour that also took him to Australia and New Zealand.