Modern day Fiji is a worshipper’s paradise. It is not surprising that in a place where people practice diverse religions and keep alive the mystical stories of their old religion, sacred sites, such as temples, mosques and churches lie in abundance.
Before Christianity spread across Fiji, nearly every village on the islands had a temple, in which worshippers offered gifts to the gods of the old religion. In the 19th century, most of these temples were razed and Christian (predominantly Methodist) churches were erected in their place. St. Xavier Catholic Church, which located on a hilltop in Navunibitu, Rotuma, is an old edifice with a sweet surprise inside: a startling mural of the Black Christ painted in 1963 by the French artist Jean Charlot. Parish priest Father Petero Mataca explained what he believes to be the significance of the Black Christ mural: “The artist painted that God as a Fijian, a local to show that God [is not a foreigner but lives among the people].”
Soul-searching visitors arriving at Nadi Airport should not miss a chance to see the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple, located at the end of the main road in Nadi. The temple, which is the largest Hindu temple in the southern hemisphere, was originally constructed in 1926 and then re-designed and re-constructed in 1986. It is a construction marvel that evidences the architectural principles of the Vastu Vedic tradition. Worshippers and tourists flock to this temple en masse every day to witness and participate in the unique religious ceremonies held here.
The Sri Siva Subrmaniya Temple holds special importance for Fijian Hindus because the Kendrit Shiri Sanatan Dharam Shiv Temple, which also used to be located in Nadi, was destroyed by arsonists in October 2008. Four other temples were also burned down within just a few weeks of the Kendrit Shiri Sanatan Dharam Shiv Temple destruction, evidencing a wide-scale attack against Fijian Hindus. (The Fiji Times published an editorial condemning Christian aggression towards Hindus and the destroying of Fijian landmarks.)
A 30-minute flight away is Vatulele, a small, pristine island that is home to the Sacred Red Prawns. Legend has it that long ago in Vatulele there lived a beautiful chief’s daughter whose hand was coveted by all the young chiefs. One particularly daring suitor from Viti Levu brought with him what he thought would be a delectable gift that the maiden would be unable to resist: giant prawns from the coastal streams of Viti Levu, cooked to perfection in coconut milk.
The chief’s daughter was enraged at the emollition of these beautiful creatures and had the young chief flung off the highest cliff on Vatulele Island. As the young suitor fell off the cliff, the prawns fell from his hand into the tidal pools which lay at the base of the cliff. Immediately, the prawns came to life again! Today, travelers can still visit the tidal pools in which these sacred, scarlet-colored prawns swim.