It’s not grass skirt weather in San Francisco, according to eight men in grass skirts.
“They’re very cold right now,” said Laisiasa Veikoso, their leader. “The weather is not like this in Fiji.”
The eight men — a troupe of native Fijian performers — came to Union Square on Tuesday as part of the “Fiji Happiness Takeover.” Their dance was part of several Fijian-themed events around the Bay Area this week to mark the arrival of a Fiji team that’s competing in the Rugby World Cup Sevens, the big international tournament held this year in San Francisco.
The idea was to sing, dance, bang spears and persuade as many mainlanders as possible to hop aboard one of the new nonstop San Francisco-to-Fiji flights ($611 one way) and ditch the typical San Francisco summertime climate that was making the troupe frantically hop up and down on the Union Square stage to stay warm between numbers.
Under gray, foggy skies, while spectators bundled up in flannel and down, the bare-chested troupe took the stage. A Fijian dance, called a meke, usually tells the story of the last great victory in battle against a neighboring tribe. All the dances tell of victory. Should a battle end in defeat, Veikoso said, there may be no men left to dance.
A proper Fijian dance is performed barefoot, in a grass skirt, with a pair of boar’s tusks around one’s neck. This is how the members of the Kabu ni Vanua troupe were attired, and the several dozen Union Square spectators were immediately able to see what a Fijian dancer wears under his grass skirt.
“It looks like they’re freezing,” said Susannah Parker, a visitor from Salt Lake City.
“I don’t think I could do what they’re doing in what they’re wearing,” said Alex Nelson, a visitor from Rochester, Minn.
It had been quite a trip so far. The Fijian dancers couldn’t get seats on the new nonstop flight, so they were obliged to change planes in Los Angeles, where their first taste of U.S. hospitality involved a TSA baggage check of their duffel bag full of spears (“TSA is not responsible for damage,” said a note left by the inspectors inside the spear bag.)
While the eight dancers danced, four singers sang.
“All the young men are very strong,” they sang, or would have, if they had sung in English. “Talking to the sea gives me happiness! Hello, hello everyone! Remember Fiji, a small country, with a will to move forward!”
In a Fijian dance, the performers look like they are hailing cabs, throwing salt over their shoulders, shot putting, threshing wheat and signaling “out” on a close play at the plate. Union Square had never seen the like.
“They’re very athletic,” said Kay Smith, a visitor from New Zealand, who said she had been to Fiji twice already and is ready to go again, maybe on her way home because she will fly right over it.
In Fiji on Tuesday it was 85. In Union Square on Tuesday it was 60. And never mind that it’s winter in the South Pacific right now. In Fiji, winter doesn’t count, said the Fijians. (Fiji is also the only country on Earth with three consecutive dotted letters in its name.)
Fijian dancing was not the only Fiji stuff going on during the Fiji Happiness Takeover. On Monday, there was a special ceremony that involved the drinking of a beverage called kava, which is what Fijians drink when they drink something they shouldn’t drink too much of.
A ticket to the Fijian rugby matches, being held at AT&T Park, cost $614, or slightly more than a ticket to Fiji.
For that, you get three full days of rugby, which has been called a “hooligan’s game played by gentlemen” except that about half of the AT&T games are being played by women. On a rugby field, say delighted fans, women and men are equally likely to be hooligans.
Rugby is a big deal in Fiji, as it is in many of the other countries of the world that the British brought governance and rugby balls to. It’s such a big deal that, backstage at Union Square, the bare-chested dancers were tossing around a rugby ball to stay warm until showtime.
“Pass it, pass it,” said one the dancers, rubbing his arms.