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Fiji Fire Walkers

On a recent dive trip to Fiji, staying on Beqa Island, we were fortunate enough to witness their legendary fire-walkers in action. From a distance it’s easy to theorize as to how it’s done, but after experimenting on one of the rocks, the blistering result left a burning question - what was their trick?  Many cultures from around the world participate in fire-walking - India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Bora Bora, Spain, Bulgaria, China, Tahiti, South Africa, Trinidad, Mauritius, Honolulu – to name a few. The mystery has always been how the human body can withstand the high temperature and emerge unscathed with no apparent sensation of pain. I was already skeptical, I had seen the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters Episode 107 (geek I hear you say) They had shown how easy it was to walk over hot coals – they theorized “ your feet don’t get burned when walking over coals because the ash on the coals forms an insulating layer and also because the foot does not stay in contact with the coals for a long period” -------- Mmmm no! Not in this case, the rocks were large with absolutely no ash insulating the top and Doh! My hand was only on the rock for a microsecond when it was most certainly burned – I’m positive my palm would have fried if I had left it on any longer. The island of Beqa is only a few kilometers away from Pacific Harbour off the main island of Viti Levu. (Pronounced Beng- a) and is known as the traditional home of the Fijian Firewalker. Although it's done occasionally on the main Island of Viti Levu and I had seen fire-walkers at Sonaisali Island Resort a year earlier, (but was told then that the family participating was from Beqa) – it is almost always linked to Beqa and hence the famous fire walkers of Beqa Island It is said that this ancient religious ceremony often requires great strength and discipline of the mind, body and spirit and the Villagers that participate must observe strict traditional protocols before walking on the white-hot stones – certainly after watching these men slowly walk around the ring of white hot rocks, you do wonder how on earth they do it.

The British Medical Association: Members of the British Medical Association concluded after witnessing a ceremony, that first, the skin of the participants was neither thicker nor tougher than that of anyone else accustomed to walking barefoot all their lives. Second, there was no evidence of oil or any other substance applied to their feet, nor were the participants under the influence of opiates. Finally, the performers reacted normally to painful stimuli such as burning cigarettes or needles jabbed into their feet before and after the fire-walking.

The Fijian Legend - the Firewalkers of Beqa Island

On the island of Beqa, there lived a famous storyteller who often entertained his tribe, the Sawau. It was customary for the people of the village to bring him gifts in exchange for his eloquent tales. Once, upon being asked what he would like, he requested that each member of the audience bring him the first thing they found while hunting the next day. One of the Beqa warriors went fishing for eels. The first thing he caught felt like an eel but when pulled from the mud, revealed itself to be a spirit god. The warrior set off to present his find to the storyteller but the spirit god pleaded for his freedom, offering all kinds of gifts in exchange. He was ignored until he offered power over fire, which piqued the warrior's interest. In order to prove the spirit god's promise, a pit was dug and lined with stones. A huge fire burned in the pit until the stones became white with heat. The spirit god leapt upon the stones and told the warrior to follow. He hesitated but finally did and, to his surprise, felt no pain from the heat. He was then told that he could be buried alive for four days in a cannibal oven without being hurt. The warrior neglected to test this but, ever since then, members of the Sawau tribes are able to walk on white-hot stones.

Give it ago - Not that anyone tried while we were there, but if you happen to be observing the fire-walkers on Beqa and you are unconvinced, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind you getting up and giving it a go. 

Tags
and South Pacific Islands
and Fiji
Culture
History
Brent Narbey
Submitted by
Brent Narbey
: 10 Sep 2009 (Last updated: 18 Jul 2017)

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