In conjunction with Marama Alliance's shared bookshelf book club I have decided to write a book review on one of my favourite reads. I usually take very long to finish a book because I get easily distracted but this book I finished in two days. This book brought out so many emotions for me. I cried, laughed so hard and also got very angry. As a Pacific Islander who is so passionate about health it opened my eyes to a lot of things.
SEVENS HEAVEN by Ben Ryan aka Ratu Peni Ryani Latianara. He was given a chiefly title after helping Fiji gain its first ever gold medal at the Rio Olympic games in 2016. He speaks about his journey from being a player and coach in the UK then moving to Fiji with great hope and promise.
His passion for what he does is undeniable because he hit so many stumbling blocks during his time as coach in Fiji. While so many people would have packed and left, Ben decided to ride the hard waves even when he didn’t get paid for the work he was doing.
As a foreigner who was so new to our culture and ways of life he saw things from a different and very interesting view. I loved looking at things through his perspective and this is where so many questions I have in my heart stem from.
He deeply respected so many aspects of our culture but he also understood that we sometimes let it be our downfall. He had to establish boundaries that weren’t easy to put in place but were necessary to see the success of the team.
Fijians are crazy about rugby, me being one of them. At one point, I was planning my life around making it to all the different sevens tournaments around the world. As a past international flight attendant I was blessed to be able to do just that.
Ben noticed that everywhere the team would go, islanders being islanders would prepare huge feasts that would include foods rich with refined sugar and wheat. He had to get strict about food, social gatherings and telling people they weren’t allowed to visit during tournaments so they could stay focused on their game. During the Olympics he restricted all phones and social media until the end.
So my question is? Why did it have to take a foreigner to make these changes? This question might not sit right with a lot of people but hear me out. Sometimes it takes an outside view to realise things that have been taking place for years.
Pacific Islanders have an innate strength. This is why we have rugby players all over the world. I have seen Fijian boys who probably have never been to a gym with 12 pack abs and calf muscles for days. We never needed fancy protein shakes or the latest fitness fad to have a great built and strength. I remember speaking to an English girl once and she said "we would always want the Fijian kids in our team because they were the best at sport".
A lot of our Pacific Island ways have been washed out. A lot of these ways might seem primitive to some. Normal ways of life included getting all our food from the land. Our protein came from fresh seafood and animals, our vegetables and starches were grown with the sweat of our hands.
As an Integrative Health Coach one of the things that get emphasised is social connections, community and support. I can tell you, us Pacific Islanders cover that area so well. This is why we haven't been handling social distancing so well either lol.
Although, this pandemic has had its moments of negativity I believe it has blessed my beautiful country so well. I am hearing great stories of people going back to the real treasure, our land, our sea and best of all, to each other.
The barter system is one I grew up in. We could go to our neighbours and ask for sugar, butter or anything we ran out of and our neighbours knew they could do the same with us. Since this pandemic started, Fijians have seen a great loss in terms of jobs and income but they have taken the bartering system by storm. We are going back to exchanging talents, goods, services and sometimes plain goodwill wanting nothing in return.
Pacific Islanders have so much to reclaim and while our ways may seem backward to a lot of people that is where our power lays. Although, I am very thankful to Ben Ryan for making me realise this I believe we don’t need to wait for the next kaivalagi to come and be the ones that open our eyes and make a difference. We can be and do that for each other.
A lot of the latest research around health include things like earthing (getting energy from nature), organic foods, sun for vitamin D. Pacific Islanders have summer all year around. Pato (no shoes) is a way of life and we don’t have a shortage of the beautiful sun. I feel like if they took their power back and stopped giving it to big corporations selling them highly processed foods they would be the healthiest people on this planet.
The power is truly in the people’s hands.
I write this as a child of the Pacific, with a crazy passion for people and health but mostly with great love.
Thank you Ben for your inspiration and a wonderful book!