News: Polynesia comes to Prosperity
Story by Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris
Service members were transported from the Middle East to the South Pacific, Jan. 29, as soldiers of the 1st Battalion, Fiji Infantry Regiment put on a cultural dance show at Forward Operating Base Prosperity.
"We needed this program in order to, firstly, show you what our culture is all about and, secondly, create an understanding and an awareness between the two forces," explained Capt. Ropate Cabealawa, Fiji Infantry Regiment.
Cabealawa and a few dozen male and female Fijian Soldiers, who serve as the United Nations Guard Unit in Iraq, treated other coalition members to an hour of traditional music and dancing.
A group of male soldiers in Polynesian garb kicked off the evening singing harmonies to ukulele playing, evoking visions of palm trees swaying in the warm breeze and dazzling sunsets casting an orange hue across the sea.
This euphoric dream was interrupted by a distant battle cry, followed by the entrance of a dozen Fijian warriors bearing spears and war paint. They chanted, danced and thrust their spears while the band traded its ukulele for war drums.
Once the spearmen had left the floor, it was the women's turn. Their entrance was more subdued than their male counterparts, but their performance was every bit as engaging. They danced with natural ease as the ukulele played, as if the music of their homeland were part of their genetic makeup. Their fluidity of movement, combined with traditional outfits, made quite an attractive combination.
Coalition members also got a chance to participate in the "Snake Dance" with both the male and female Fijian soldiers. This dance was something like a conga line that continually changed directions, causing plenty of accordion-like expansions and contractions as the uninitiated attempted to stay in step. It also led to an abundance of laughing, cheering and clapping from both audience members and participants.
"It was a lot of fun," said Snake Dance-participant Senior Airman Holly McDonald, NATO Training Mission-Iraq.
"They're all Soldier-related dances; even for the women," added Air Force Staff Sgt. Doreen Prasad, and native of Fiji also serving with NTM-I.
Prasad is the embodiment of a U.S.-Fiji relationship that dates back nearly seven decades.
"It started in the Pacific when we were part of the 37th Infantry," said Cabealawa. This U.S. division arrived in Fiji in June 1942 and assumed control of the Fiji Defense Force. The Fijian troops distinguished themselves fighting Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands campaign, the Battle of Bougainville and other engagements.
More than 60 years later, Fijian and U.S. forces once again face a common enemy.
"We're fighting the same war; we're on the same side," Cabealawa said.