Returning to the field
May 22, 2015
By Emma Hughes
This month I had the opportunity to return to the villages where I had undertaken my fieldwork in Fiji and catch up with some of my participants, 6 months on from my last stay. Returning to the field was a very different experience from my initial arrival! Many of the uncertainties of my first weeks there were now known quantities: I knew the best place to buy kava, which bus to catch, and how to get to the right house in the village (there are no numbers or street addresses). I could discuss the names of the different schools as we watched the high school athletics, exchange updates on our respective children with the shop owners and even pass on information from out of town on who is getting married and who has a new baby. The smells and sounds of the village were now familiar: the smoke from the cooking fires, the sounds of singing and talanoa, the clang of pestle on mortar for pounding kava and the chanting of the kava ceremony, kids running and playing, and through the night the noises of roosters, geckos and fruit bats.
Even more striking was the welcome I received as a returning guest. I was greeted like an old friend and special meals were prepared on my behalf: fresh Mangrove Jack caught at 2 am that morning with miti (coconut and chilli relish), ota (fern) salad and plantain. Everyone was happy to update me on the latest developments in the village and the kids were all excited to receive letters and news from my children. Most of all, I think people were pleasantly surprised that I had returned to spend time with them; many times during my fieldwork I heard tales of researchers who had come and gone before me but nobody could say what the outcome of that research was, or remember the researcher’s name. It made me realise how communities come to suffer ‘research fatigue’ and prompted me to consider carefully how my own research findings might be communicated on my next trip.