For two weeks before Sawau tribesmen from the island of Beqa in Fiji perform a firewalking ceremony, they have no contact with women and don't eat coconut. If they mess with "the rules" their feet are liable to get badly burned during the ceremony.
While in Fiji, I watched fire walking, not on Beqa, but the tourist version at the Outrigger on the Lagoon, Fiji on the island of Viti Levu. Now you can watch it too. (Funny thing, when the video begins, someone nexts to me coughs and it seems as though it's from the smoke you see.)
Read about the tradition of fire walking here. The performance sticks close to what is described.
(And remember, "vinaka" means "thank you.")
The population of Fiji is half Indo-Fijian, the descendants of Asian Indians brought to Fiji in the 19th century to work in the sugar cane fields. One guide told us that Indians have a fire walking tradition too, but theirs is religious, whereas the Fijian version is purely ceremonial.
If you're a solo traveler at the Outrigger, or just wind up there to watch, you'll feel comfortable as part of a crowd, as you sit on steps that overlook the lawn where the ceremony is performed.
There's a nice vibe and be sure to stick around to watch the performers pose for pictures with kids. It's a hoot as they pick some of them up and hold them upside down or sideways and make scary faces or gestures.
Video and photo: Ellen Perlman
(This post first ran in 2011.)