In 1994 I was able to take my wife, Kelly, to the Fiji Islands where I grew up. I was delighted to show her the islands and travel through the towns of Nadi and Lautoka. The islands had been rural when I was a child, more akin to growing up in the 1940s than the 1970s. In the 90s, following two coups and the slowing of the tourist trade, the place seemed much shabbier. Perhaps it’d always been that way, and I hadn’t noticed.
My father had brought us down there when he was in the international real-estate development game. He put together deals for people in this remote part of the world, and had a great time. He occasionally sold entire islands, and had sold one to the American actor Raymond Burr (of Perry Mason and Godzilla fame).
When Mr. Burr passed away he left his extensive orchid collection to an organization which opened a park called Garden of the Gods, halfway between Nadi & Lautoka. My mother also collected Fijian orchids, and we had a greenhouse where she kept them. I have also come to admire (and subsequently kill) many orchids myself. But this collection was stunning. Varieties from all over the planet, with Fiji’s vast holdings on prominent display.
Towards the back of the park was a series of waterfalls and pools, and playing therein were Fijian Banded Kingfishers. If I expressed an interest in orchids, that pales behind my love of birds. I am gaga for birds. Watching these little kingfishers flit around, dive in the water, play in the falls. Guh. Kelly had to drag me out.
Obviously there were kingfishers living there when I was a child. There was a huge variety of doves, rails, gulls, terns, petrel, etc. I never saw them. I knew mynahs (an import from India), and bulbuls (ditto), and the little green and red finches we called rain birds, as they would swoop in after the monsoon rains to eat drowned bugs.
But watching those kingfishers was a treat I haven’t experienced since. The kingfisher is a special bird for me. She breaks the barrier between water and air, and finds items deep below the surface. Lelewai is one of the old Fijian words for Kingfisher. "Wai” mean water in Fijian, and "Lele" probably means bird. (It does in Hawai'ian. I don't know any Fijians around here to ask.)
To me Lelewai is a little guy, smart, plucky, and clever. He makes an opportunity from his own gumption, diving deep and finding something great.
Our family is a bunch of steampunks, and we are all builders and artists. Kelly sketched Lelwai and the camera and I cleaned him up in Illustrator and animated him in Motion. As a type bug I designed the typography and did the lower banner. One day Lelewai will be fully animated. He will come out on his stubby little legs, smoking a big cigar, just like my dad, give us a wink, and start up his little camera.
— Tony Jonick, Founder, Kingfisher Talking Pictures
The Story of Lelewai