Fijian culture is a blend of Melanesian and Polynesian backgrounds, although Fiji is also influenced by other vibrant cultures, including Chinese, Indian, European and other South Pacific cultures, particularly Rotuman and Tongan. Indigenous Fijian culture is made up of a great variety of traditional language, art, music, food, clothing and folklore. This culture also gives high importance to the family unit. You can experience traditional Fijian culture at its best by visiting the quaint villages on these islands.
Family values in Fiji
Traditional Fijian culture highly regards the family unit, the village and the land (or vanua). Villages, tribes and clans are led by a chief. The position of chief is inherited; when a chief dies, a male family member takes his place, though it does not necessarily have to be his son. The largest social unit in Fiji is known as a yavusa, from which the members are thought of as the direct descendents. Each brother in a family then forms his own branch of yavusa, which is called the mataqali. The mataqali consists of different levels, which are based upon the duty performed by the member:
Turuga: the chiefly and highest position in a village, tribe, or clan
Sauturaga: supporter of the chief, enforces his commands and has final say in the choosing of the next chief
Mata ni vanua: in charge of ceremonial functions and are the official heralds of the village
Bete: the priest class
Bati: the warrior class
Dau and Matai: the specialized skilled and crafts people
The mataqali are also subdivided into tokatoka, each of which consists of closely-related families.
Fijian art is made up of varieties of beautiful pottery, wooden and woven handicrafts. Weaving and pottery-making is generally performed by the women. Each region in Fiji has its own unique pottery style, and some villages are renowned for their fine pottery, including Na Lotu located on Kadavu, along with the villages in the Nadroga and Rewa provinces. Weaving material mostly consists of coconut and pandanus, which are used to create lovely and intricate mats, hats, baskets and so on. There is also an art gallery in Savusavu on Vanua Levu where you can see a wide variety of gorgeous Fijian art.
The traditional dance in Fiji is known as the meke, which may include some aspects of the seasea (women’s fan dance) or meke wesi (men’s spear dance). Each district in Fiji has its own unique form of the meke, and these dances can be used to narrate celebrations and important events, such as the installation of a chief or a war.
Fijian music is mostly dominated and influenced by the Melanesian and Polynesian cultures, although folk songs also play a large part. Folk music in Fiji consists of a combination of vocal church music and traditional dance forms. Instruments often used in traditional Fijian music include the guitar, ukulele, mandolin and Lali drum, which is also used to call village members or local people in an area for a variety of social gatherings.
English, Bau Fijian and Hindustani are the official languages in Fiji, though English is the most widely spoken. The Fijian language originated from the Austronesian family of languages and is made up of many dialects, but Bau Fijian is the most commonly spoken of these. The Fijian alphabet is similar to the English version, however the letter “x” is excluded and “h” and “z” are rarely used. There are also some pronunciation differences; the letter “c” is pronounced like the English “th” sound in “this”, the letter “d” is followed by an “n” sound, “b” is followed by an “m” sound, “g” by itself is pronounced like the “ng” in “thing”, “q” is pronounced as “ng” plus a strong “g” like in “finger” and “r” is rolled as it is in Spanish.
Fiji food and drink
The traditional foods and ingredients for preparing Fijian meals include fish, rice, sweet potatoes, coconut, cassava, breadfruit and taro. Fiji also has delicious national specialty dishes, such as Kokoda, which is raw fish with coconut cream marinated in lemon or lime juice, and Coconut Chutney, which consists of grated coconut, green chile, lemon juice, grated ginger, cilantro leaves and salt.
The national drink of Fiji is yaqona, or kava, which is prepared from the root of a pepper plant. The drink brings about the feeling of numbness on the tongue and lips, along with muscle relaxation. However, it is strong and can become intoxicating if you drink too much of it. Kava drinking is often done in villages during ceremonies or simply as part of social gatherings.
The traditional clothing in Fiji is the sulu, which is very similar to a sarong or pareau. One dress can be worn in numerous forms for both casual and formal occasions, and both men and women wear them. Men wear the skirts to school, work, events and even for special occasions. The elder women normally wear floor-length skirts, while the young women usually prefer short length skirts and dresses.
Indigenous Fijians are highly religious people. In Fijian villages, there is usually a beating of the Lali drum at sunrise, which is meant to awaken the gods. Fijians have traditionally believed and worshipped in gods that were thought to bring about both prosperity and misfortune, along with gods and spirits of the afterlife. The most important of these gods is Degei, who was believed to take the form of a giant snake that resided in a cave and also judged the newly-dead souls. The two places dead souls could be judged to were either the paradise-afterlife, Burotu (comparable to Heaven in Christianity) or Murimuria, located at the very bottom of a lake, where they were appropriately rewarded or punished.