Dance in Fiji is symbolic of the salad bowl of cultures that exist on the islands. Modern instruments such as guitar and the mandolin are common, as are Western methods of composing music. However, just as indigenous Fijians have held on to their cultural roots through traditional food and dress, they have demonstrated just as lively a patriotism by keeping alive indigenous Fijian dances along with their original meaning and significance.
The Fijian Meke
The most popular traditional Fijian dance is the meke, which is a combination of dance and story-telling through song. Both men and women perform in the meke, and the dance is viewed as a group collaboration in which men are expected to demonstrate strong, virile movements, while women are expected to be graceful and feminine. There are several versions of the meke, such as the war dance, the men’s spear dance, the men’s or women’s fan dance and the sitting dance. Mekes are performed at special functions and at cultural nights held by major resorts. The dancing and chanting are accompanied by rhythmic clapping and beating of the lali, a traditional Fijian drum. Visitors who are viewing the dance are often invited at its culmination to join in and perform a simple dance movement called the taralala.
Poi is another form of dance in Fiji that is often performed at fire-walking shows (a practice in Fiji with historic significance that is now commonly performed to entertain tourists). In this dance form, which was borrowed from the Maori people of New Zealand, balls are tied to the ends of ropes which are then swung in rhythmic fashion. Poi is now performed primarily by women, who often mix singing with the traditional poi dance movements.
The Indo-Fijians have made their own indelible mark on the Fijian dance scene. The Indian Cultural Centre in Suva trains dancers in seven types of classical Indian dances; of these dances, bharathnatym and kathak are the most popular and like in the Fijian meke, each of the movements and gestures of these dances signifies a particular meaning and is part of a larger enterprise of story-telling through dance.
Both Fijian and Indian dances are taught at Fijian schools, and school functions offer a terrific opportunity for choreographers and children to experiment with fusing the different types of dance. In particular, the University of the South Pacific in Suva, whose student body is made up of diverse cultures, hosts a variety of dance and music functions that promote multiculturalism. The nightclubs in Fiji also showcase multiethnic dance forms that fuse Indian, Fijian and Chinese dance influences into the more typical club dance moves.