Culture of Fiji: Wikis


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Fiji's culture is a tapestry of indigenous Fijian, Indian, European, Chinese, and other nationalities. Culture polity, traditions, language, food, costume, belief system, architecture, arts, craft, music, dance and sports which will be discussed in this article to give you an indication of Fiji's indigenous community but also the various communities which make up Fiji as a modern culture. The indigenous culture is an active and living part of everyday life for the majority of the population. However, it has evolved with the introduction of vibrant and old cultures including Indian, Chinese and European culture, and various cultures from the Pacific neighbors of Fiji; in particular the Tongan and Rotuman cultures. The culture of Fiji, including traditions, hierarchy and language, has created a unique communal and national identity.


Tradition and Hierarchy

Fijian indigenous society is very communal, with great importance attached to the family unit, the village, and the vanua (land)[1] . A hierarchy of chiefs presides over villages, clans, and tribes. Chiefly positions are hereditary; a deceased chief is invariably followed by a kinsman, though not necessarily his own son. This reflects Polynesian influence: in most other Melanesian societies, chiefs are appointed on merit.

The largest social unit for Fijians is the Yavusa, defined by historian R.A. Derrick as the "direct agnate descendants of a single kalou-vu" (deified ancestor). Chiefly succession was from older brother to younger brother, after the death of their father. When the youngest brother died, the eldest son of the eldest brother became chief. This tradition still influences Fijian society today, though less rigidly: there is more of a tendency nowadays towards primogeniture.[2][3]

Each brother in the family then formed his own branch of the yavusa, called the Mataqali. Each mataqali became the custodian of a specific task. A fully developed Yavusa has several mataqali:

  • Turaga : This mataqali descends from the original ancestor through primogeniture - inheritance of the eldest son in each succeeding generation. The chief of a village is always chosen from the Turaga mataqali[1][4].
  • Sauturaga : These are next in rank to the chiefs, support him, and enforce his commands and also have final say in the installation of a Chief[1]
  • Mata ni vanua : These form the official heralds of the village. They are also in charge of ceremonial functions[5].
  • Bete : This was the traditional priestly class. The kalou-vu was believed to speak through the Bete.[1][6]
  • Bati : This mataqali forms the traditional warrior class[6].
  • Dau and Matai : these are the crafts people and specialized skilled people of the tribe e.g. Dau ni vucu (Poet/choreographer/composer), Dau ni yau (treasurer), Mataisau (carpenter/or Canoe builder)[1]

The mataqali are subdivided into Tokatoka, each comprising closely related families.

Several mataqali comprise a village, several of which form a yavusa or district. The British colonial rulers amalgamated the districts into Yasana, or Provinces. The districts also form three Matanitu, or Confederacies. These are often said to be agglomerations of provinces, but as the latter were a colonial imposition, the boundaries do not coincide exactly, and the Provinces of Tailevu,Ra, Naitasiri , Lomaiviti and parts of Yasawa and Ba makes the Kubuna Confederacy. This Confederacy in modern Fiji is considered to be the most senior. The other two are Burebasaga (covering the rest of Viti Levu), and Tovata, covering Vanua Levu, and the Lau archipelago. Despite its isolation and relatively small size, Tovata has been politically dominant since Fiji gained its independence in 1970.


The official language is English while the national indigenous language is Bauan which is only one of the many dialects that exist in the Fiji Group, each of the fourteen provinces more or less have their own dialect though there is a clear distinction between the dialects of the West, Central and Eastern parts of the country.

Other languages spoken in the country are Hindi, Cantonese, Rotuman, Gilbertese (Rabi Island), and Tuvaluan (Kioa Island). The Fiji Islands are traditionally linked to their island neighbours Rotuma, Tonga and Samoa, and this is evident in the culture and dialects of the Northern and Eastern provinces being Cakaudrove, Bua, Macuata, and Lau. The many dialects spoken in these four provinces consistently use sounds that are heard in Tongan and Samoan, but not so with dialects from the Western and South Western parts of Fiji. The Fijian Language uses the Roman Alphabet as in English however readers need to be careful interpreting Fijian words in this, and similar articles. The following conventions exist:

The letter "c" is pronounced like the English "th" sound in "then". Therefore, "Laucala Bay" is spoken as Lauthala Bay. Each letter "d" is preceded with an "n" sound. Nadi (the airport town) is pronounced Nandi. Each "b" letter is preceded with an "m" sound. The town Ba is pronounced mBa. The letter "q" is pronounced as an "ng" (better "ng" + "g") sound as in the English word "finger". Beqa is pronounced mBeng-ga. The letter "g" by itself is sounded as an "ng" sound as in the English word "sing". The letter "r" is rolled as in Spanish. In Fijian words, each vowel is given its full weight and never shortened, skipped or slurred.

Fiji English

The existence of many dialects within the Fijian language as well as exposure to the other languages spoken have contributed to many Fiji Islanders being bilingual. For general communication in an informal environment, a very interesting cross use of the languages has developed, resulting in slang now commonly referred to as Fiji English. In formal settings, of course, correct usage is adhered to. Fiji English comprises aspects of Fijian, English and Hindi, which reflects the history and identity of the people of Fiji[7]

Cultural Arts and Social Polity

In Culture its various crafts and music give it an identity along with it traditional etiquette and varying forms of clothing attire, its unique architecture also tells a story of a culture and its evolution, the following will discuss these aspects of culture in Fiji.

Arts and Crafts

Fiji's arts and crafts reflect local adaptations of their Polynesian and Melanesian heritage. By tradition, the men's and women's crafts are separate.

Women's crafts

The village of Na lotu on Kadavu Island is famous for its pottery, the making of which is still governed by strict rituals. Nadroga and Rewa also produce fine pottery. Each region has its own unique style in the making of pottery.

Tapa from the Lau Islands in Fiji.

The making of tapa, or masi, is another craft associated with women. Tapa is made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree and decorated in charcoal with symbolic motifs and various patterns. In modern times, it has become fashionable for a masi to bear the name of the person who made it. Masi are often exchanged as gifts on formal occasions. The island of Vatuelele of the southern coast of Viti Levu is famous for its masi products.

Most Fijian mats are made from the leaves of the pandanus tree. The long process of preparation includes scraping and boiling the leaves, and drying them in the sun. There are different mats used for different occasions, and some are made as gifts for formal occasions such as weddings. Most mats are bordered with highly decorative and brightly coloured wool. One well-known Fijian mat is the kuta, made by women in Vanua Levu, particularly Bua.

Weaving using various materials was another craft generally mastered by the women but also aspects of weaving were mastered only by the men, various types of weaving practiced were and still are; basket weaving, coconut rope weaving, coconut leaves weaving.

Men's Crafts

Carving was practiced by the men; carving would be used for items of practical use and simple shapes and design were used. A lot of effort was put into well adorned weapons and items for the home and ceremony, today carving is practiced for its use in tourism and no longer plays a major role in Fijian society and life except in the case of the Tanoa used from drinking Kava.


Canoe Building was another art practiced only by the men, canoes were not only the major form of communication, but were important in all aspects of Fijian society, from the gathering of food and transporting of crops to use in presentation ceremonies and they were instrumental in wars and politics which were rife in Fiji.[8]. The art of Canoe building was varied across the group and had several different types but of a similar design, the Camakau was a small twin hulled canoe for fishing or small transportation purposes, the most impressive of Canoes in Fiji were that of the Drua, In Fiji’s early history before European involvement, Control of the seaway was a major and decisive objective; disrupting or cutting off the enemies supply and reinforcements gave great advantage in battle and would ensure victory, Sea battles involving hundreds of canoes were frequent. The canoe, which inspired fear and awe and so often held the balance was the mighty Drua, One of the most elaborate and beautiful artifacts of Oceania, the Drua was a product of considerable group efforts and human sacrifice. Double hulled and of gigantic proportions, the Drua was a masterpiece of design and craftsmanship, requiring total community involvement in its construction and human sacrifice in its launching[9] . Its speed out at sea would be in excess of twenty knots and still remained highly manoeuvrable, it was capable of carrying upward of one hundred and fifty warriors and took some 6 to 7 years to build and would vary in length from 100 feet to 118 feet and have a mast height of 60 to 70 feet, in the mid 19th century the following accounts were recorded:

"Up went the huge sail, down went the great steering oars, splashing into the sea, and away we shot like a racehorse. Owing to the great rate at which we were going, the sea was like a hissing cauldron on either side of our course, and the vessel, instead of having time to mount over the smaller waves, cut its way through them." (West, 1869).

"It had a magnificent appearance with its immense sail of white mats; its velocity was almost inconceivable." (Wilkes, 1840).

Ratu Seru Cakobau commanded an impressive fleet which had Several Drua with armed warriors ready for battle the led Canoe was named ‘Rusi I Vanua’ or ‘Cursed is the land’[10]. Much of the art of Canoe building has been lost and only a small few still practice the art on a very small scale as its use in this modern era seems to have lost its place. The craft of Canoe building was traditionally reserved for the male.

Performing Arts

Fijian Rugby Team Performing a Traditional War Dance before their Rugby encounter against Canada.

The Meke

An indigenous art form is the Meke, which may incorporate the seasea (women's fan dance) or a meke wesi (men's spear dance). It is usually a narrative of an important event such as a war, a chiefly installation, or even a scandal. Some mekes are generations old, and form an important part of Fiji's oral history. In olden times, the meke was considered to be an oracle from the gods, and the Dau ni vucu, or composer, would often go into a trance before a performance. Others are modern, composed for a particular event, much as a poet laureate might write a poem to celebrate an event in a Western country.

Each district of Fiji has its own form of meke, performed in the local dialect. Other forms of Polynesian and Melanesian dance art forms exist with most widely known being dances of Rotuma and Tonga. There are also various Indian dances and Chinese dances which are performed at relevant festivals marking important times for these communities which are now a part of Culture in Fiji.


Music of Old Fiji consisted of various chants which often told a story or preserved information to be passed on from generation to generation, these songs used various traditional instruments.

With the introduction of European and Asian cultures Music in Fiji has evolved and songs sung in the Fijian vernacular are popular but so also are songs in Indian and English, some local artist mix all three languages and traditional instruments from each culture making for a very interesting Musical experience.

Clothing and Costume

Fijian women in ceremonial dress (1930s)

The traditional attire was loin cloths for men and grass skirts for women. Skirts were short for single women, and long for married women, with girls wearing virgin locks before marriage. Most had the lower parts of their bodies decorated with tattoos. Chiefs dressed more elaborately.

Modern Fiji's national dress is the sulu, which resembles a skirt. It is commonly worn by both men and women. one type worn by both men and women is the 'Sulu va Taga' pronounced Sulu vah Tanga which is a wrap around piece of rectangular material which is elaborately decorated with patterns and designs of varying styles this is for more casual and informal occasions. Many men, especially in urban areas, also have Sulu va taga which is a tailored sulu and can be tailored as part of their suit. Many will wear a shirt with a western-style collar, tie, and jacket, with a matching Sulu va taga and sandals, this type of sulu can be worn to a semi formal or formal occasion. Even the military uniforms have incorporated the Sulu va taga as part of their ceremonial dress.

Women usually wear a multi-layered Tapa cloth on formal occasions. A blouse made of cotton, silk, or satin, of often worn on top. On special occasions, women often wear a tapa sheath across the chest, rather than a blouse. On other occasions, women may be dressed in a chamba, also known as a sulu I ra, a sulu with a specially crafted top.

There are many regional variations throughout Fiji. Residents of the village of Dama, in Bua Province, wear finely woven mats called kuta, made from a reed.

While traditional and semi-traditional forms of dress are still very much in use amongst indigenous Fijian culture, there is a greater influence from European and Asian Fashion in urban areas as in neighboring developed nations.

Traditions and Ceremony

Etiquette in Indigenous Fijian ceremony is rather intricate depending on the function as various formalities and presentations which do several things; firstly it shows respect between two communal groups, strengthen tribal and family ties and reinforce social, tribal and family ties. Various items are used in ceremony and surrounded by ceremony, Kava, known in Fiji as Yaqona, is Fiji's national drink. Traditionally, it was used only in important ceremonies. Nowadays, it is a social beverage. There is a strict protocol associated with yaqona drinking. One should clap once, clasping the hands, take the cup, and drink the yaqona in a single draft before returning the cup to the bearer, clapping three times, and saying the word maca (pronounced: maÞa).

Another highly prized item in ceremony is the Tabua or Whales tooth, other items also the use of Mats, Masi are also used traditionally in ceremony also various regions have tradition that has been passed down generation to generation for centuries one example are the Firewalkers of Beqa, The Sawau tribe of Beqa are noted for their ability to walk on white hot stones without being burned[11]. Strict rituals have to be observed before the firewalking ceremony. There is an ancient myth about how an ancestor of the Sawau tribe was given this power by a spirit god in exchange for his life, after the god was captured by the man who was fishing for eels.


The cuisine of Fiji in pre-colonial times consisted of root crops, vegetables, and fruits, as well as various land animals such as wild pig and various birds. The coastal tribes would have had the same, but also had a large amount of local seafood. These would have been prepared with local herbs and spices on wood fire rock ovens. Most cooking areas were located in the center of house so the smoke would repel insects and strengthen the roof thatching. Another popular method of cooking, which is still used today, is the lovo which is an earth oven[12] —a fire made on in a pit in the ground lined with heat-resistant stones. It closely resembles the hangi of the New Zealand Māori. When the stones are hot, food, wrapped in (banana) leaves, is placed in the pit, covered with soil and left to cook before being exhumed and eaten. Dishes cooked this way include palusami, parcels of taro leaves saturated with coconut milk, onions, and sometimes tinned meat.

Also ceremonial cannibalism was performed [13] not so much for sustenance but more as a means to humiliate your enemy by consuming him. This practice is now extinct.

Modern Fijian Cuisine is rather diverse with great influence from Indian cuisine and spices. When these are applied to local traditional dishes, it makes for interesting eating. European, Indian, and Chinese variants of cuisine, along with traditional foods, are common place in most, if not all households in Fiji.


A bure kalou, A sketch done in the early 1800's

In Old Fiji the architecture of villages was simple and practical to meet the physical and social need and to provide communal safety the houses were square in shape and with pyramid like shaped roofs [14] and the walls and roof were thatched and various plants of practical use were planted nearby, each village having a meeting house and a Spirit house. The spirit house was elevated on a pyramid like base built with large stones and earth, again a square building with an elongated pyramid like [14] roof with various scented flora planted nearby.

The houses of Chiefs were of similar design and would be set higher than his subjects houses but instead of an elongated roof would have similar roof to those of his subjects homes but of course on a larger scale.

With the introduction of communities from Asia aspects of their cultural architecture are now evident in urban and rural areas of Fiji's two main Islands Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. A village structure shares similarities today but built with modern materials and spirit houses (Bure Kalou) have been replaced by churches of varying design.

The urban landscape of early Colonial Fiji was reminiscent of most British colonies of the 19th and 20th century in tropical regions of the world, while some of this architecture remains, the urban landscape is evolving in leaps and bonds with various modern aspects of architecture and design becoming more and more evident in the business, industrial and domestic sector, the rural areas are evolving at a much slower rate.


Main article: Literature of Fiji

The emergence of Fiji's written literature (as distinct from oral literature) coincides with the country's transition to independence in 1970. Among the first published works of Fijian literature, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, were Raymond Pillai's short stories (in English) and Pio Manoa's poetry (in English and in Fijian language|Fijian). More recent notable Fiji writers include Satendra Nandan (poet and novellist), Sudesh Mishra (poet), Larry Thomas (playwright) and Joseph Veramo (novellist).[15]

Religion in Fiji

Religion of Fiji is quite diverse with Christianity being the dominant faith of the Majority, Christianity itself in Fiji has many denominations with the Majority being the Methodist denomination, of the Asian Religions the Hindu faith is dominant, after which Muslim faith and various other belief systems are followed.

The impact of Christianity

The impact of Christianity in the nineteenth century resulted in certain traditions being proscribed. In the pre-Christian era, human sacrifice was practiced. Men were buried alive to hold the pillars to the house of a chief. Cannibalism was practiced, too [16] : the bodies of enemies slain in battle, or in sacrifice, were piled up and cooked for festivals, such as the installation of chiefs, the launching of a great Canoe[16]. Seru Epenisa Cakobau, the Bauan warlord who united the disparate tribes of Fiji and proclaimed himself King in 1871, renounced cannibalism on his conversion to Christianity in 1854.

A bure kalou, a pre-Christian Fijian religious Building.

Old Religion

Fiji's old religion is no longer practiced however old deities are still acknowledged and respected but never worshiped as Christianity is the dominant faith amongst the indigenous community, there is still the existence in private of Fijian Witchcraft.


Of the various faiths Christianity is the dominant belief system and including all the various denominations of the Christian faith they number in total 449,482, as for the Hindus with their various denominations number in total 261,097, the Muslims make up 54,324 of Fiji's population and various other belief systems make up 10,166 of Fiji's population.

Sports Culture

Sports culture is unique as different racial mixes and cultures come together in a common interest, Fiji is fanatical about sports and the two most dominant being Rugby and Soccer.

Sports in precolonial Fiji

Sports in old Fiji, apart from recreation, had a practical place helping to train young warriors. One such practice would have the older men bring the male children a severally injured captive of war, letting the boys practicing their archery skills against this living target. Other sports of old Fiji are as follows:

Tiqa or Ulutoa Was a sport which involved an individual throwing from the forefinger a reed three or four feet in length armed with a six inch oval point of heavy wood. This weapon is made to skim along the ground to a distance of a hundred yards or more. In ancient times, many villages had a long level space kept clear of grass nearby for this sport, which was a competition of both accuracy and distance.[17]

Veisaga Was a sport practiced in some parts of Fiji on a large scale. A group of men and women would assemble on a hill top to wrestle. If a man closes with a woman, he will attempt to throw her and on succeeding they both roll together. Minor injuries would often occur from this, but they were concealed by the participants as a matter of pride. If pain was shown then intense ridicule would follow[17].

Veisolo Was rather a rough sport and at times resulted in death. It involved an attack made on a number of visiting males by a woman. The women would wait until the food was brought to the men, and would rush on their guests with the intent to cause them to scatter so they could take the food. Playful retaliation would follow by the men gently throwing the women to the ground. However, this would sometimes get out of hand and there were instances where men were killed[18].

The above sports are no longer practiced in modern Fiji.

Sports in Modern Fiji

Sports have developed greatly over the past 2 decades in Fiji with a wide variety of sports undertaken, Fiji is most well known for its prowess in the Game of Rugby and in particular Rugby 7's.


Rugby union is very popular in Fiji. The highest level of competition is the Colonial Cup. The national team also competes in international tournaments. The Fijian Rugby Sevens team is constantly one of the top two or three teams in the world, often the premier team.


Soccer was a minor sport but over the last decade with further international funding from FIFA and sound local management of the sport has grown in popularity amongst the Indian community initially but now also the Fijian community.

Other Sports

Many sports exist in Fiji and in many ways has its on cultural following, sports such as Golf which has been made famous by Fiji athlete Vijay Singh, Cricket, Surfing, Windsurfing which was brought to prominence by former world champion and Fiji Athlete Tony Philps, Sailing in varying forms, various adventure sports, Athletics, Various Asian Martial arts, Boxing and the list goes on.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Spoken Fijian: Albert James Schütz
  2. ^ Fijian Chiefs: A Recantation., pp. 85-86
  3. ^ The Role of a Fijian Chief , pp. 541-550
  4. ^ Knowing & Learning, P.155
  5. ^ Knowing & Learning, P.154
  6. ^ a b Knowing & Learning, P.153
  7. ^ Macquarie Dictionary 2006, P ix&x,
  8. ^ Fijian Canoes – Sela Rayawa.
  9. ^ Fiji and the Fijians P207
  10. ^ Page 23, Voyagers
  11. ^ Fiji Islands - Page 100,1986
  12. ^ Fiji, Lonely Planet 2006 P.77
  13. ^ Fiji and the Fijians P213-214
  14. ^ a b Viti, an account of a Government Mission 1860, P77
  15. ^ "English in the South Pacific", John Lynch and France Mugler, University of the South Pacific
  16. ^ a b Fiji and the Fijians
  17. ^ a b Fiji and the Fijians P162
  18. ^ Fiji and the Fijians P162, 163


  • The Fijian Language, by Albert J Schütz - 1985, details on Fijian language structure and use
  • Spoken Fijian: An Intensive Course in Bauan Fijian, with Grammatical Notes and Glossary, by Albert James Schütz - 1971, Language reference.
  • Anthropology in the South Seas: Essays Presented to H.D. Skinner - Page 210, by William Robert Geddes, John Derek Freeman - 1959, explanation of the Vanua and Matanitu.
  • Under The Ivi Tree: Society And Economic Growth In Rural Fiji - Page 31, by Cyril S. Belshaw - 2004, explanation of Vanua, Matnitu, Yavusa and Matagali.
  • Apologies To Thucydides: Understanding History as Culture and Vice Versa - Page 59, by Marshall David Sahlins, reference and examples of Fijian hierarchy.
  • Fiji. By Korina Miller, Robyn Jones, Leonardo Pinheiro, Page 36 reference to Fijian dances and arts as well is music Page 244 definition of a Fijian Lovo
  • Ethnology By University of Pittsburgh, Published 1962, Original from the University of Michigan, Digitized Mar 5, 2007, details on Yaqona and its social significance in Fijian society
  • Gender, Genre, and Power in South Asian Expressive Traditions By Arjun Appadurai, rank J. Korom, Margaret Ann Mills - Page 363, basic details on a Fijian Lovo.
  • On Fiji Islands - Page 100, by Wright, Ronald - 1986, details on the Firewalkers of Beqa
  • Pacific Islands Yearbook, 1981 - Page 272, by John Carter - 1981, further details on the Beqa Firewalkers.
  • A History of the Expansion of Christianity by Kenneth Scott Latourette, Published 1945 Harper, Original from the University of Michigan, Digitized Oct 27, 2006, , 1945,- Page 221, reference to Christianity in Fiji
  • The Cannibal Within By Lewis F. Petrinovich - 135 details on Cannibalism in Fiji
  • Fiji and the Fijians By Thomas Williams, James Calvert - Page 209, 214 details on Cannibalism in Fiji where as Page 161, 163 discusses aspects of sports in old Fiji
  • Cyclopedia of Lau Illustrated, Publisher Pure Blue Fiji Ltd. details on Fijian Canoes and Reference to the Drua and the Camakau.
  • Fiji Museum, publication Domodomo,Article on Fijian canoes by Sela Vuinakasa Rayawa.
  • Fijian Chiefs: A Recantation, A. M. Hocart, Man, Vol. 21, Jun., 1921 (Jun., 1921), pp. 85–86 - doi:10.2307/2839865, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Reference to the passing on of Fijian chiefly titles and chiefly protocols in general.
  • The Role of a Fijian Chief, Clellan S. Ford, American Sociological Review, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Aug., 1938), pp. 541–550 - doi:10.2307/2083902.
  • Fiji, By Korina Miller, Robyn Jones, Leonardo Pinheiro, Publisher Lonely Planet, details on Fijian and Indo Fijian food and food types, reference to the Lovo.
  • Knowing & Learning an indigenous Fijian approach, by Unaisi Nabobo-baba, IPS Publications, the university of the South Pacific, 2006 ISBN 978-982-02-0379-2, general reference to Traditional Fijian culture, terms and meanings and history with a study on the people of Vugalei on Viti Levu in the Kubuna confederacy
  • Macquarie Dictionary, of English for the Fiji Islands in association with the Fiji Times 2006, ISBN 9781876429690 , great reference for Fiji English has definition for Fijian, English and Hindi words and slangs that have developed from these three cultures
  • Viti, an account of a Government Mission to the Vitian or Fijian Islands in the years 1860 to 61, By Berthold Seemann, published by Cambridge: Macmillan & Co, London, 1862.
  • Voyagers by Herb Kawainui Kane, Collection: Hawai'i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. pictures and descriptions of seafaring vessels of Polynesia.
  • Canoes of Oceania. Vol. I : Polynesia, Micronesia and Fiji. by James Hornell, Author(s) of Review: Adrian Digby, Man, Vol. 38, Feb., 1938 (Feb., 1938), pp. 29–30

External links

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