Fiji an Culture Guide

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Fijian Culture Guide
South Pacific Culture - Traditional Life
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Fijian culture is very rich in traditional beliefs and many aspects of life today are as they were a hundred years ago. Fijians live within a strict hierarchical system with the village chiefs receiving the respect of all. Fijian chiefs are hereditary titles, mostly through the male lineage, and the ranking of chiefs throughout the country is ordered into a strict hierarchical system of mataqalis, vanuas and yavusas (clans and sub clans). This intense social make-up has caused a number of bitter disputes in the past and is an underlying issue in modern day politics. If you're not a chief you're referred to as a commoner and your powers are limited.

Fijians claim descendancy to the yavusas and are granted village land to build a house and farm a small plantation. Land can be sub-leased (mostly to Indian sugar cane farmers, industries and tourist resorts) under the discretion of the village elders and the money used for village improvements, schools and social functions like weddings and funerals. Fund raising is an important part of the communal lifestyle of the village environment and many villages have communal land for growing yaqona and root crops to be used for village functions.

Yaqona is the traditional drink of Fiji and serves as a ceremonial and social mediator between parties. Yaqona ceremonies are performed at all social and cultural events from village fund-raising to Weddings. Participants sit in a circle on the floor facing the tanoa, a large hand-carved wooden bowl used for mixing the drink. Participants drink the brown liquid from a small half coconut shell of mixed Yaqona, one at a time, amidst chanting and hand-clapping. The taste is quite unusual to the western palette and leaves a slight numbing effect on the tongue. Drunk in volume, Yaqona causes lethargy and a slight loss of co-ordination, or, as the Fijians like to put it, relaxation. Guests are also welcomed to a village through the Sevusevu Ceremony whereby the guest presents Yaqona roots to the village headman or chief as a sign of respect after which the chief and guest sit down together and share the Yaqona drink. This is a great way to get to know the people.

The Meke
The Meke, or traditional dance, is a very popular show performed at most holiday resorts and on special occasions in the villages or town parks. The dances can involve both powerful actions and more graceful movements. Mekes tell the stories of ancient legends and in particular the victories in war. Accompanying chants, hand-clapping and drum beating enhances the spectacle.

Fijian firewalking is unique to the island of Beqa in the Southern Islands and this is the only place you will see it as a genuine ceremony. The ceremony requires performers to observe strict traditional protocol before they can walk barefoot on extremely hot stones. The only realistic chance to see firewalking is either at the Cultural Centre at Pacific Harbour which hosts several firewalking performances each week or at a few of the larger resorts along the Coral Coast in Viti Levu.

male meke

Cultural Centre, Pacific Harbour -
Replica traditional boats take visitors on a tranquil journey live displays of Fijian culture. Theatrical displays of warriors fighting are performed on a small central island, along with traditional dances (meke) and Fijian firewalking (some days only). Good introduction to how life was.

Fiji Museum, Suva -
Located in the heart of Suva's botanical gardens, the Fiji Museum holds a remarkable collection which includes archaeological material dating back 3,500 years and cultural objects representing both Fiji's indigenous inhabitants and other communities that have settled in the island group over the past 100 years.

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