The inhabitants of modern Fiji are of indigenous Fijian background, as well as of Indian, Chinese and European ancestry. Indigenous culture has shaped the nation and is an active and living part of everyday life for the majority of the happy folk that live here. The unique blend of cultures can be seen throughout Fiji, and in virtually every aspect of your stay – from the food, festivals, rituals and the arts.
The Fijians are pretty easy-going, but if you are invited into a village, wear modest clothing and take off your hat (wearing one is an insult to the chief) when in the village. Leave your shoes outside the door when entering a home and keep in mind that it’s also insulting to touch someone’s head – which can be tempting when you are surrounded by wide-eyed, smiling children.
When visiting a village, it is customary to present a gift of Kava, which is also known as “yaqona”. The gift, (a “sevusevu”), will cost approx. F$30 for a half kilo. If you are accompanied by a guide, he/she will look after that. The sevusevu is presented to the traditional head of the village (“Turaga Ni koro”). After it’s been pounded into powder and mixed with water, it is usually served in the head person’s house. If you are invited to drink Kava, don’t ask, just enjoy the ritual and the numb tongue.
Fijians are the friendliest people in the world. Your respect for their customs and traditions will not only make you a welcome guest in their villages and homes, but add another dimension to your Fijian holiday. For the lovo, meke and yaqona (kava) cermonies.
This is a magnificent feast, cooked in the earth. It’s like a barbecue, only a little more smoked, and a very efficient way to cook large quantities of food at the same time. Lovo traditionally will consist of cassava (tapioca), kumala (sweet potato), yam, taro and various fish, meat and chicken, whilst a more modern Lovo feast will have many additional components.
Yaqona (pronounced yangona) is Fiji’s national drink. It’s made from the pulverized root of a member of the pepper family. It’s believed to have medicinal qualities (apart from making you feel mellow). Legend has it that the ceremony came from Tonga where the plant sprang from the grave of a Tongan princess who died of a broken heart. In a formal yaqona ceremony authority is given by the village spokesman to begin mixing the Kava. When mixed, a server will carry a cup (‘bilo’) to the chief guest, who must clap (‘cobo’) once before and after completely drinking the first cup. The order of serving depends on the status of those present, from the highest-ranking chief down. Drinking yaqona has proved to be a great social unifier – it’s hard to be angry with someone after sharing Kava – and it usually leads to relaxed chat not unlike that in a casual bar.
Music is woven into the fabric of Fiji and the Meke embraces traditional song and dance to tell of legends, love stories, history and spirits of the islands. It can vary from a blood-curdling spear dance to a gentle and graceful fan dance. There are two groups in the make – the orchestra (Vakatara), who sit on the ground and sing or chant for the second group, the dancers (Matana). The instruments are percussion (hardwood gongs, bamboo tubes, beating sticks etc). For the Meke the performers wear garlands of flowers (Salusalu), the men wear full warrior costume and the women, in traditional clothes, glisten with scented coconut oil.
One of the greatest experiences culturally in Fiji is simply learning about the country and its amazing and friendly people, also recognized as one of the Happiest People of the World. Fijians are culturally Happy People and when treated with respect and learning about their lives it is quickly the most significant experience everybody coming to visit will have as a memory. Another amazing aspect is learning about village life and the society which is still extremely strong in Fiji with people growing up with Chiefs and in a social community completely different to us from the western world, but extremely well functioning and showing us many examples of what another life can be like – producing absolute happiness.
Come visit Fiji and experience its culture and people – Its well worth it !