Fiji Culture & Religion

Fiji Culture

The Fijian culture is a relaxed, easy-going and friendly culture however it is still important to respect their customs. When visiting a village modest clothing is recommended, as is taking off your hat (it is considered an insult to the chief to wear one). If you are invited into a home, be gracious and thank your host, and take your shoes off before entering, leaving them at the door. Take note it is also considered an insult to touch someone's head - which is often tempting when surrounded by gorgeous children with big eyes and broad smiles. Also, be prepared to shake hands and answer personal questions like, where are you from, are you married, how many children do you have and so on.

Kava is Fiji's most well-known social custom and an essential experience to make your Fiji holiday complete. If invited to try kava, don't hesitate, just accept the offering and enjoy the unique ritual (and the unique numbing effect the drink has).

As a sign of thanks it is tradition to offer a gift, usually kava (or yaqona in Fijian), when you visit a village. The sevusevu (or gift) generally costs under F$20 for a half kilo and will be taken care of by your guide. Presented to the Turaga Ni Koro (traditional head of the village) it will be ground into a powder, added to water and served in the Turaga Ni Koro's house.

Fijians are some of the most friendly people in the world and are eager to welcome you as a guest into their villages and homes provided you respect their traditions and customs. This will provide a fascinating insight into their traditional way of life and adds a unique element of depth to your Fiji holiday.

Cultural Ceremonies

The LOVO

This is a magnificent feast, cooked in the earth. It's like a barbeque, only a little more smoked, and a very efficient way to cook large quantities of food at the same time. To make your own you'll need -

  • firewood
  • some smooth-surfaced stones
  • a roll of foil
  • banana leaves
  • clean sacks (optional)
  • a shovel (not optional)

Dig a hole 60cm (2ft) deep and 72cm wide. If the soil is damp, spread a layer of ash in the bottom of the hole before putting in the stones and wood.

Light the fire and keep it going until the stones are red hot, then move the unburnt wood and coal and spread the stones out to make a platform for the food.

Traditionally, the food will consist of cassava (tapioca), kumala (sweet potato), yam and taro - all of which should be peeled. Wrap a shoulder or leg of pork or ham in foil (and/or chicken, fish or lamb) and place in the oven. Put the big stuff at the bottom and the things that need less cooking at the top.

Cover the feast with banana leaves or coconut stalks and damp sacks to provide the final insulation. Cover the lot with soil and pour yourself a drink.
The food will take around two hours to cook.

The MEKE

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 Meke - 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.

YAQONA (KAVA)

Yaqona (pronounced yangona) is better known as kava and is Fiji's national drink. It's made from the pulverised 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.

Fiji Religion

As a multi-cultural, multi-racial nation, Fiji is formed from a significant number of followers of all major religions.

You will see Christian churches, some mosques as well as Sikh and Hindi temples dotting the country. An excellent way to gain insight into how Fijian village culture is formed and why the Fijian people are so family-focused and friendly is to attend one of the Methodist services for Sunday worship, even if you are not religious.

If you are not religious or belong to a different sect, these services are still highly recommended as even if you can't understand the words, the singing and ceremony is very moving and the memory will stay with you for a long time.

Fijian Language

One of the most fascinating things about this Fijian paradise is that everyone speaks good English along with Fijian or Hindi - but there are also several idiosyncrasies.

Words with a 'd' has an invisible 'n' before it - Nadi is pronounced 'Nandi' and the tasty cool, marinated seafood dish called kokoda, is pronounced 'kokonda'. You need to put an 'm' immediately before the 'b' in some words like Toberua (Tomberua). Sigatoka is 'Singatoka', Naigani is Ninegani'. And a 'c' is pronounced 'th', as in the Mamanuca Islands.

Some of the more common phrases and words are:

EnglishFijianPronunciation
Hello/hini sa bulanee sar bula
Good morningni sa yadranee sar yarndra
Goodbyesa mocesa more there
Pleaseyalo vinakayarlo veenarka
Excuse metuloutoo low
Yesioee or
Thank you/goodvinakaveenarka
Thank you very muchvinaka vaka levuveenarka varka levoo
Much/biglevulevoo
Nosegasenga
Eatkanakarna
Villagekoroko ro
A little/smallvaka lailaiva ka lie lie
Great/a lotvaka levuva ka levoo
Fastvaka totolova ka tortorlo
Slowlyvaka maluava ka mar lua
Housevaleva le
Toiletvale lailaiva le lie lie
Comelako maila ko my
Golako tanila ko tan i
Oneduadu a
Tworuaru a
One moredua taledu a ta le

Note: Greetings may be shortened, for example - Ni sa bula can be just 'bula', ni sa yandra can be just 'yandra' and sa moce can be simply 'moce'.