Fijian culture is a Melanesian culture (as distinct from Polynesian and Micronesian). The orignal ancestors were believed to be descended from four brothers that arrived from Africa to form the first Yavusa (the highest level of Fijian society), some 2,000 years ago.
Whilst, Taveuni Islanders were once known as the fiercest cannibals in Fiji, having many wars with neighbouring Tonga. The last one about 1860. There are still many remnants and forts around both in Taveuni and sevaral parts of Fiji.
Much has changed over the last one hundred and fifty years and Fijians are now one of the friendliest people in the world. Their easy-going nature and "laid-back" lifestyle makes them genuinely loving, caring, and understanding people.
Fijian hospitality is second to none. This certainly applies in Taveuni, where the locals are warm, friendly and hospitable, which is all part of their traditional culture.
The basis for culture is around the notion of sharing resources within the community, family and friends, which more often than not, seems to have been removed from contemporary Western society.
English is the official language of Fiji; however all indigenous Fijians speak "Fijian". However, Hindi is also widely spoken by the Indo-Fijian community.
"Official Fijian" is a dialect taken from the island of Bau (off Viti Levu), known as "Bauan Fijian", which is one of more than dozens of Fijian dialects in use. This was due to the rise in power of Bau island, formed from an alliance with the British and its chief, Ratu Cakobau [Pron. thako-bow], in the mid 1800s.
From this alliance, the Bauan dialect was chosen as the official language and an alphabet and written grammar was formed by English Wesleyan Methodist missionaries, lead by Rev. David Cargill. It was made the official language by Ratu Cakobau, [pronounced Thako- ba-wo], the original tui or king of Fiji, who made a treaty with the British in the late 1800s.
"Bauan Fijian" is closely related to Polynesian. It is probable that at some time, speakers of an earlier form of Polynesian inhabited the Fiji Island Group. [Source: Schutz & Komaitai (1979), "Spoken Fijian", p.X].
In Fiji, different Fijian dialects, which can often be different from Bauan Fijian, yet still understood, are spoken throughout Fiji.
Fiji has over two dozen Fijian dialects spoken throughout the two hundred islands that are inhabited. Taveuni has two distinct dialects, one from the south of the island, around Vuna, the other from the north and east of Taveuni Island.
Other major Fijian dialects include: Vuya, Wailevu, Dreketi, Macuata, Namuka, Cikobia, Naqelelevu, Vunadi, Nasealevu.
Food on Taveuni, like most places in Fiji, is usually a combination of fresh fish, seafood and traditional Fijian staple root crops such as taro (dalo) and tapioca (cassava), breadfruit, Fijian spinach, (bele), western vegetables, egg plant, avocados, and tropical fruits such as mangoes, papaya (pawpaw), guava, coconut, pineapples, with an Indian influence of curries, and chillis providing rich aromas and delicious flavours.
Food is traditionally eaten on the floor with your hands and fingers, although eating with a knife and fork is also acceptable in today's Fijian culture, which is a remnant of the past British Colonial influence.
The "lovo" or Fijian "oven" is a traditional part of the Fijian feast. Food is cooked in a pit of hot rocks, covered by banana, coconut palm leaves or the like and left to roast from the hot rocks.
Fijian "lovo" being prepared
"Lovo" with cooked taro, ready to eat
Fijian Tribal traditions are based on respect and unity, which includes having respect and tolerance for each other, for elders and for children.
Fijian traditions are an interesting blend of Christianity and pre-Christian, animist traditions. Taveuni islanders are deeply religious and very spiritual people. The main religion is Christianity, with a minority being Muslim and Hindu (Indian population). Most indigenous Fijians are Christians, with Catholicism being one of the earliest groups bought to the island.
In 1898 the Colonial French built a large Catholic church at Wairiki.
Although Fijians are deeply religious, traditional animism still plays a part in Fijian life, through Kava ceremonies and the like, that run in parallel with Christian traditions, which were bought to the islands about 150 years ago. However, this is slowly dieing out due to the spread of Christianity values both within Taveuni, Fiji and the Pacific in general.
· The Spirit God or totem for the island is the shark (Dakuwaqa) and it is considered "tabu" (forbidden) to eat shark if you are a local from Somosomo (the largest village in Taveuni).
The clan structure is based around the "Mataqali" [pronounced Mata-gali], which is the largest structure of the traditional tribal clan, and the "Tokatoka", (a sub-clan) which is the traditional family clan you are born into and led by the "Ratu" or chief.
When entering a village, you must present yourself to the Ratu. From which the "Sevusevu" is performed. This is a traditional kava drinking ceremony where the guests are welcomed and the rite of passage is given, which ensures their safety and protection within the village.
"Meke" or Fijian dance
Meke is the traditional Fijian dance that enacts local stories and legends, usually performed by a group a dancer arranged in one or more rows, with music provided by singers and instrumentalists seated behind them.
Men, women and children participated in meke. Men performed club and spear dances and the women performed fan dances.
It is by far the most impressive and spectacular expression of Fijian performing artistry. The dancers still dress in colourful traditional costumes with floral garlands and ornaments, and liberal use of bright red and black face and body paint.
The words of meke are often historical, telling the story of a remarkable event or a prominent person's life, though some are prophetic. The tradition is very much alive – meke are still being composed regularly by hereditary composers.
They also still function as a focus of traditional identity and cohesion, with the positioning of performers determined in part by hereditary status.
The harmony is in at least three parts, usually four, and is typically accompanied by one lali ni meke (small drum of a hollowed out log with slit opening), with rhythm provided by a number of derua (bamboo stamping tubes) and cobo (clapping with hollowed hands).
Most meke begin with a distinct stanza to accompany the dancers as they emerge in single file to take up their places. During the performance, the audience show their appreciation not by applause, but by shouting words of thanks and going to the performers and draping over them lengths of cloth, or give them sweets, chewing gum, or cash, or shower them with perfumed oil or talcum powder.
Meke are still loved by all people of Fiji, and are an indispensable part of any grand occasion.
Traditional hand pounding of "grog"
Preparation of "grog" (kava) for drinking
In Fiji, Kava or "Yaqona" [pronounced Yag-oona], is colloquially known as "grog". It plays an important spiritual part of all Pacific Island culture, both in daily life and ceremonial use. It has played a traditional part of Fijian culture for over 1000 years.
Kava is a non-alcoholic drink, made from the root and stems of the "Yaqona" plant, a species of pepper plant [piper methysticum], that can grow up to 3 metres in height. There are 8 varieties of kava grown in Fiji, with at least 20 grown throughout the South Pacific.
It has a sedative effect upon the drinker and can be likened to Valium. It gives you a "high" feeling and has a somatic effect, making you very relaxed. Too much of it can make you "lazy". It is also an appetite suppressant, a diuretic, though too much of it may have a toxic effect on your liver.
Yaqona takes about 5-7 years before it is fully matured, (the longer it is left to mature the more "potent" it becomes).
It is then harvested by pulling-out, then sun-dried and, either hand or machine pounded into a coarse powder.
Pounded Yaqona is then mixed with water, filtered in a fine cloth ("sulu"), and then drunk in a coconut half-shell.