By Marlichia Jackson, Xavier University
Fiji islands lie in the western Pacific Ocean, just southwest of Hawaii. Fiji is said to be one of the friendliest places on earth. Fiji’s culture is made up primarily of indigenous, Indian, Chinese and European traditions. This rich culture is made up of many aspects, being social polity, tradition, language, belief system, and arts & crafts. The islands in the Pacific Ocean became independent from Britain in 1987. Fiji is home to a variety of ethnic groups, whom are originally from the islands, which share a number of cultural traits. With more than three hundred islands within the Fijian group, the two largest islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Although the Fijian society is known for having friendly easy-going people, they have developed a unique cultural society.
The indigenous culture is very much an active and living culture, and is part of everyday life for the majority of the population. Fijian culture has created communal and national identity, traditions and hierarchy, and its language. Within the Fiji society there is a great importance attached to the family unit, the village, and the vanua (land). The chief positions in society were hereditary. The hierarchy of chiefs presides over villages, clans, and tribes. Although chief positions were hereditary, a deceased chief was followed by a kinsman, who was not necessarily his son. 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. Respect and strict obedience are expected of children. From the time they can understand, children take orders from older men in the family, specially their fathers. Discipline and punishment is typically done by the father, while the mothers are more indulgent with their children. Women are expected to be virgins at the time of marriage, premarital sexual relationships were not allowed within the society. In Fijian society men are able to have more than one wife at a time. Generally the more wives a man had, the higher is social status was. When a couple got married they usually stayed at the groom’s father. Many families were expanded due to this tradition practiced. The family structure is led by a strong figure whose authority can not be questioned. Typically the men held this position. Power within each family was granted according to age and gender. Women’s social structure is based on her husband or her family if more wealthy than the husband’s. This tradition still lives on in the Fiji society today. The official language spoke in Fijian society is English while the national indigenous language is Bauan, which is the only dialect that exists in Fiji groups. Most villages in the island chain have their own dialect. Standard Fijian is based on dialect spoken by the Bau. This dialect was chosen by missionaries as their standard for translation of the Bible. In 1850, a written form of Fijian was developed by the missionaries, which has contributed the high degree of literacy in the islands. Regardless of which ethnic community you originate from, there is a sense of national pride being identified as well as regional pride showing what part of Fiji you are from. For example, people from Nadi whether Indian or Fijian will say with pride “I am from the Jet Set Town.” This is a form of identity used in the Fijian society.
Culture in the Fiji islands is also identified. Culture is identified by various arts and crafts, music, traditional etiquette, and varying forms of clothing attire. Men’s and women’s arts and crafts are separated. The Fiji arts reflect upon local adaptations of their Polynesian and Melanesian heritage. The traditional crafts made by Fiji women included pottery, woven mats, and bark cloth. The men did a large deal of carving and sculpting in wood. The various types of weaving included basket weaving, coconut rope weaving, and coconut leaves weaving. Woven mats generally made by Fijian women were mainly used for special formal occasions such as weddings. Mats are made by leaves of a pandanus tree, first you scrape and boil the leaves and then dry them in the sun. Carving which was done by Fijian men was used for items of practical use and simple shapes and designs were used as well. Carving today no longer plays a major role in Fijian society, its uses consist of tourism and used for Tanoa which was used for drinking Kava. Performing arts was a major aspect of the Fiji society. In the Fijian society the performing arts included music and the meke which is a type of dance performed by men and women. During the meke women performed a dance called the seasea which is better known as the women’s fan dance, while the men partaken in a dance called meke wesi known as the spear dance. The meke is usually a narrative depicting important events such as war, a scandal, or chief installment. The music of the Fijian society consists of various chants which told a story or presented information that was to be passed on from generation to generation. In Fiji society, men and women are accustomed to traditional attire, women wore grass skirts and men wore loin cloths. Through the traditional clothing attire, it was easy to identify women. Skirts were short for single women, long for married women, and girls wore virgin locks before marriage. The national dress of the Fijians was a Sulu which resembles a skirt. The most common for of the Sulu worn by both men and women is the Sulu va Toga. The Sulu va Toga is a wrap around piece of material decorated with patterns and designs, usually worn for casual and informal occasions. Besides the Sulu va Toga, men have a Sulu va taga which is a tailored Sulu and can be tailored onto their suits as well. This type of Sulu can be worn to formal or semi-formal occasions. For formal occasions for women, they normally wear a blouse made of cotton, while for special occasions they wear a tapa sheath which goes around their chest rather than a blouse. Etiquette in the Fijian ceremonies represents two things, first it shows respect to other common groups, strengthen tribal and family ties, and reinforce social tribal and family ties. With various items used during ceremonies, the common item you will find at Fijian ceremony is kava. Kava also known as yaqona is Fiji’s national drink. Kava is a non-alcoholic drink, made from the roots and stems of the yaqona which is a species of the pepper plant. When drinking kava at ceremonies one must perform the traditional ritual. While performing the traditional ritual to show appreciation one must clap once, clasping the hands, take the cup, and drink the yaqona in a single gulp before returning the cup to the bearer, clapping three times, and say the word maca. Secondly, the other popular item used at Fijian ceremonies is the tabua also known as a whales tooth. They are traditionally given as gifts for atonement and were important in negotiations between rival chiefs.
In the Fijian society there are several religions within the culture. The three major religions that exist in the Fijian society are Christianity, Muslim, and Hindu, with several other small religions as well. Religion in the Fijian society is quite diverse with Christianity being the dominant faith of majority of the population. Although Christianity being the dominant faith of society, also has many denominations as well with the major one being Methodist. Christianity during the nineteenth century had a tremendous impact which resulted in certain traditions being proscribed. During the pre-Christian era, human sacrifice was practiced. Men were buried alive to hold up the pillars of the chief’s house. Forms of cannibalism exist as well. During this era, bodies of enemies were piled up cooked for festivals, such as installation of chiefs or the launching of a new canoe. Fiji has various public holidays celebrated by each of the three religions. Each of three major religions celebrates certain holidays based on their belief system. Christians celebrate Easter and Christmas, deepawali for Hindus, and Eid for Muslims. Deepawali celebrated by the Hindus, is considered a festival of light where lights or lamps are signify victory of good over the evil within every human being. Before Fiji became a colony, religion, myth, and legend were closely related. Myths were accepted across Fiji, which said their origins were found through the Kalou Vu Degei. Forms of the old religion still exist, such as the practice of witch craft and other old deities as well; witch craft is practiced in private due to Christianity being the dominant religion now practiced. Many Fiji politicians wanted to make Fiji a Christian state; however they were not successful in doing so. Some Fijians feel that religion should be taught as a school subject. This decision mainly varies between schools. Certain schools teach about the Christian faith and Muslim faith depending on the religious organization running the school.
Fijian society is very unique in how it still keeps with its traditional culture in society. Many countries as they expand tend to capture the tradition of other surrounding countries.
What makes Fiji so unique is that it welcomes all ethnicities, and is a friendly country. Takukei meaning ownership helped the Fiji insist that they and not the Europeans, who first colonized the island, have rights to the land and its resources. With all the many ethnic groups in society, Fiji still maintains to practice its traditional cultural society. Fiji does not discriminate towards other ethnic groups or religious groups when they celebrate their own ethnic or religious holidays.
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