Fijian culture and tradition
1. The aim of this brief is to outline some
important cultural aspects that may be vital to know in dealing
with Fijian soldiers now serving in the British Army. All Regimental
Unit Welfare Officers are to take note of Kinship ties, Birth
Fiji in the South Pacific
2. Fiji is an archipelago of over 300 tropical
islands in the South Pacific lying across the 180 degrees Meridian
12 hours ahead of 0 degrees meridian at Greenwich. Each new day
starts in Fiji. It has two main islands Vitilevu and Vanualevu
with a total of 200,000 square kilometres. Sava is the capital
with nine towns as administrative and commercial centres. English
is the official language with of course Fijian and Hindustani.
There are more than 30 different dialects with one common Fijian
language. Fiji has a tropical climate with only two seasons, summer
and winter not experiencing extreme temperature.
Fijian personality and values
3. Fijians use a number of concepts to describe
personality. The most important and commonly used term for ideal
behaviour is of chiefly quality and standard norm, vakaturaga.
Turaga means chief, vakaturaga means chiefly. It
denotes firstly that one's actions and characteristics befit the
presence of a chief. It includes respect, deference, attentive,
complying and humble. They must display the qualities that befit
the presence of the chief (authority) in their actions in relation
to other people, Instructors, NCOs and Officers. It is an accepted
norm of society that a person must behave to all others as one's
4. An individual who is labelled vakaturaga
in his behaviour knows his place in the society and complies unquestioningly
to his various traditionally defined obligations and responsibilities.
His actions are usually focussed on service to the chiefs. He
achieves respect, acceptance and recognition within his unit for
being attentive, complying, and respectful to his NCOs and Officers.
He should also act vakaturaga in his interaction with Her Majesty
the Queen and her subjects as she is regarded as the paramount
chief of the three main chiefdoms of Fiji. He should also hold
high regard on the British Government and its Armed Forces in
view of the Deed of Cessions in 1874.
5. A person is also said to be vakaturaga
if he displays certain chiefly qualities. For example, he should
show love or kindness to his comrades, irrespective of ranks,
social status and affiliation. He is ready to help and serve authority.
He is dignified and composed; avoids being drawn into unnecessary
confrontation with others and is ruffled by bickering and gossip.
He maintains his self respect and authority during crisis. He
remains cool and steadfast when his feelings are challenged and
authority questioned. He is not affected by minor incidents of
unhealthy social relationships unless his authority is required
to resolve an ugly confrontational act in his own way at his own
time. If he is being punched at by one of his own rank, he won't
retaliate immediately because it's not chiefly when people are
watching. He will wait when no one is watching or when he is drunk.
He is generally quiet, and speaks only when he is spoken to as
people in authority (chiefs/elders) are the ones to do the talking.
The rest are supposed to carry out tasks without a single question
asked and are required to the job to the best of their abilities.
It is a disgrace to his clan if the job is not done properly according
to expectation and there is a social punishment in place by society
for such, called ore (ohreh).
6. An important aspect of vakaturaga is
the practice of respect. This is often manifested in how an individual
responds/reacts in the presence of others. The way one speaks
and his stance among others conveys whether a person is either
respectful or disrespectful. When spoken to by a man of status
(higher rank) one normally ends his responses with saka
(sir) of other dialectual equivalents. One must also carry himself
low, either squatting or sitting down or looking down in a bowing
position when talked to by the chief/parents NCOs or Officers.
Looking straight into the eyes is not vakaturaga it is sign of
disrespect and an unacceptable norm to Fijian society. If one
looks straight to the eyes, it means he is gearing up for a physical
confrontation and it is not considered a vakaturaga.
7. In meeting a chief or senior person of
status one must give way by removing himself to the side of the
road, passage or track by bowing or nodding as a greeting with
a smile addressing the chief ni bula saka, meaning hello sir.
A recognised chief is usually accorded the tama (chiefly shout
of greetings), Duooh or Ohooh like shouting "stand-fast"
that usually accorded to the commissioned officers as sign of
respect. A person must maintain a distance but close enough to
lean forward in a bowing position if he is required to shake hands
with a more senior chief. After the handshake, he lowers himself
on his knees or half-squatting position and claps with cupped
hands several timesa mark of respect and humility, the
royal family is fully aware of this custom.
8. It is not also vakaturaga if a person
is going around in the village with a hair-dress on (hat). Only
Her Majesty the Queen and her family or chiefs are the ones to
go around with their hats on considered as their chiefly rights.
Sometimes during WW1, His Majesty King George VI approved a request
from the Governor of Fiji to allow members of the then Royal Fiji
Military Forces (RFMF) to salute without hair dress (beret) and
since that time, RFMF has minus the beret from its number one
dress during ceremonial parade. The Fiji Army currently maintains
9. There exists among some Fijian communities
a form of tabu relationship regarding the eating of certain foods.
People who have certain defined tabu (taboos) relationships
with one another respect each by complying with the rules. This
relationship is called naita where one group is a warrior
to another. One cannot eat fish or pork in the presence of the
other. Bodily contact and direct conversation with one another
must be avoided if the act of respect is to be sustained. Traditionally
there is one who can mediate between the two and that is the appropriate
way of overcoming such a restriction.
Importance of age and seniority
8. Relative age is important in determining
social behaviour and economic activities. It permeates almost
every activity from eating to sleeping arrangements. Family members
are ranked in order of seniority of birth. The younger should
obey and respect the older. They should not disregard instructions
or demands from seniors nor question their authority. Older brothers
or sisters are expected to behave in mature and responsible way
to organise social and economic activities and to lead the group
in various functions. At meal times the senior men of the family
are normally served first, they sleep and sit in the upper end
of the house. Women and children eat after all men have had theirs.
9. During formal ceremonies, the elders
of the group generally perform the rituals young men and women
are generally involved in providing labour necessary for the tasks.
They are to be present at such ceremonies but are not expected
to say anything or question an elder; they are there to do whatever
is required of them in accordance to their traditional roles.
10. A Fijian child is normally registered
at birth as a member of his father's mataqali (sub-clan)
and this entitles him to all rights and privileges including land
rights. This feeling of belonging to the father's group emphasises
the importance of the male. It is through the man that the local
group continues to exist, the protector for the mataqali.
Girls will marry out of their mataqali and serve those
of their husbands. A woman who produces several male children
for the husband's group is usually full of self-confidence and
security. On the other hand a woman who produces no male child
and worse still if she does not produce at all is usually quietly
ashamed of herself and suffers a feeling of insecurity that she
has not fulfilled her responsibility.
11. Traditional principle of marriage is
that the wife serves her husband's group. For this reason the
woman after marriage shifts to her husband's village. Apart from
looking after the husband personally, the welfare of his group
becomes one of her main concerns. There are two places considered
traditionally to be women's place that is to produce children
and cook food for the family.
12. The first sign of pregnancy in a newly
wedded woman is eagerly awaited, by both her own relatives and
those of her husband. During early stage of pregnancy, women are
usually confined to the house from one to three months during
which period the expectant mother is fed daily with specially
prepared food under the caring hands of the mother or the mother
in law. There are many rituals to be performed from pregnancy
to delivery date by both sides of the families. A feast to mark
the fourth and tenth night of birth is usually prepared by the
father's relatives and invitation is extended to the girl's relatives
to partake in the celebration.
During labour and birth, the expectant mother
is expected to bear the pain calmly; for a display of suffering
and pain during parturition is usually considered the sign of
a weak woman who is also menemene (babyish). Women in labour were
once attended and assisted by local, traditional midwives who
flourished in every community, but this practice is now forbidden
by the government.
In some communities, usually four nights after
birth, another magiti is prepared to which father's and
mother's groups both contributed. This feast is presented formally
to the new child's maternal grandparents before being consumed
by the two groups of relatives together. This feast marks the
time when the child's umbilical cord is expected to fall off;
it is known by various names in different areas. In some parts
of Cakaudrove Province, for example, it is called vakuru vucovuco
(to cause the umbilical cord to fall), whereas in some parts of
Viti Levu it is known as vakabogiva (in the nature of four
nights). In other instances, a feast is mounted on the tenth night
and known as vakabogitini (in the nature of 10 nights).
It is probable that the circumstance which determines when a feast
is to be held is the state of the child's umbilical cord prior
to its actual falling off.
Once the umbilical cord has fallen, it is carefully
kept for appropriate disposal which should be in such a way as
to not adversely affect the future personality of the child, but
instead should enable him to acquire specific skills and other
advantages. It is believed, for example, that a child whose umbilical
cord is not properly disposed of, or is lost, will display a restless
and searching personality. He will hardly remain still, ransacking
everything in an effort to find his lost umbilical cord. In some
situations, a girl's umbilical cord is thrown into the water that
she may be skilled in fishing. Once, in a part of Vanua Levu,
the umbilical cord of the boy was placed in the barrel of a gun
and shot away so that he might kill in war (Hocart 213:1952).
It is common practice today to bury the cord and plant a coconut
or other useful tree over it. This, it is thought, will ensure
that the child will become economically productive. The crop from
such a tree may be know as the buto ni gone (child's umbilical
cord) or similar phrase in local dialect.
13. The child is normally named after one
of the member of its father's kin group, largely because this
is an important way of tracing one's paternal kinship relationships
and defining kin group membership based on one's male descendants.
A male child is normally named after his grandfather or a female
child after her grandmother.
14. Traditionally, marriage was arranged.
The patterns normally came from two different clan and often from
two different villages. In a normal marriage arrangement, the
boy's parents make the choice. They may have quietly observed
and admired a young girl of another group as their prospective
daughter in law. Today marriage has become more of a choice between
individuals; with parental approval sometimes sought later or
sometimes ignored. Marriage is becoming less localised with men
and women travelling everywhere from home marrying persons they
meet in their work or other social situations.
Fijian matrimony was once a social contract
only. The bride and bridegroom's groups would come together at
an agreed time and place (normally at the bridegroom's place)
to execute and celebrate the nuptials of the two who were going
to be husband and wife. The two groups would in turn present each
other with yau (marriage gifts or wealth) thus legitimising
the union and sealing the contractual bond not only between the
new couple but also between the two groups of kinsmen. Every presentation
of gifts from both sides was accompanied with the good wishes
or prayers of the donor for the long life and happiness of the
couple and prosperity and unity of the two groups involved. No
priest was directly involved in the ceremony as such.
Today, Christian wedding rites are generally
observed even after a social or civil contract has been instituted
upon the newly wedded people. Such Christian rites usually precede
any customary presentation of yau between the bride and
the groom's groups. Normally, the bride and the groom are attired
in traditional marriage costume by their own respective groups
who should also provide the couple's butubutu (altar mats).
This butubutu consists of mats and bark cloth (masi)
spread out in layers in front of the church altar where the newly
wedded couple will stand during their matrimonial consecration.
After the marriage has been solemnised by the
Church, the wedding procession then proceeds to the residence
of the husband's father or any other kinsman's home. At the loqi
part of the man's house, two lots of davodavo ni vakamau
(nuptial beddings) for the veiwatini vou (new couple) have
been laid out and neatly arrayed by the respective kinswomen of
the vakawati vou (newly-wed). These nuptial beddings normally
consist of finely woven and beautifully decorated ibe (mats)
laid one on top of another and often covered with traditionally
made bark cloth, masi, or with factory manufactured items
such as bed sheets, quilts, blankets, pillows and mosquito nets.
Each group of kinswomen usually try to quietly outdo each other
by providing the best and the most davodavo for the veiwatini
The aspect of the wedding ceremony which follows
the divesting of traditional wedding costumes is the provision
of a sumptuous nuptial feast which the new couple well publicly
eat together. In this meal, generally known a kana vata, they
are joined by their followers and well-wishers. In accordance
with newly acquired values and practices, well-wishers sometimes
present the veiwatini vou personal wedding gifts on this
occasion. These include kitchenware, crockery, household furniture
and other goods.
15. Death among Fijians has important social
and religious significance to the living. It enhances solidarity
by bringing together those kinsmen and friends of the deceased
who are separated by geography, time and other exigencies of life.
It strengthens and reaffirms existing social and political links
and generated new vigour in forgotten and dying relationships.
It transcends social barriers and indifference and acts as a focus
for reconciliation for the kinsmen of the dead who are disaffected
from each other. The occasion also provides an opportunity for
grinding an axe on those who have constantly failed to participate
in kin group activities and neglect their kinship responsibilities
16. It is also an opportunity for defaulters
to explain and justify their failures to comply with kinship demands
and expectations and to re-establish their identity with the group
and make good socially eroded images pertaining to kin-group undertakings.
Non-attendance can be more expensive than attending. It is customary
for non-attendants to present valuable items like kerosene, bale
of cloth, biscuits sugar, tabu (whales tooth) and lots
of kava asking forgiveness from his fellow kinsmen for
his failure in not attending burial of his kinsmen. This ritual
is called boka, equally it has deep social meaning to bid
last farewell to a member to the tribe who will never come back
again. Fijians believe series of bad luck (curse) will be upon
those who do not attend all these rituals and those who chose
to ignore their traditional roles and responsibilities.
17. Death to the Fijians usually creates
a situation which is quite emotional and affecting. Knowing the
hour of dissolution is approaching, the departing person sometimes
calls spouse, children or any close kin to his deathbed and announces
that his end is drawing near. He bids them farewell and sometimes
advises them on what they should do after his death. He is bathed
and dressed with most of his favourite clothes and he is then
laid on mats specially put out for him to lie on for his final
departure. Messages are sent to all close relatives locally and
abroad informing them that the person's health is deteriorating
and he is about to say his words of farewell and blessing. The
closest persons to his bedside are supposed to be his sons, spouse
and daughters. After his death, the eldest son will lead the deceased's
household (family), the clan and the estate.
18. Other post-burial rituals and feasts
generally offered on the fourth night, tenth night, hundredth
nights and one last one to mark a year of his/her departure. Whether
the children (sons/daughters of the deceased) are in UK or somewhere
in Fiji, they must attend the last ritual. That last remembrance
or mourning feast in which mostly close relatives and friends
of the dead partake, officially allows then to resume normal life.
19. Death of high chief is observed with
much form and ceremony, his death is announced by a particular
pattern of beating the lali (wooden gong) or by the dolorous
blasts of the conch-shell. Wailing of women is not allowed. Owing
to its complexities, rituals associated with it will not be discussed
in detail in this paper.
20. Fijians are associated to their ecological
environment. Their social structure has links to the land, sea,
rivers and trees, which distinguish physical boundaries from one
tribe to another. They hold these resources so dearly; it means
life (source of food) to them. Cultural aspects are related to
the belief and value system of the people and the various types
of relationship that exists between man and the physical environment.
These determine how people invent custom and tradition that have
links to land ownership and how they use land and sea for social
and economic purposes. They depend so much on one another for
various needs and survival, always farm the land, go fishing and
do things in groups, hardly of any practice is based on individualism.
The idea of caring and sharing with others (food, clothes, cigarettes,
money, accommodation/house) is an important aspect of the value
systems of the Fijian people.
21. Land is owned by the whole unit and
not by individuals headed by a chiefly family whose inheritance
is by birth along male lines. Below the chief is his nobleman
(kingmaker) then the herald (spokesman). There will be a great
distance between the chief and the commoners and they regard SNCOs
and officers as chiefs. The commoners have family unit of warriors,
fishermen and carpenters. Every Fijian man is born into one of
these groupings unfortunately they cannot change it. It is through
male lineage. They have traditional skills and knowledge to perform
their task and responsibilities as expected of them.
22. With the exception of those who have
taboo relationships Fijians have common social status that often
places them close together whichever regiment they are in. They
often feel uncomfortable being too close to people whom they do
not know, particularly women. There will be a lot of giggling
amongst them if a female instructor is giving lectures but they
will not harm her, just for fun. They are funny people and always
fond of cracking jokes with a big Fijian smile (Fijian smile/laugh
is the smile from the heart).
23. Fijian men and women generally sit apart
in informal and formal gatherings alike even husband and wife
do not normally sit together in village gatherings. However, in
restaurants and urban centres husband and wife sit close together.
A general attitude of life among Fijians is that life is to be
lived and enjoyed now. If you die tomorrow, everything is gone
so enjoy it to the fullest. When it is time to eat they eat as
much as they could, when time to play they can stay in the playing
field one whole day, when they drink they want to finish all the
beer in the supermarket after which they must fight till the opponent
runs away. It must be emphasised that this no care attitude must
be controlled since they are in a disciplined organisation, drinking
must be to a certain limit only.
24. A man is entitled to use his brother's
property, eat without giving any money. Based on the culture a
single soldier can enter a married quarters go straight into the
kitchen and help himself out without any complaint from that household.
If one is admitted in hospital, it is a norm for all Fijians nearby
to make hospital visits in great numbers to show they too are
so concerned of the patient's health.
25. Fijian men usually beat their wives
and children if he thinks fit to do so not because of hatred but
as a means of disciplinary measures. However today the Law has
forbid that but some Magistrates still recognise it in the Court
of Law as a Fijian Custom. This is to be discouraged because it
is a domestic violence and child abuse; both are serious offences
in Fiji's Penal Code. All Fijian soldiers are fully aware of the
26. Fijians in general are gentle and humble.
This personal quality is enhanced through early socialisation
in which the authorities of those in power are complied with and
respected. It continues to be supported by their value system
that emphasises the concept of vakaturaga and respect as discussed
earlier at para 3. People know that anger or hatred is ruinous
to the individual and subversive to the group solidarity but now
and then, there are incidents in which anger is expressed in a
dramatic and destructive way. Fijians are slow to anger but not
for long, it will soon explode then it will be difficult to control.
This is a way to openly express reasons for one's unhappiness
and to publicly shame one's opponent. The person may end up in
bloody fistfights and Fijians love to boast their fighting skills,
using bear hands without arms. Sparring at each other with a punch
or two is a normal way of greetings to young men.
27. Fijians are traditionally a fighting
people. Warfare is closely associated with the training and initiation
of youths for manhood. Boys are introduced early to war psychologically
through club and spear dancing in schools, contact games like
wrestling, boxing and rugby which helped to condition good fighting
soldiers. Their childhood was nothing but to grow up to obey command
and respect superiors in authority. Shy quiet and innocent looking
but can become aggressive and violent at any spur of the moment;
essential personalities required to fight and kill the enemy in
28. Fijian culture, like any other culture
is varied and changes continuously. There are things that all
Fijians do, there are things, which are confined to some areas,
there are things, which only some levels of categories of society
are allowed to do and there are things which are done idiosyncratically
by individuals as part of their personality and are not representative
of the group behaviour. Because of these variations, it is not
possible to explain every cultural proactive that one might experience
in Fiji. This paper aimed to help MoD HQ, Regiments Officers and
SNCOs of the British Army understand some of the main principles
on which the Fijian society is organised and how those affect
the attitudes and behaviour of the Fijians now serving in the
29. Finally stated hereunder some important
words and phrases commonly used by Fijians for Regiments' info:
(a) BulaBulla also bulla vinaka
(veenaca)expression of greeting, hello,
(b) Moce madaMothe madagoodbye,
(c) Lako maiLaco maicome
here, come closer,
(d) Totolo maicome here on the double,
run, hurry up
(e) Taganemale, boy,
(f) Yalewafemale, girl,
(g) Vinaka, veenacathank you, very
(h) Ca, thebad, very bad, not good,
(i) Sotiasoldier, soldiers (individuals)
(j) MataivaluArmy, regiments (group of
(k) VeilwaiOrderly room, court proceedings,
(m) SatiniSergeants and staff sergeants,
(n) Santini MetiaWarrant Officers,
(o) Vuli TuraganivaluOfficer Cadets,
(p) Turaga ni ValuCommissioned officers
from 2Lt up
British Army Welfare Officer, Fiji