Fijian ceremonies (a sampling)
Before Methodist missionaries came to Fiji one of the favorite Fijian ceremonies was killing and eating people. The (perhaps vegetarian) missionaries got the Fijians to quit doing that but, as far as we can tell, that seems to be the only ceremony they have discontinued. (If they were only going to pick one that was a good choice.)
It’s fascinating as a traveler to see that even though Fiji has more than 100 populated islands, the inhabitants of which may rarely, if ever, visit the others, it manages to have common traditions across the country. There are some regional differences; the dances in some of the Lau Islands have a more Tongan influence than in other regions, but the same basic reasons and rituals pervade Fiji.
Here are some of the ceremonies we witnessed, heard about or participated in while in Fiji.
Fijian Sevusevu Ceremony
The sevusevu ceremony is done each time you go to a new island or village. A hand-carved bowl is placed on the floor, the guests’ spokesperson presents a newspaper-wrapped bundle of roots of a particular pepper plant. He then delivers a solemn speech to the host explaining why a bunch of old white people are suddenly sitting on a mat in front of him.
Then the host gives an acceptance speech and the men prepare kava and pass it around using communal wooden bowls. There is a protocol as to who drinks when, claps when and how often, etc.until that first bowl is empty. You have to look serious, sit still and be quiet during all of this.
Then the ceremony officially concludes (although more kava drinking may follow).
OK, we’ll try to briefly explain kava to you. It’s a drink made from scraping clean and then grinding the pepper roots, putting the result in a cloth sack and mixing/kneading it by hand with water. It looks like watery mud, does not taste quite that good, and is a very popular sedative. It is now consumed socially (a lot).
Fijian Greeting Ceremony
You can’t go sneaking around in Fiji because someone – who will soon be joined by quite a few other someones – will jump out and begin to sing “Bula Maleya” to you. You are even greeted at the airport in Nadi with a band singing it as you groggily disembark from your flight.
(“Bula” is a word you will learn immediately upon arrival in Fiji. It means “hello, welcome, life” and maybe some other positive things. It is a heartfelt greeting you will hear, and should return, throughout your stay.)
It’s hard to find a definitive answer as to the origins of Bula Maleya. The most frequently cited theory says Bula Maleya is an old Fijian Battalion song brought back after the unit served, in cooperation with Great Britain, during the Communist/Malayan Emergency (which we are sure you are as well versed in as we are).
Fijian Engagement Ceremony (unverified version)
This is a highly unofficial accounting of part of the process of getting engaged. (“Highly unofficial” means it is based on what Blonde remembers hearing on an evening when she was enjoying quite a few fermented grapes.)
One evening we were seated with a senior staff member of the ship. In an effort to help him avoid possible embarrassment we won’t say that his name is Tony. Tony, on that evening, had been seated with a table full of women (each of whom were at least twice his age), He inquired as to why we were traveling without our husbands. Only Brunette has a husband (somewhere) and the rest of us expressed less than positive views about our marital experiences.
Tony confided that he is planning to get engaged next month. The woman is already his girlfriend; this is not an arranged marriage. When Tony officially proposes he will ask the young woman’s father and he will offer her father two tabuas (whale teeth on ropes basically.) Because the men in the family have to get the whale’s teeth Tony’s uncle is busily out practicing whale dentistry or doing whatever it takes to get the tabuas. (Might be better not to know.)
When we asked why 2 instead of 1 Tony laughed and said 1 is for permission and 1 is for an apology. Bizarrely we didn’t press as to the reason for the apology but we have our suspicions.
We inquired if Tony has ever met his prospective father-in-law and were told “No, but we’re friends on Facebook”. Blending the old and the new!
Fijian School-children Ceremonies
It is common/popular for tourists to visit primary schools in villages. Unlike probably 99.9% of the children of the visitors, Fijian kids seem to love to perform for visitors. On some of the more remote islands we visited they may only see people who are not from their island a handful of times a year so it’s a big deal.
Some schools have the children perform with their grade level and some mix them up. The children in these pictures were on the island of Makogai. We were there during school holidays but even so the students had been practicing, villagers made some costumes and there was enough enthusiasm (if not organization) for opening night of a Broadway play!
From what we saw the boys do dances showing that they are strong warriors and the girls do graceful, feminine dances.
Even if you think watching primary school children dance would be a form of torture you will get caught up in it (ask Blonde). The kids are so charming – some show-offs, some shy ones, some talented and others more enthusiastic than talented – that you will enjoy it.
Fijian Farewell Ceremonies
Just as you can’t sneak in you also can’t sneak away from hotels, ships or Fiji in general without being serenaded.
The goodbye song is Isa Lei which Brunette kept thinking was “ukulele”. Sometimes it’s hard to remember who’s the blonde.
This is a really pretty song and will stick in your brain with more tenacity than “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” after a December visit to a shopping mall in the U.S. You cannot get the thing out of your head.
Have a listen and read the lyrics and perhaps you will understand why.
How every resort, ship, village and airport manages to round-up enough people with beautiful voices to sing this is beyond us.
But then lots of things are, except for this song which is now stuck in our heads again!