You won’t go home without experiencing the warmth of traditional Fijian hospitality, especially if you spend time on the two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Fit in a kava ceremony at a village (you can bestow a kava root gift upon the village elder, and will get to sip the mouth-numbing grog made from it), try a traditional lovo feast (with food cooked in lovo pits in the earth) and watch a meke dance. The country has a rich tradition of storytelling, music and dance; we caught up with one of its leading performers, Sachiko Soro, from VOU, Fiji’s leading dance company and school, to find out more.
Bula! Welcome to Fiji, an eye-wateringly beautiful archipelago in the South Pacific with more than 320 tropical islands to its name. White-sand beaches, azure waters, colourful coral reefs and beauty-boosting tropical blooms mean that Fiji’s looks rival any supermodel’s, but it’s famed for its friendliness, too.
An audience with VOU…
Bula, Sachiko! Can you tell us how important music and dance within Fijian culture? Bula! Music and dance is interwoven into Fijian life – everyone knows to dance and sing; it is a natural ability within our bones. It is our identity as a nation: our multiculturalism and our unity is symbolised through our cultural expression.
Can you tell us about Fijian’s rich history of storytelling and artistic expression?
Wow this is a very big question, and one that could fill many books. There is a rich heritage from each of the provinces and how they interact with each other. Each place has its own ‘VU’, or ancestral god, that has stories about it, such as the shark god Dakuwaqa from Cakaudrove, or the octopus god Rokobakaniceva from Kadavu. There are many stories that link the different gods, and therefore these provinces of people, in unique ways. Hence their relationships with each other such can be those of ‘tau‘ (friendly rival), or ‘naita‘ (traditional ally). All of these stories are passed on through songs and dances. The traditional choreographer is called the daunivucu, who in past times would go into a trance to create these pieces in communication with ancestral spirits. However, in this Christian day and age this is frowned upon in modern Fijian culture; the choreographic process has been altered somewhat to accommodate this.
What sounds are distinctive to Fiji?
The sound of the vucu, the chant before the meke is a spine-tingling call, and one that always makes me feel proud. The sound of the Davui, the conch shell announcing traditional events. I always remember that when Ratu Mara died, dozens of conch shells were played non-stop on rotating shifts for four full days and nights.
And what kinds of dances are important within Fijian culture?
There are various meke, and the meke differs in each province. Generally there will be meke wesi (spear dances) meke wau (club dances) meke iri (fan dances), meke liga (with hands) for the men. And the meke iri and the vakamalolo for the women. These are general types, but there are other dances from different regions, including the tautonga from Rotuma, the various traditional Rabi, Chinese and Indian dances. And of course, nowadays there’s the emergence of a more fusion-style contemporary dance, developed by the young community. As well as watching a meke in a village, visitors can watch the dances at competitions and festivals.
What do you love about Fijian culture?
The Mana! The intangible energy that comes from watching a live Fijian performance full of spirit and energy!
Where can we see VOU perform?
VOU tours internationally every year; you can check our calendar on VOU’s website. We regularly perform around Fiji, and we are currently in the process of getting approval to build some cultural venues, where visitors from all around the world can come to Fiji and engage first-hand in all the wonderful things I have described above. We really believe that in the growing market of cultural tourism, this is missing from the Fiji experience that our tourists get – we want to give them some wonderful memories to take home with them.
Mini Fijian phrasebook…
Welcome/hello/good afternoon: Bula!
Good night/goodbye: Moce
How are you? Vacava tiko?
Thank you: Vinaka
How much is this? E vica na kena i-sau?
Please: Yalo vinaka
I love you! Au domoni iko!