This guest post was written by Ariel Benson, a travel journalist from Syndey who has spent the last two years living in Fiji and working on a historical novel set on the island.
Experience the Real Fiji: Five Traditional Rituals You Shouldn’t Miss
While most visitors head to Fiji to revel in tropical paradise and bask on the sandy shores in the shade of a towering palm, there is a lot more to this tiny island nation than turquoise waters and fruity cocktails. In fact, like many islands in the South Pacific, Fiji has a vibrant culture, kept alive by the many indigenous peoples that still live there.
Although Fiji’s culture and customs have been influenced by those of Europe, China and other nearby island nations, many of the traditions are unique to Fiji. Those who take holidays to Fiji have the opportunity to witness – and participate in – many of these traditions, which are part of everyday life for Fijians.
1. Yaqona Ceremony
In the past, Yaqona, also known as Kava, was only used for ceremonial purposes, but today it’s used as a social drink. When you visit a village, it’s customary to present a gift of Kava, made from the dried roots of a type of pepper plant, to the village leaders; if you visit as part of a tour group, your tour guide will either take care of the gift or help you purchase and present the offering yourself. This tradition is called “sevusevu.”
Chances are, if you visit a village or a private home, you’ll be invited to participate in a Yaqona ceremony. Be aware that the drink is quite spicy, and has a tendency to numb the tongue – and that it’s considered disrespectful to decline the drink.
When you’re offered the ceremonial cup, drink the entire contents at once, and follow your host or guide’s lead for the proper gestures and motions after drinking. In most cases, you’ll need to clap once before and after drinking.
Fijians share their stories, history and legends through music and dance, and no trip to Fiji is complete without attending a meke, or traditional performance.
During the performance, musicians sit on the ground and sing while playing traditional instruments, including hardwood gongs and bamboo pipes. Dancers, wearing traditional flower garlands, skirts of grass or leaves or traditional warrior garb, interpret the music and tell stories ranging from violent battles to tender love stories.
After your long flight to Fiji, you’ll be starving – and there is, perhaps, no better introduction to island cuisine than the Lovo, a traditional manner of cooking.
Food, including yams, tapioca, taro and pork, are cooked over red-hot coals in a pit covered with banana leaves or coconut palm fronds. After several hours, the traditional feast is enjoyed family picnic style.
4. Tapa Cloth
While many Fijians favor Western or Indian style dress for every day attire, for ceremonial occasions, tapa cloth is the norm. In fact, many brides who come to Fiji for their nuptials opt to wear a traditional tapa garment for the ceremony.
Tapa is made from the bark of the mulberry tree, which is pounded thin and then decorated with elaborate stencils and hand-drawn designs. Even if you opt not to wear one of the traditional garments, you can purchase tapa to bring home and frame as artwork.
The influence of Indian culture and traditions on Fiji is perhaps nowhere as obvious as the fire walking ceremonies. Within some tribes, the ability to walk on a hot surface is a great honor, and the act is treated with great ceremony.
While in India, fire walkers stroll across hot embers, those in Fiji walked across white hot stones. Not just anyone can participate in this ritual though; these ceremonies are treated with great reverence and a number of specific rituals must be completed before walking across the coals. However, as a visitor, you may be able to witness one of these shows and marvel at the fire walkers’ skill and fortitude.
These are just a few of the unique traditions that you can experience when you visit Fiji. Before you go on your holiday, take some time to learn about the etiquette and traditions of this tiny island nation – and open yourself to the experience of participating in one of the rituals.
You’ll return home with more than just a great tan, but also a new outlook and understanding of the world around you.
Author Bio: Sydney native Ariel Benson is a travel journalist who has spent the last two years living in Fiji and working on a historical novel set on the island. She loves sharing the island culture with friends and family who visit, and recently helped a friend plan a traditional Fijian wedding ceremony.
Photo credits: click on the image to find the source on Flickr. All images were under Creative Commons license at the time this post was published.