The Fijian culture is likely to be wildly different to your own. It may take some time to get used to, but if you arrive with an open mind and heart, you will love every second of your stay in our beautiful country and probably make some incredibly loyal, lifelong friends.
It all depends on your mood and attitude.
Time in Fiji moves according to meals and the tide because scheduling of events usually depends on these things. There is no rush unless it is extremely urgent. Things happen on ‘Fiji Time’ a term you will gradually become at one with.
Schedules are highly flexible because most people (in rural areas and outer islands) don’t have anything particular to do that day or the next. Out on the islands, we have no concept of an eight-hour workday, but don’t misunderstand us, we work extremely hard, farming and fishing, building and contributing to our community. We take great pleasure in doing this to our own timetable. If things aren’t done today, they’ll get done tomorrow, and if we feel like a nap mid-afternoon, well, then we will!
When walking through a village, you’ll often get invitations to eat or have tea when you walk past houses where people are eating. We are just being courteous and you don’t have to accept unless you’re really hungry or you feel like stopping. A short VINAKA and a smile is enough to politely decline.
When you do join in with a family meal, you’ll often be encouraged to ‘eat hardy’ (kana vakalevu) and to continue eating until you almost burst! You should eat until you are well contented then thank your host for the food and ask to rest cegu mada – (then-goo man-da).
Even if you just ate your body-weight in food, we will usually comment that you didn’t eat very much. You may in fact, hear it for the rest of the evening but don’t worry about it. It’s another courtesy and follows the philosophy that ‘a well fed man is a happy man’. We Fijians just want you to be happy – so tell us you’re full sa mamau and we will leave you alone.
Should you receive some gifts, accept them graciously. You don’t have to repay it until a proper occasion arises. Avoid returning favours with money as that’s almost like buying them; the best thing to do is to give a gift in return; perhaps a few tins of fish, some sugar and some tea or some items of clothing. We love to have our pictures taken, so perhaps print one or two and mail them to us!
We are a generous bunch really, if we only have one cup of sugar left when you ask for it, we will not think twice about giving it to you. This kind of generosity is also extended when you join us for a drink of kava (yaqona). You may notice that you’re drinking the lion’s share of the mix and perhaps think is a bit unfair that you should ‘suffer’ more than the others, but to the Fijian way of thinking we are actually extending a sign of friendship.
When the Christian missionaries arrived in Fiji, they spent much time encouraging the people of Fiji to dress more conservatively, and cover up to be more ‘descent’. Ironically in today’s Fiji, while we Fijians remain covered up out of respect, we see bikini clad tourists on a daily basis. On that note, it is worth mentioning that when not on a beach, or in a resort, it is appropriate to wear modest clothing. Nudity embarrasses Fijians, and hints of nudity are not much better. Bikini tops and see through sarongs in public make us squirm!
There are three series of questions that villagers on the outer islands normally ask when we meet you. They are ‘How are you?’ (sa Bula vinaka?), ‘Where are you going?’ (lako ivei?) and finally, ‘What are you going to do?’ (sa vakacava?).
It’s not meant to be the Fijian inquisition; we’re just trying to be polite. If we don’t fully understand your answer, we’ll find out eventually anyway as the next guy you meet will likely ask you exactly the same questions and so the news will spread!
The second series of questions deal with your family. ‘Is your father healthy?’ (e bula vinkaka o tamamu?), ‘Your mother?’ (O tinamu?), ‘Do you have any brothers or sisters (e so na tacimu?), ‘How many brothers? (e vica na tagane?) ‘sisters?’ (yalewa?) etc etc… Questions like; ‘What does your father do for a living?’ and ‘Does he own a business?’ will often follow. These questions and answers are important to Fijians because ‘rank ancestry’ plays a big role in our society. We like to find the way that we are connected to one another. Sometimes out of curiosity, there will be accompanying questions about your hometown’s location, size, etc and occasionally about your house. We are just curious about how and where you live when you are not sailing around our islands.
The most impressive thing about all these questions is their repetitiveness and the surprise we can show despite knowing all about you already via the ‘coconut wireless’. It is almost like a small community in the US or UK where secrets are hard to hide and almost anything is gossip material. If you are staying in the village, we will know what time you get up, what you eat, what you do, how many time you go to the bathroom, what time you go to sleep and who you went to sleep with….and if we don’t we’ll make it up!
This is all done in jest of course, because we Fijians delight in TEASING. It is an integral part daily life in the villages – laughter is everywhere.
This account, of course, has been greatly exaggerated, but until the novelty of your presence wears off, there may be a certain amount of attention. It will vary according to each village, but the attention is a display of companionship. Fijians are rarely alone, we prefer company, and you will likely find yourself followed along by hoards of curious children.
The best way to deal with it? Laugh along and enjoy being immersed in such a wildly different culture to your own!
A celebrated figure in Fiji, Ratu Manoa Rasigatale has dedicated his career to protecting and promoting Fiji’s culture and environment. He has made significant contributions to the culture and arts of our country, both locally and abroad in a career spanning over 35 years. This man’s whole life has been a dedication to the untold stories and secrets of his people, their land and sea. Throughout this publication, Manoa will share some of his knowledge with you in an attempt to help you understand the peoples of Fiji, our culture and links to our ocean.