Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Polynesia
Fiji geography, History & Culture
Home | Fiji | Tonga | Tonga fact Book | Samoan Language | Samoan Proverbs | Austronesian language Comparison | Tuvaluan language | Rotuman Language | Tuvalu History | Tongan Language | 10 Minute Guide to Tonga | Say it in Fiji | Fiji geography, History & Culture | About Me | Favorite Links | Contact Me | Vacation Photo Album | My Resume | New Page Title

Geography

Fiji is ideally located in the tropics of the southern hemisphere. It lies on the 180 Meridian where the dawning of each new day occurs.

Over 300 islands make the Fiji group of islands with a total land area of just 18,272 square kilometers. Of the 300 islands, only a 100 or so islands are inhabited by humans and the rest are left as nature reserves.

Area Covered:
Latitude: 12-21S and
Longitude: 176E-178W.

The two major islands in the group are known as Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

Almost 80 percent of the population live on these two islands. Still the majority of the population live in the rural areas and the outer islands. Only about 40 percent of the population live in urban areas.

Population: 775,077*
Major Towns*
Greater Suva
Lautoka
Nadi
Ba
Labasa

* 1996 Census


167,975
43,274
30,884
14,716
24,095

Weather

Fiji enjoys an ideal South Sea tropical climate. It is thus a perfect holiday destination, especially for those trying to escape the severe Northern Hemisphere winters. Maximum summer temperatures average 31 Degrees Celsius (88 Degrees F) and the mean minimum is 22 Degrees Celsius (72 Degrees F) The winter average maximum is 29 Degrees Celsius (84 Degrees Celsius F) and the mean minimum is 19 Degrees Celsius (66 Degrees Celsius F). These are much cooler in the uplands of the interior of the large islands.

A cooling trade wind blows from the east southeast of most of the year. It usually drops to a whisper in the evening and picks up again by midmorning. Fiji has a climate ideally suited for the outdoors, the beach and surf, for light cotton dresses, barbecues and water sports.

For more details on Fiji's climate and weather forecasts we suggest you visit the Fiji Meteorological Service Online

Summer    
Average Air Temperatures: 23 - 30C 73 - 86F
Average Water Temperatures: 27 - 29C 80 - 84F
Winter    
Average Air Temperature: 20 - 26C 68 - 79F
Average Water Temperatures: 25 - 27C 77 - 80F

History & Culture

Bure

Fiji is a blend of fascinating ancient cultures. Tranquil villages nestled in out of the way places. Rituals such as the yaqona ceremony are enacted as they have been for centuries and visitors are welcomed as honoured guests. Come and discover our history, be entertained by our legends and tales, find out about our culture and learn our ways. Teach yourself a little of our language.

Pre-history

The most remarkable aspect of Fijian pre-history is its antiquity. It is now known that people had reached the Fijian archipelago as early as 2000 years before the birth of Christ. Considering the fact that the Vikings, acknowledged as Europe's greatest sailors, didn't reach American until three thousand years later, or the fact that Columbus made his famous voyage only some five hundred years ago, the Fijian achievement must be seen as extraordinary.

The question is, who were the first settlers. And the answer is that we don't know. There are some who are prepared to speculate and Dr Roger Green, Professor of Anthropology at Auckland University, in New Zealand is one of them. He calls this vast archipelago "Island of South East Asia". These migrants were relatively new, even though they were different from those of the people already living in the islands of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and New Caledonia. The first settlers were of Negrito stock with dark skin, woolly hair and other typical features. The newcomers were fairer, had straight or wavy black hair and we can assume were of many type stock. they would seem to have been good sailors and craftsmen and excellent potters who made a distinct type of ware we know as Lapita pottery after its initial discovery in New Caledonia.

A picture emerges of these "Lapita" people. Sailors, adventurers, good navigators and consummate craftsmen. The trail of their pots, hooks, obsidian cutting tools and ornaments leads down from New Britain through some of the outer islands fringing the Solomons and Vanuatu, suggesting that perhaps they were not powerful enough to force settlements on the bigger islands which were already supporting large populations of people.

In this classic difference between the two groups we see the racial characteristics of what was later to be defined as Melanesian and Polynesian stock. The Melanesians were to retain their grip on the western island of the south Pacific but it can be fairly assumed that a great deal of the "Lapita" blood found its way into its main stream.

At some stage, about 2000 years before the birth of Christ, a canoe load of adventurous "Lapita" sailors either deliberately set out to the east or were driven off course by a westerly wind and made landfall in the Fijian archipelago. Dr. Green's theory is that these were the first settlers, not only because at that time they would have had the necessary maritime technology, but also because their pottery is found throughout the whole of Fiji. There is no way of knowing how long they enjoyed Fiji to themselves. But at some stage the Melanesians followed. It is reasonable to suppose that groups of Melanesians who were in contact with the "Lapita" people in the west would have been quick to take advantage of the better craft used by the "Lapita" seafarers and to incorporate them into their own technology.

It is also reasonable to assume that there may have been only a single successful voyage in each instance. Certainly Fijian legends speak of one canoe and one voyage. The canoe was the Kaunitoni and its people were the settlers. The legend says that the first canoe to touch land on the main island of Viti Levu found an indigenous people. The legend also says that the people of the canoe made their way inland from where they eventually spilled to other parts of Fiji.

This would suggest that the most favourable coastal areas were already settled and that there was no room for the new arrivals, leaving them no choice but to move into the less hospitable interior, where over the ensuing generations their population built up and eventually spilled over.

We know who the Fijians are today, but we also know that they are not truly Melanesian when compared with what must have been the parent stock back in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands or New Caledonia. The people of Fiji are larger - much larger in some cases, as in the province of Nadroga where even the women are nearly 180 centimetres (6 ft) tall. they speak a different language and enjoy their own material culture. At the time of European contact Fiji was a feudal society with a chiefly system of the most oppressive kind - unlike the Melanesian system where statue was earned by an individual who produced the most and share it. In Fiji the chiefs had absolute power of life and death over commoners in contrast to the Melanesian system which opposed such tyranny.

We can try to imagine those first years. The canoe arriving, the hostile reception from the established population, the skirmishing and then the long trek into the interior; the build up of population and then the subsequent probing towards the coast for both peaceful and hostile interaction with the indigenous peoples.

"Women and land are the reasons men die", says an old Maori proverb and there is no reason to suppose it would have been different in pre-historic Fiji. Villages raided, men killed or enslaved and women taken as the prize of victory. Slowly the blood of the distinct ethnic groups would have diffused over both populations, but not to such an extent as to form a homogeneous whole. we can imagine two distinct groups, each modified by the blood of the other but each still retaining its distinct racial characteristics, building up to a series of greater confrontations until finally the descendants of the "Lapita" people are forced out, first into the eastern area of Fiji and then to Tonga and beyond, leaving the dominant Melanesian people in control until many centuries later when once again the descendants of the "Lapita:" people, now known as Polynesians, would attempt to return and win back what they had lost.

The kai Viti - the people of Fiji - as they call themselves to this day, were left in possession of the large island archipelago which they began to organise on the Polynesian hierarchical system. Heads of powerful families could create political states by conquest and tyranny and by Machiavellian policies of alliance and treason. Friends and allies could become bitter enemies over-night. Political states, whose heads were often first cousins and sometimes step-brothers, were often locked in suicidal conflict. During greater wars minor civil wars would sometimes take place within political confederations and loyalty was something no Fijian chief could count on.

Fijians practised polygamy for both political and personal reasons. Alliances were consolidated by marriage, but women were also given as tribute or taken as a prize of war. The political advantage gained by marriage was often eroded by political instability at home caused by rivalry amongst the male issue. Thus families rose and fell and states rose and fell.

During this long pre-contract period Fiji was visited by Tongans who came on regular trading expeditions; Samoans, Wallis Islanders, people of Futuna and Rotuma. At some later stage, not long before European contact, there must also have been contract with Micronesia, most probably Kiribati 1100 miles to the north. The probability of such contact is beyond dispute because the development of the Fijian sailing canoe is so obviously based on the Micronesian model.

In 1976 I made such a voyage myself in a sailing canoe built at Tarawa, Kiribati. To my mind it is more likely that a Micronesian canoe arrived in Fiji rather than a Fijian canoe arriving at Kiribati.

The famous English navigator/explorer James Cook notes the difference between the large voyaging canoes he saw in Tonga during his first visit in 1769. During his two subsequent calls he was able to note that the Fijian model had almost completely displaced the indigenous Tongan craft.

It was at Tonga that Cook first learned of Fiji and saw Fijian visitors who were conspicuous amongst the locals because of their darker skin. The Tongans maintained an intricate social relationship with Fiji through trade, through the supply of mercenary warriors to warring chiefdoms and through ancient rituals such as, for example the daughter of the Tui Tonga being reserved in marriage to the Tui Lakeba as she was considered too sacred for marriage to a Tongan. It would seem that Tongans were by far sources of Fiji. the Tongans came for sandalwood which was used for its scent and for the great double canoes which were so difficult to acquire in Tonga because of the lack of suitable timber. In turn the Tongans brought their own trade goods and their arms which they sold to the highest bidder and on whose behalf they would fight. The Tongans could fish profitably in such waters, particularly in the period immediately after the first European contact when they came close to controlling most of Fiji and probably would have done so if it had not been for European intervention.

As the Fijians had no written language and relied on memory for their history, (the wise men memorising intricate genealogical tables), we have no record of what happened. Potsherds, hooks and artefacts unearthed in archaeological excavations are our only clue to the dim and distant past.

These show settlement of Fiji to have been achieved some four thousand years ago whereas today most Fijian people trace their descent through some ten generations to the landing of the canoe the Kaunitoni and the chiefs Lutunasobasoba and Degei. The canoe is said to have landed at Vuda between Lautoka and Nadi where Lutunasobasoba chose to remain. Others moved towards the Ra coast and settled on the seaward slopes of the Kauvadra range. Degei, who was subsequently deified, had numerous sons. They quarrelled and with their followers moved over much of Fiji until they finally settled, took wives from among the local people and founded the families that grew into the present chiefly yavusa recognised to this day. The yavusa is the largest social unit of the Fijians. According to R.A. Derrick in his History of Fiji (Government Press, Suva, 1946), a yavusa is strictly neither a tribe nor a clan; its members are direct agnate descendants of a single kalou-vu or deified ancestor; the unit originating from the Lutunasobasoba migration.

If the founder of the family had only one son the yavusa retained its patriarchal structure, even after his death, when in accordance with Polynesian custom his son succeeded him. If his family included two or more sons, the chiefly succession was from brother to brother and on the death of the last brother it reverted to the eldest son of the senior brother who had left male issue. Each member of the first such family of brothers found a branch of the yavusa called the mataqali which thereafter retained its identity, acquired a distinctive name and in the course of time became the traditional custodian of a designated function. In a fully developed yavusa there was mataqali: 1, the turaga or chiefly mataqali, who were in the most direct line of descent, by male links, from the common ancestor, and from whom the ruling chiefs of succeeding generations were chosen; 2, the sauturaga or executive mataqali, whose rank was next to that of the chiefs of the blood and whose function it was to carry out their commands and to support their authority; 3, the mata-ni-vanua or diplomatic mataqali from whom the official heralds and masters of ceremony were chosen; 4, bete or priestly mataqali, into certain of whom the spirit of the common ancestor was supposed to enter and 5, the bati or warrior mataqali whose function was war. The third and smallest unit was the i tokatoka which was a subdivision of the mataqali and comprised closely relating families acknowledging the same blood relative as their head and living in a defined village area.

The simple branching of yavusa into mataqali and of the mataqali into the i tokatoka was subject to disruptive influences of war, internal strife, migration and conquest. This was a dynamic process subject to internal and external stress which saw many of the original yavusa broken or merged wholly or in part with others strong enough to seize and hold the position which thereafter became hereditary. Some of the vanua were united by conquest or accretion into kingdoms known as matanitu. But this is regarded as a recent development during the wars of historic times. Among the people of the interior and western Viti Levu large confederations were unknown. In 1835 the people of Fiji said there were thirty-two places in the group entitled to rank as matanitu, but during the British Colonial period the Native Lands Commission found the political status and order of precedence of the chiefdoms to be as follows: Bau, Rewa, Naitasiri, Namosi, Nadroga, Bau, Macuata, Cakaudrove, Lau, Kadavu, Ba, Serua, and Tavua. The life of Fijians was governed by ritual accompanied by elaborate ceremonies and strict observance of ancient custom. A serious breach of etiquette or error in precedence could lead to bloodshed or even war. There is a recorded instance of the chief of Rewa inviting his bati (warriors) from different parts of his state to a feast in their honour., Whereas on this occasion the chief decided to bring them together but a dispute quickly arose over precedence between two parties and neither would yield and determined to settle the issue with the club. The chiefs of Rewa, fearing that once started such a disturbance could lead to a greater conflict, promptly fired muskets on the disturbing parties.

There were appropriate ceremonies for every event of importance and also for many minor ones. Life was governed by superstitious beliefs. Good and evil fortune was ascribed to the will of gods and spirits which needed to be constantly propitiated with gifts but especially the presentation of the bodies of slain victims which would then be redistributed for cooking and eating. Major events such as the installation of great chiefs were sometimes conducted over a pile of bodies and the birth, coming of age, marriage and death of great chiefs were likely to be marked with human sacrifice as were the stages in the buildings of war canoes - and especially their launching which was over the bodies of live victims tied down over the skids - and the setting up of the principal posts for temples or chiefs' houses when live men would be buried to "hold them up". On such occasions the ceremonial preparation and serving of yaqona was an important part of the ritual as was the presentation of the tabua. In recent times the name tabua has come to signify the tooth of the sperm whale. In former times it was a special stone cut and polished in the shape of a sperm whale tooth, but larger in size, which was used. The incidence of whaling ships in the Pacific during the nineteenth century caused a large supply of whale teeth to become available. At first these were introduced into Fiji by Tongans who had a better access to them, but later European trading ships brought these directly. Tabua were the price of life and death and indispensable adjuncts to every proposal, whether for marriage, alliance, intrigue, request, apology, appeal to the goods or sympathy with the bereaved. Priests were an important link between the gods and the people but the gods were capricious and, even if there was proper observance of all customary rites and the presentation of suitable gifts, the god or gods could still withhold their favour. At such times an explanation might be demanded of the priests and on some occasions the gods have been challenged to fight.

Degei, the deified ancestor of the Lutunasobasoba migration, was recognised as the most important. He is said to have lived (in pre-Christian times) near the place of his original settlement following the landing of the canoe at Vuda and his march to the Kauvadra Range. Degei became a huge snake living in a cave on the mountain Uluda. No cave has been found on the summit of Uluda, but there is a cleft hardly wide enough for a man to fit into. There were gods of agriculture, fishing, craftsmen and war.

The god of war often received the greatest attention because so much depended on him. No campaign was begun without his temple being either completely rebuilt or refurbished and the presentation of lavish gifts. The bure kalou (the temple), of which two fine examples may be seen in Fiji today at Pacific Harbour and at Orchid Island near Suva, was the home of the god and was marked by lofty roofs which dominated all others and fully decorated with sennit and cowerie shells. A strip of masi where it was draped before a corner post and it was down this curtain that the god would descend when invoked.

Because Fijians believed in the power of gods and spirits and in sorcery, the office of the priest was important. Priests were the link between gods and men and for this important function they received gifts for the use of the gods, but in reality appropriated by the priests. The ritual in seeking the god's favour centred on the preparation of a feast which would be presented in the temple along with an offering of the tabua. All would then sit silently in the cool, gloomy interior of the bure kalou and gaze with expectation on the priest who would sit before the strip of masi along which the god would be expected to descend. The priest would begin to twitch until finally he would be in a fit with violent convulsions, sweat running out of every pore and frothing at the mouth. In this state the priest was in the possession of the god and he would speak to the assembly in a strange voice, often ambiguously, until he would cease to shake when it was recognised that the god had departed. Much depended on what the god promised. If success, all was jubilation but if it was failure, not even the boldest chiefs would dare move. The feast and gifts offered to the god would then be shared by the priests and petitioners. Only the spirit substance of the gifts would be used by the god.

The Fijians believed in an afterlife. This was an island somewhere to the west from where the original migration (migrations) had come. The path taken by the soul was always difficult and fraught with dangers. Evil spirits awaited the traveller; some needed gifts while others had to be fought and prevailed against so that the soul might continue on its path. Those who were unsuccessful were eaten. It could be said that the world of the Fijian was completely bound by superstition and ritual and sorcery. Every action could bring gain or harm. Nothing could be done without some consequence. Illness or death was attributed to the action of sorcery; to the breaking of the tabu or to the displeasure of the gods. The Fijian also believed in the importance of dreams and omens and in the power of spells to such an extent that if informed of a death spell he would be likely to die unless relief could be obtained by a more potent spell. Some omens were extremely powerful - the sight of a kingfisher was sufficient to send a war-party into a retreat.

Chiefs held absolute power over their subjects and could have them killed at will. The strictest laws of tabu applied to the protection of the privilege enjoyed by chiefs. Commoners and women had to move out of the path of chiefs, kneel, clap their hands and greet him with a cry of respect. In passing his presence they had to stoop or even sometimes crawl; if carrying objects these had to be lowered; when entering the house in his presence the commoner had to use a door reserved for him. The power of chiefs was demonstrated in the 1840s by a chief of Rewa. An American trader who had purchased the Island of Laucala near the mouth of the Rewa River had requested the chief to stop people from going to it. A canoe load of the chief's subjects, unaware of the prohibition, was seen on its way to the island. The chief immediately sent warriors who clubbed the unfortunates to death. The largest chiefdoms were the most oppressive tyrannies.

The artistic feeling of the Fijians was expressed in the construction of the great war canoes; in the building and decoration of temples and chiefs houses; in the decoration of weapons, cloth, pottery and in the intricate and colourful decoration of the person. The meke, a combination of song and dance, are popular to this day whilst the proper execution of ceremonies and rituals, such as the serving of the chief's yaqona and the presentation of the tabua, were dramatic events.

Until the coming of Europeans, the Fijian craftsman worked with stone tools and his achievements, when seen in this light must be regarded with credit. With these tools he built great canoes and houses for the chiefs and gods. The house of Tanoa at Bau was 40 metres long and 13 metres wide and that of his son, Cakobau was 24 metres long, 11 metres wide and 12 metres high. The huge posts, some of which were nearly two metres in circumference, were felled in the bush and then hauled by man-power to the sea, brought to Bau and then manhandled again to the site of construction. It was in the construction of the great war canoes that the art of the Fijian craftsman was revealed. two examples (on a small scale) may be seen in Fiji today. One is in the Fiji Museum at Suva and the other at Orchid Island near Suva. The canoe at the museum was built in the early 1900s and is find example of exquisite craftsmanship. It is truly a work of art. The difference in the work of the time when the canoe was built and now can be seen readily in the restoration work which seems crude in comparison with the original. But both canoes are small in comparison with the great craft which ruled the seas during much of the 19th century. The greatest fleet was assembled at Bau where some of these craft were of unbelievable size. The famous Ra Marama, which was built at Taveuni, was nearly 32 metres long and more than 5.6 metres wide. It took seven years to build it. Such canoes not only required the expertise of craftsmen but the resources of great states. It is difficult to imagine, for example, how many kilometres of sennit (coconut husk cord) would have to be made for the lashings which would hold the various parts of the canoe together. My own estimate, based on the outrigger canoe built at Tarawa, Kiribati, in 1975-76 which we sailed down to Fiji, would suggest that upwards of ten thousand metres of sennit would be required if rigging was included in the total.

The art of pottery brought into the South Pacific by the gifted and versatile "Lapita" people survived in Fiji but failed in Tonga, Samoa and east Polynesia on account of the lack of suitable clay. The Fijians still make pottery and it is possible to join a tour to a village in Sigatoka where the art is demonstrated. But the pottery of recent historic times has degenerated considerably from the ware made by the first settlers. It was an important trade item carried to Tonga and Samoa and on at least one occasion, possibly by the only canoe to make such a voyage, as far as the Marquesas Islands more than two thousand nautical miles to the east. As throughout the rest of the South Pacific, cloth was made from the paper-mulberry tree. The craft is practised to this day and may be seen in the Lau Islands and especially at Taveuni. The trees are specially cultivated in groves. When about four metres high and some three centimetres in diameter the trees are harvested and the skin removed for processing. This is done by first steeping it in water and then by scraping and beating until the desired texture is achieved. This cloth is known as masi in Fiji but is also called tapa. Much of it is directed at the tourist trade as a curiosity, but it is also used by Fijians as a dress for ceremonial occasions. In former times there were many regional styles of decoration. It is hard to imagine the people of those times being afflicted by "unemployment" and it is sometimes difficult to imagine that this can be so today. Houses need constant attention and repair; there were ropes and nets and mats to be made; weapons, utensils of every kind, fish hooks from bone and shell and wood, needles, slit gongs large and small, canoes of all kinds, combs and ornaments and huge plantations to maintain and harvest, the surplus being laid down in special pits to ferment and congeal into a paste which would last for years.

The best of all the labour of craftsmen, gardeners and fishermen was enjoyed by the chiefs.

Legends

Legends

A Legend Of Degei The Snake God

Greatest of all Fijian gods was Degei, the Snake god. In the beginning he lived alone, without friends or companions, and the only living creature he knew was Turukawa the hawk. Although the hawk could not speak he was the constant companion of the god.

One day Degei could not find his friend and looked everywhere for him. Days went by and at last one morning he spied the hawk sitting in some long grass. Gladly, he welcomed the bird but, to his consternation, she ignored Degei and commenced building a nest. Disappointed, he retired to his house and the next day went back to the nest and found two eggs. He then realised the hawk had found a mate and that he had lost her affection. So scooping up the eggs he took them into his own house and kept them warm with his own body. After several weeks of nurturing the eggs and wondering what would happen two shells broke and there were two tiny human bodies.

Degei built them a shelter in a vesi tree and fed them on scraps of food. They grew quickly, but there was nobody to teach them except Degei. He did not understand children but when they were hungry he fed them and to save himself work he planted banana trees and root crops close to them. He also talked to them and told them about the secrets of nature. Eventually the children were fully grown and all this time had been unaware of each other's presence as Degei had placed them on opposite sides of the tree.

One day the man left his shelter and as soon as he saw the maiden held out his arms to her and told her Degei had made them for each other and that their children would populate the earth. So Degei showed them how to cook the root vegetables in an earth oven.

Some time later they were blessed with a little baby and Degei also was very happy as he knew that because of loneliness men and women had come into the world and would worship him as their god.

According to legend Degei also created Viti Levu and all the small islands.

Legends

Dakuwaqa The Shark God

One of the best known gods in Fijian legends is the fierce sea-monster Dakuwaqa. He was the guardian of the reef entrance of the islands, fearless, headstrong and jealous. He frequently changed himself into the form of a shark and travelled around the islands fighting all the other reef guardians.

One day he set out for the Lomaiviti group and after emerging victorious from this area he decided to set out for Suva. The guardian of the reef here challenged Dakuwaqa and a great struggle took place. There was such a disturbance that great waves went rolling into the mouth of the Rewa River causing valleys to be flooded for many miles inland.

Dakuwaqa once more emerged as victor and proceeded on his way. Near the island of Beqa his old friend Masilaca, another shark god, told him of the great strength of the gods guarding Kadavu island and slyly asked Dakuwaqa whether he would be afraid to meet them. Like a shot Dakuwaqa sped off towards Kadavu and, on nearing the reef, found a giant octopus guarding the passage. The octopus had four of its tentacles securely gripping the coral and the other four were held aloft. Rushing furiously in, Dakuwaqa soon found that he was being almost squeezed to death as the octopus had coiled its tentacles around him. Realising his danger Dakuwaqa begged for mercy and told the octopus that if his life was spared he would never harm any people from Kadavu wherever they may be in any part of Fiji waters.

So the octopus released him and Dakuwaqa kept his promise, and the people of Kadavu have no fear of sharks when out fishing or swimming.

Even today when local fishermen go out for a night's fishing they reverently pour a bowl of yaqona into the sea for Dakuwaqa.

The high chiefs of Cakaudrove are considered the direct descendants of Dakuwaqa and their totem shark will appear to the reigning chief on occasions when momentous news is about to the announced

Legends

Fire Walking On The Island Of Beqa

In accordance with the legendary tradition of the Sawau tribe of the island of Beqa, the firewalking ceremony is still performed on special occasions.

The firewalking skill is possessed by the Sawau tribesmen living in the four villages on the windward, or Southern side of the island of Beqa. In special cases, however, members of the other tribes who have been adopted by the Sawau tribe, have successfully performed the ceremony. the main village is know as Dakuibeqa where the chief of the tribe known as Tui Sawau lives.

When the ceremony is to be performed several representatives are chosen from each village, the total number being usually from the immediate family of the Bete. For two weeks before the event, the participants segregate themselves from all females and have no contact with them whatsoever, also they must not eat any coconut. Failure to observe the tabu renders the culprit liable to severe burns during the ceremony.

A large circular pit is dug some twelve to fifteen feet in diameter three to four feet in depth. This pit is lined with large river stones twelve to fifteen inches in diameter and a huge log fire is built over them some six to eight hours before the ceremony.

When the time arrives, the men of the village in gay regalia are led by the Bete to prepare the arena for the firewalkers. Armed with long green poles some of which have loops or strong green vines (walai) lashed to their ends, the young men clear the burning logs from the stones. As they heave on the vines, they chant in unison, "O-vulo-vulo"!

A long tree-fern called Waqa-bala-bala said to contain the Spirit God is then laid across the pit at the direction of the Bete. A large vine some 1.5 inches in diameter is then dragged across the stones leveling them and preparing them for the firewalkers.

When the stones are finally in position, the Bete jumps on to them and takes a few trial steps to test their firmness and when satisfied, calls for bundles of leaves (drau-ni-ba) and bundles of long swamp grass (sila) these are placed around the edge of the pit.

When all is ready, the position of the waqa-bala-bala is adjusted at the command of the Bete, and the base pointed in the direction from which the firewalkers will approach.

The village men who have prepared the pit now surround the circle leaving only a gap for the entry of the firewalkers.

The Bete looks around and when satisfied that the time has arrived gives a great shout of "Vuto-O" which is the signal for the firewalkers to burst from their place of concealment and in a single file at a brisk trot, approach the pit.

The waqa-bala-bala is quickly removed and the firewalkers enter the pit and walk briskly in single file on the white hot stones round the circumference of the pit. They appear to suffer no harm from the heat. As the audience is hushed in silence, a sudden shout goes up, the bundles of grass and leaves are thrown on the stones and the group huddles in the centre of the pit chanting a song associated with the occasion.

Around the ankle of each is a band of tinder-dry tree fern leaves called drau-ni-bala-bala and it is significant although a handkerchief tossed on to the stones will burst into flames, this band of fern does not ignite. These bands are carefully taken off and buried in the oven together with four special baskets of roots called vasili which are said to take the place in the oven of the performers.

The whole pit is then covered with earth, and left for a period of four days. After four days, the oven or lovo is opened by the firewalkers and the baked roots are taken out and are grounded and mixed with water. Dalo (taro) roots are then cooked in the liquid and eaten by the firewalkers.

This completes the firewalking ceremony.


Top | Home | Sitemap

Legends

Legend Of The Firewalkers Of Fiji

Many years ago on the island of Beqa (pronounced Mbengga), a tribe called Sawau lived on a mountain village called Navakeisese. In this village there lived a famous storyteller known as Dredre, who regularly entertained the members of the tribe with his stories. It was customary for the people of the village to bring gifts to Dredre in appreciation of his entertainment.

On one occasion when asked what gifts he would like, he requested each person of the audience to bring him the first things they would find while hunting the next day.

One of the warriors of Beqa called Tui-na-Iviqalita, went fishing for eels (rewai) in a mountain stream. The first thing he caught, felt like an eel, when he pulled it out of the mud, it assumed the shape of a Spirit God.

Tui was extremely pleased and set off to present his catch to Dredre, the storyteller. The Spirit God, however, pleaded for his life and offered all manner of gifts in exchange. These Tui refused until finally, the Spirit God offered to give him power over fire and this offer aroused his curiosity.

To prove his gift, a pit was dug and lined with stones, and a great fire was lit on the stones. When the stones were white with heat, the Spirit God leapt down on the stones and called Tui to jump in with him. Finally, he plucked up enough courage and was surprised that he did not feel any effect from the heat. The Spirit God then told him that he could be buried for four days in the oven without suffering any injury. However, Tui was afraid to do so, saying that he was quite satisfied to walk on the stones. To this day members of the Sawau tribes are able to walk on white hot stones and direct descendants of Tui-na-Iviqalita still act as Bete, or high priest, of the firewalkers of Fiji.


Top | Home | Sitemap

Legends

The Sacred Turtles Of Kadavu

On the island of Kadavu (pronounced Kandavu) one of the larger islands of the Fiji Group and some fifty miles by water from the capital city of Suva, is the Fijian village of Namuana. Namuana nestles at the foot of a beautiful bay adjacent to the Government Station in Vunisea Harbour. Here the island of Kadavu narrows down to a very isthmus and by climbing the hill behind Namuana village one can stand on the saddle and look out to the sea to the south and to the north. Legend says that in the days gone by the warriors of Kadavu slid their canoes on rollers up over the narrow neck of land to save the long journey around the east and west of Kadavu island.

The women of Namuana village still preserve a very strange ritual, that of calling turtles from the sea. If you visit Namuana village to see the turtle calling, your schooner anchors in a beautiful bay right under the cliffs of a rocky headland. You land on the beach and then either sit on the rocks under the bluffs on the beach or climb a rocky tract to a point some 150 or 200 feet up the rock face. Here you have a splendid view and find assembled all the maidens of the village of Namuana singing a strange chant. As they chant, if you look very carefully down into the water of the bay, you will see giant turtles rise one by one to lie on the surface listening to the music.

This is not a fairy tale and actually does take place and the water in this area is forbidden for the fishing of turtles.

Another interesting sideline to this performance is that if any member of the nearby village of Nabukelevu is present, then the turtles will not rise to the surface of the bay and turtle calling will have to be abandoned.

As is usually the case with such strange ceremonies and customs in Fiji, the turtle calling is based on an ancient legend still passed on from father to son among the Fijian people of Kadavu.

Many, many years ago in the beautiful village of Namuana on the island of Kadavu, lived a very lovely princess called Tinaicoboga who was the wife of the chief of Namuana village. Tinaicoboga had a charming daughter called Raudalice and the two women often went fishing on the reefs around their home.

On one particular occasion, Tinaicobaga and Raudalice went further afield than usual and waded out onto the submerged reefs which is just out from the rocky headline to the east of the bay on which Namuana village is situated.

They became so engrossed with their fishing that they did not notice the stealthy approach of a great war canoe filled with fishermen from the nearby village of Nabukelevu. This village is situated in the shadow of Mount Washington, the highest mountain on Kadavu island. Today, Mount Washington is well know to mariners because there is a splendid lighthouse there warning them of the dangers of the rocky coastline.

Suddenly the fishermen leapt from their canoe and seized the two women, bound their hands and feet with vine and tossed them into the bottom of the canoe and set off in great haste for home. Although they pleaded for their lives, the cruel warriors from Nabukelevu were deaf to their pleading and would not listen to their entreaties.

The Gods of the sea, however, were kind and soon a great storm arose and the canoe was tossed about by huge waves which almost swamped it. As the canoe was foundering in the sea the fishermen were astounded to notice that the two women lying in the water in the hold of the canoe had suddenly changed into turtles and to save their own lives, the men seized them
and threw them into the sea.

As they slipped over the side of the canoe the weather changed and there were no more waves.

The Nabukelevu fishermen continued their journey back to their home village and the two women for Namuana who had been changed to turtles lived on in the water of the bay. It is their descendants today who rise when the maidens of their own village sing songs to them from the cliffs.

The translation of the strange song which is chanted on such occasions is as follows:

"The women of Namuana are all dressed in mourning

Each carries a sacred club each tattooed in a strange pattern

Do rise to the surface Raudalice so we may look at you

Do rise to the surface Tinaicoboga so we may also look at you."

You may doubt the truth of the legend, but you cannot doubt the fact that the chanting of this strange song does in fact lure the giant turtles to the surface of the blue waters of the bay near Namuana village on the island of Kadavu.

The strange power of calling these turtles is possessed only by the people of Namuana village and it is true that should a member of their traditional enemy tribe from the village of Nabukelevu further down the coast be present, then no turtles will rise.


Top | Home | Sitemap

Legends

The Tagimoucia Flower

In the high mountains of Taveuni, know as Fiji's Garden Island, there is a beautiful lake of considerable size. A flowering plant called Tagimoucia is found only on the shores of this lake and any attempt to transplant the vine has failed. The Tagimoucia is one of Fiji's most beautiful wild flowers, the bunches of red flowers have a small white centre. The legend of the Tagimoucia flower goes something like this.

In a hill above the shore lived a woman and her little daughter. One day the little girl was playing when she should have been working. Her mother kept asking her to get on with her work but she ignored her mother and kept on playing. Annoyed, the mother seized a bundle of sasas (mid-ribs of the coconut leaf) which she used as a broom, and spanked her daughter. "Go on, get out, you naughty girl. Go out and I don't want to see your face again."

The little girl was so upset that she sobbed and ran away. She kept on running not realising where she was going. Her tears blinded her and as she ran along she blundered into a large climbing plant that hung from a tree. It was a thick green vine with large green leaves but there was no flowers on it. The child became entangled with the vine and could not get free so she stayed there, crying bitterly.

As the tears rolled down her cheeks they changed from salt tear to tears of blood which fell on the stem of the vine and turned into lovely flowers.

At last the little girl stopped crying and managed to free herself from the vine and went back home. She was delighted to find out that her mother had forgotten her anger and so they lived happily together again.


Top | Home | Sitemap

Legends

The Tame Fish Of Fiji

On the island of Nananu-i-ra, just off the North-east corner of Viti Levu, can be seen one of the strangest sights in the Pacific. Here Paul Miller who lives on the island keeps a school of tame sand cod. These fish are friendly and come to be fed every day by Paul.

Ben Cropp, one of Australia's best know underwater cameraman says the fish will do anything. It is quite safe to get in and swim with them. The fish, weighing up to 45lbs will take food from your fingers and will allow themselves to be petted and stroked. Ben and his wife Van have filmed many exciting and amazing sequences with these fish and they have particularly asked to try to have the waters round the island declared a fish sanctuary.

Legends

Legend Of Old Fiji

There is a legend "NANANU-I-RA" which goes something like this:-

"Once upon a time there lived in the village of Nanukuloa (village of black sands) on Viti Levu (Queen of the sands). Adi fell in love with a handsome young chief from Bua, about twenty miles across the water. Bua was famous for its forests of beautiful sandalwood with a fragrant perfumed timber, and the people of Bua were great canoe sailors.

Adi's lover, being a skilled sailor, sailed his fast canoe across the intervening sea to visit her, bearing many gifts carved from the exotic sandalwood of Bua.

Unfortunately, however, the tribes of Bua and the tribes on Viti Levu were not friendly, and the suit of the young chieftain was rejected by Adi's father and the chief of Nanukuloa.

Undaunted, however, the two lovers were determined to meet secretly and this is what they did. Off the coast near Adi's village is the island of Nananu-i-Ra, meaning "Dreamland in the West" and it was here the lovers arranged to meet.

Legends

The Red Prawns Of Vatulele

Long ago on the island of Vatulele there lived a very beautiful chief's daughter called "Yalewa-ni-Cagi-Bula" or Maiden-of-the-Fair-Wind. So beautiful was she that every eligible chief who visited Vatulele sought to take her as his bride. Yalewa-ni-Cagi-Bula however, was hard to please and on every occasion she scornfully refused to accept their approaches.

Not far away on the mainland of Viti Levu lived a very handsome and dashing chief's son who was heir to the throne of mainland tribes. He had heard of the beautiful daughter of the chief of Vatulele and decided that she was worthy to be his wife. Finally, after much preparation, our bold young chief set off, laden with gifts, to seek the favours of yalewa-ni-Cagi-Bula. He was well received by the chiefs of Vatulele, and confidently, he produced the special gift which he had personally carried from his mainland.

This gift consisted of the greatest delicacy known to Fiji Islands, a bundle of giant prawns from the coastal streams of Viti Levu, cooked to a tasty turn in coconut milk. Such a delicacy could be expected to melt the heart of any Fijian maiden - but not so on this occasion.

Her face clouded in anger and with flashing eyes she commanded ladies in waiting to seize him and take him to the highest cliff on the island above the "Caves of the Eagles" (known in Fiji as Ganilau) and cast him out into the sea. As he tumbled down the cliff to the sea his gift of bright red prawns fell from his hands into a rocky pool at the base of the cliff, and the leaves in which they were wrapped fell among the rocks around the pool. Our bold young chief survived the fall and returned sadly home to end his days pining for his lost love. Everyday he would go down to the sea and look towards the south where on a clear day, he could just make out on the horizon a dark line which was Vatulele.

Legends tells us that on one occasion he even began to build a bridge of stone to span the sea between Vatulele and Viti Levu and the remains of this bridge can still be seen jutting out to sea near the village of Votualailai.

The end of the story is as interesting as the beginning for where the red prawns fell into the rocky pool they came to life and to this day the pools under the cliffs on Vatulele are filled with bright scarlet prawns and in the crevices of the rocks grow the leaves in which they were wrapped. To the Fijians of Vatulele these bright scarlet prawns known as "URA-BUTA" or "cooked Prawns" are sacred and may not be harmed in any way. They firmly believe that any who dare defy the TABU will surely be shipwrecked