Thursday, 10 July 2014

Yasawan Culture

As we mentioned in our last post, it's always good to get to know us before you volunteer with Vinaka Fiji. We hope that this blog will give you a little bit of insight into village life, village structure and how to navigate your way around your visit to a Fijian village.

Social Structure

Fijian Social Structure
Every Fijian belongs to a hierarchical social unit or structure, which is usually attached to a village.

In a village you will have the following...
(a) Tokatoka – This is the smallest unit consisting of the family.
(b) Mataqali – Groups of tokatoka (families) form a mataqali (extended family).
(c) Yavusa – A number of mataqali forms a yavusa, which represents a geographical area with a collection of mataqali from different places or villages.

Village Structure

Turaga: Chief (pronounced too-rung-ahh). This mataqali descends from the original ancestor through primogeniture - inheritance of the eldest son in each succeeding generation. The chief of a village is always chosen from the Turaga mataqali.

Sauturaga: These are next in rank to the chiefs, support him and enforce his commands. They also have final say in the installation of a chief.

Dau (skill) and Matai: These are the crafts people and specialised skilled people of the tribe e.g.
• Dau ni vucu (poet / choreographer / composer)
• Dau ni yau (treasurer)
• Mataisau (carpenter or canoe builder)

Mata ni vanua: These form the official heralds of the village. They are also in charge of ceremonial functions.

Bete: This was the traditional priestly class. The kalou-vu was believed to speak through the Bete.

Turaga ni koro: Village Mayor (pronounced too-rung-ahh-knee-core-roo) is appointed by the village.

Bati: This mataqali forms the traditional warrior class.


Fijian Bure

There are few places in the world where visitors are as warmly welcomed as they are in Fiji. But there is a protocol to follow. In a Fijian village, a house is a home and visitors aren’t expected to poke their heads inside. If invited inside a bure (local cottage, pronounced boo-ray) it is considered polite to stoop, to take off your shoes, keep your voice down and sit cross-legged on the floor.

Shorts, swim wear, or hats are not allowed to be worn in the villages. The hats can be worn in work areas if requested. You should not put anything on your head (e.g. sunglasses or hats) when entering the village as the head is sacred to the Fijian people. If offered a bowl of kava, follow the shown protocol and drink it in one go, unless you have been advised not to for medical reasons. Kava drinking is an important ceremony and a past time.


Local dress in Fiji varies. Tidy casual, light clothing is recommended. Often you will hear people refer to “bula” attire, which is Fiji’s equivalent to Hawaii’s “aloha” dress code. You’re asked to be careful not to offend local sensibilities. Bikini and ultra-brief swim wear is acceptable at hotels and resorts but not in the villages. Women must cover their shoulders and wear a skirt or sulu, to below the knee in the village and schools. Men wear t-shirts and either a sulu or knee length shorts when in the villages and schools.

Bula Attire - Men and women wear sulus

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