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

Learn more about Vinaka Fiji by visiting our website:

Thursday, 3 July 2014

How to get the best out of Vinaka Fiji Volunteering

1) Get to know us

Volunteering in Fiji is really rewarding and it’s a plus that you get to learn about and immerse yourself in a different culture to that of your own. It’s always good to learn a little bit about life in Fiji before you arrive. This will give you some insight into what to expect and prepare you for interaction with the locals.

During your volunteering experience, take the opportunity to get to know the Fijian people that you’re working with or supporting. They love to tell you about their involvement in our projects and all of the things that make Fiji so unique. The more that you learn about Fijian culture, the more likely it is that you will make a lasting impact on it’s people and your project. Knowing who you’re helping and how they need your help also makes your experience much more gratifying.

 2) Teach a man to fish 

Vinaka Fiji Volunteering
Share the Knowledge
Remember the Chinese Proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”? One of the key guiding principles of Vinaka Fiji is to work closely with the Yasawan communities so that together they may determine the needs, participate in the planning, contribute to the implementation and share responsibility for completion of the projects embarked upon. When you arrive, talk to our local team to find out what the greatest needs for your project are.

Use your skills to support the community in the best way possible and don’t be afraid to share your knowledge so that members of the local community can develop these skills themselves. To ensure that you make a lasting impact, pave the way for the volunteers that will be taking over long after you’ve gone. Passing on your knowledge and experiences during debriefing sessions and meal-time discussions with volunteers and Vinaka Fiji staff can be the best time to this. Always remember that the ultimate goal is to avoid any dependency on volunteers.

 3) Set realistic goals for yourself 

There’s no doubt that you’ll make an impact when you volunteer with Vinaka Fiji. All our volunteers are exceptionally enthusiastic and dedicated which is why we love having you here with us. We simply ask that you set realistic expectations for yourself. Whilst it might seem like your contribution is small, remember that you are building upon the work of the volunteers before you and that these projects will ultimately improve the lives of people in the Yasawas. Every contribution counts whether its getting a little girl excited about a book she’s reading, or laying the concrete foundation for a future water tank.

 4) Make time for work and play 

Barefoot Manta Accommodation
Barefoot Manta Accommodation
With the exception of the weekend, you’ll be working hard, so you’ll really appreciate time for a little rest and relaxation at the end of each day. Vinaka Fiji volunteering is a little bit different to many other volunteering projects because volunteer base camp is situated in paradise. Barefoot Manta resort has plenty to offer. Catch the sunset, find a quiet space on the beachfront, socialise with some of the other travellers that pass through or enjoy the evening entertainment. Weekends are to be enjoyed at your leisure so why not take part in one of Barefoot Manta resort’s daytime activities including hiking, snorkelling, diving, abseiling, kayaking, craft making, walks and volleyball.

 5) Sharing is caring 

Vinaka Fiji relies heavily on donations and the work of its volunteers. One way to make a huge impact on people in the Yasawas is to share the Vinaka Fiji story to your network of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Tell as many people as you can about our projects and share your Vinaka Fiji experiences on social media. The more you share, the more likely it is that people will donate or consider volunteering themselves. We would love it if you tag us, so that we can follow your story too (#vinakafiji, #voluntour).

 6) Know your body and your limits 

Vinaka Fiji Volunteering
Know Your Body and Your Limits
It’s your responsibility to obtain advice on any medical precautions or vaccinations required before you travel to Fiji. You’ll be working hard each day and Fiji can get very HOT, so its important to stay well hydrated while volunteering. Water can be purchased at Barefoot Manta resort but we also recommend stocking up before you leave Denarau. All your main meals are included in your package but snacks and drinks are available to buy from Barefoot Manta resort.

All in all, you know your body better than we do. Rest when you need to, and make sure you let the Vinaka Fiji staff know if you need any medical assistance. We take health and safety seriously and have a medical evaluation policy in place as well as 24 hour in-country support. Travel insurance is an absolute must have and we recommend that you pack a personal medical kit to cater to your specific medical needs.

Learn more about Vinaka Fiji and visit our website: