As in any country, the Fijian people have their own distinctive culture with a number of unique features specific to it. In Fiji, some of the customs are unusual enough that normal respectful behaviour would not be enough to get by on for a visitor…and a little more insight is necessary.
Hence the purpose of this post. It can make all the difference in the world to how much you enjoy your visit and connect with the locals when you have a heads up about the particular cultural nuances of the country you are visiting.
The Head Holds The Soul
While an affectionate ruffling of the hair is common in Western culture, this is a big no-no in Fijian culture. In fact, there is a ancient Fijian belief that the soul is in the head, and touching the head doesn’t show proper respect.
Unless you are a health care professional in the country to provide some form of health service to the locals, you really shouldn’t find yourself in any circumstance under which it would be O.K to touch a Fijian persons head. Of course, if you have any doubts, always ask first.
Walking Among The Seated
‘Tulou’ or ‘Tilou’ is a word related to the Fijian custom of never walking upright around people who are seated on the ground. It is considered extremely rude to stand or walk in close proximity – like within a few metres – of people who are seated on the ground at a gathering especially.
As such, if you are seated with other people and need to get up to leave the room or move to another location, you need to get up while keeping your body as bent over or crouched as much as possible.
And while you move away from the group in this bent over posture, you need to repeat the word ‘Tulou’ over and over until you are well away from those seated.
If you come to this situation and forget the word, just be sure to maintain the bent posture, and that will get you by.
A Culture of Request
The word for ‘Request’ in the Fijian language has a lot of cultural significance related to the social value of sharing and communal living. Yet in the modern age you will mostly hear it from people who might ask you for money on the street.
You probably won’t have any need to use it unless you get stranded somewhere and have to ask for help, as it is used for asking a person for money, goods or services of some kind.
Then again, one of the rare innocent ways you might hear it used is if a person needs to push past you in a narrow space. To make it more polite they might use the word ‘Kere kere’ – the way we would normally say ‘Excuse me’.
But don’t attempt to use it that way because it really doesn’t apply to most situations.
This is just a good word to know and recognize when you hear it so you know that a request is being made of you.
Further, this is a tough one to pronounce. The ‘ker’ is pronounced to rhyme with the ‘Der’ in the name ‘Derrick’
The ‘e’ that follows it rhymes with the ‘whe’ in ‘where’.
And then you say it twice with a slight roll of the ‘r’. Bit of a tough one but you will recognize it when you hear it.
A Sacred Drink
Fiji has a vitally important aspect to its culture – that of its traditional drink – kava. In the Fijian language kava is called ‘yaqona’. The drinking of kava is surrounded by all sorts of ritual and etiquette. It is used casually as a social drink, traditionally in a welcome ceremony, or even – in particular circumstances – to ask for forgiveness.
It can be used to commemorate special occasions, celebrate milestones and is even drunk medicinally.
Kava is a narcoleptic – so it makes you sleepy and is excellent for stress relief and relaxation. It isn’t alcoholic so is consumed by Fijians often throughout the day, even at work as well as more commonly of an evening.
It is poor form not to accept – and drink completely – at least the first bowl of kava offered to you, so keep this in mind, as you will likely be offered kava at some point during your trip.
Another good idea when visiting a new country is to learn a little of the local language – check out my post on Simple Fijian Words To Learn Before Visiting Fiji.
Have you ever been to Fiji? Did you come across some customs that are different from what you are familiar with? Share in the comments below.