Visiting a traditional Fijian village has become an extremely popular excursion for all tourists and one that few forget. Fijian villages are generally scenic and most still have one or two traditional thatch bures (houses). Bures are single room buildings with bamboo woven walls and thatch roofs. Families eat, sleep and work in these rooms creating a communal environment.
Visiting a village in Fiji can usually be arranged through the resort you're staying at. A few tour companies have included village visits in their operations. The most picturesque village for a day trip is Navala in central Viti Levu where all bures (houses) are made from traditional material.
Alternative venues on Viti Levu include the pottery village of Nakabuta along the Coral Coast or chiefly Veseisei Village just north of Nadi. Other interesting villages in Fiji to visit are Teci in the northern Yasawas, also with plenty of traditional thatch houses, or Rurutu in Beqa, home to legendary fire-walkers.
It is also possible to stay in a traditional village where you can learn about some of the simpler virtues of life. If visiting a village, it is custom to take Yaqona roots as a gift for the village chief. Staying in a Fijian Village is one of the most memorable experiences many tourists take home. Indigenous Fijians live a communal and very sharing lifestyle within large extended families. Their houses - bures - are single room buildings with bamboo woven walls and thatch roofs. Families eat, sleep and work in these single rooms. Kitchens are separate from the main building and are simple covered structures with firewood ovens on the ground. The bathroom is often a covered pit in the ground somewhere out the back. .
If you are interested in staying overnight in a Fijian Village be prepared to rough it a bit, often without electricity and hot water and sometimes lacking in general hygiene both in bedding, food preparation and in litter pollution which is a growing problem in rural Fiji. Staying in a village offers a great insight into Fijian culture and a chance to explore the local environment. This is an excellent way to experience Fijian culture whilst at the same time providing some financial support for the local people and village projects. The Fiji Government actively promote this interaction with the local people as do many of the resorts who offer day trips to their local village. When exploring, tourists should always be accompanied by a local villager so as not to cause any insult to the local landowners and should follow village protocol including modest dress, no hats and no alcohol.
Village homes are without defined boundaries and doors are seldom closed. It is unusual to find a Fijian family living on land outside of a village. Subsistence farming, fishing, gathering firewood for cooking and hand-washing make up the normal days chores. At night, if not at church, Fijians will be drinking Yaqona, discussing village affairs and playing guitars. Most village people live without material goods, and many villages have no electricity and running water. Money to buy essential provisions and to pay for school fees is obtained by selling excess root-crops (dalo, cassava and yams) and vegetables at the town markets.
Women do most of the work around the house from collecting firewood for cooking to weaving mats for the floors whilst the men fish, plant and above all else, drink yaqona, the traditional drink of fiji. The village playing field is the centre of activity at sundown when all men relax playing touch rugby.
Fijians are very hospitable people and often invite guests to stay in their homes. Presenting a gift of Yaqona roots is the customary gratuity but donating at least F$50 per person per night will help pay for food and leave a family with some much needed monetary benefits. Some tourists take advantage of this hospitality and we stress it is not appropriate to simply turn up at a village expecting accommodation.
Fijians live within a strict hierarchical system with the village chiefs receiving the respect of all. Fijian chiefs are hereditary titles, mostly through the male lineage, and the ranking of chiefs throughout the country is ordered into a strict hierarchical system of mataqalis, vanuas and yavusas (clans and sub clans). This intense social make-up has caused a number of bitter disputes in the past and is an underlying issue in modern day politics. If you're not a chief you're referred to as a commoner and your powers are limited.
A Bit of Fijian History
Fijians first settled their homeland about 8,000 years ago from south-east Asia. These Melanesian people also settled the islands to the north and east of Fiji like Vanuatu, New Caledonia and The Solomon Islands. A second migration from south-east Asia, distinguished by the arrival of Lapita pottery, brought Polynesians to Fiji about 3,000 years ago. Some of these Polynesians progressed further to the then uninhabited islands of Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, New Zealand and Hawaii.
Ancient Fijians are well documented as being cannibals, engaging in gruesome localised warfare and believing in a animated spirit world. They lived in small fortified villages and formed clans with neighbouring villages through polygamy. However, they are less credited for being excellent sailors and navigators of the vast South Pacific Ocean and fine craftsmen and pottery makers. Unfortunately most of these skills have been forgotten or neglected and the ancient wood and thatch buildings have succumbed to the intense heat, rain and cyclones of the tropics, leaving only the rock foundations buried in the rainforest. Fiji's legends have been passed down through story-telling and dances known as meke.
Europeans 'discovered' the Fiji Islands in 1643, but it wasn't until after The Mutiny of the Bounty in 1789 that contact with the people was made. Over the next 100 years, trade, wars and friendships were made between rival Europeans and rival Fijian tribes. In 1874, tired of endless quarrels and warfare, King Cakabau ceded his kingdom to Britain at the historic old capital of Levuka on Ovalau. The British brought Colonial rule and introduced Indian labourers to the new sugar plantations. Fiji regained it's independence by mutual consent in 1970. There are now almost 800,000 people living in Fiji. Half are indigenous Fijians (and Rotumans), about 44% Indians and the remainder of European or Chinese origin.