Perhaps nothing reflects the Fijians' reverence for tradition like yaqona (kava) drinking. Visit any Fijian village or home, particularly on a weekend, and you will probably come upon the spectacle of a family sitting on the floor around a large wooden bowl filled with a muddy-coloured liquid, drinking the contents from half a coconut shell. You will then be asked, "E dua na bilo?" (`Try a cup?').
You definitely should try a cup, though don't expect ambrosia. The drink is prepared from the pulverised root of (Piper methysticum), a plant from the pepper family, and has a tingly numbing effect on the tongue. The taste, not unpleasant, takes some getting used to and from a visitor's point of view it is de rigueur at least to Tovolea mada (`Try please').
The most important aspect of yaqona drinking is psychological. Sitting around a bowl in the village, exchanging talanoa (conversation, chat) and listening to the guitars hammer away is a very pleasant experience. Most importantly, the act of sharing a bowl creates an invisible bond between the participants. The visitor feels a warmth and acceptance among complete strangers that is normally associated with family or close friends. It is no accident that in Fiji many business deals and social contracts are consummated around a yaqona bowl.
Yaqona is a Fijian link to the past, a tradition so inextricably woven into the fabric of culture that life without it is unimaginable. Fijians would scarcely be Fijians without their national beverage. It is consumed ritually when welcoming visitors, sending village members on journeys, christening boats, laying the foundations of homes, casting magical spells, making deals, settling arguments and, as is usually the case, chatting. It is also presented as a sevusevu, a traditional gift offered by guests to the host, or as a token of respect to visitors of higher rank in official ceremonies.
Visit a Kava Ceremony...
The meke is a communal dance/theatre combining singing, chanting and drumming. Traditionally it is performed in a village setting on special occasions - typically for visiting dignitaries. Today mekes are commonly presented at hotels for the benefit of tourists. However, the meke is much more than a colourful dance - it is a medium of transmission that allows important historical events, stories, legends and culture to be handed down from one generation to the next. Often the composer of a meke is unknown, but the dances are embellished and passed on by the daunivucu whose role it is to preserve the custom. Traditionally the daunivucu has links with the spirit world and when in communion with the spirit plane may go into a trance and begin to chant and sway. During this time the daunivucu's disciples will watch his motions, which may be added to a particular ceremony.
See the Dancing...
Almost everyone in Fiji speaks English - as it is the official language of Fiji, but the Fijian language is preserved and widely spoken in many different dialects. Almost everyone is bilingual and many Fijian terms are included in everyday English usage. It is handy to know some of the more common words and phrases, and the Fijians will be delighted to know you picked up some of their language.
Fijian pronunciation is similar to English, but with a few changes to the phonetic alphabet. Below is a brief guide which will bring you close to the correct pronunciations. The best way to learn, since there are many subtleties, is to have a Fijian instruct you and then listen closely.
|good morning||ni sa yadra (ni sah yan dra)|
|goodbye||ni sa moce (ni sa mothey)|
|please||yalo vinaka (yalo vee naka)|
|excuse me||tulou (too low)|
|thank you||vinaka (vee naka)|
|mister||turaga (tu rang ah)|
|little||vaka lailai (vaka lie lie)|
|plenty||vaka levu (vaka ley vu)|
|quickly||vaka totolo (vaka toe toe lo)|
|toilet||vale lailai (vale lie lie)|
|come||lako mai (la ko my)|
|go||lako tani (la ko tanee)|
|bring||kauta mai (ka ou tah my)|
|one more||dua tale (ndua ta lay)|
|what is this||na cava oqo (na thava on go)|
|drink||gunu (goo noo)|
|I want||au vinakata (aoo vina kahta)|
|church||vale ni lotu (vahle nee lohtoo)|
In general, native Fijians and the Fijian-Indian populations use their hands to eat. Meals are eaten on the floor while the family sits on mats. If you make a Fijian meal to share this month, consider incorporating these eating customs into your meal plan.
COCONUT FISH SOUP
2 lb fish heads & carcasses (cod, snapper or similar).
7 cups water; 2tsp salt.
1 large onion, dash pepper
1 small whole chilli.
1Tbsp lemon juice.
2 cups thick coconut cream (not sweetened)
lemon slices & chopped green onions for garnish
Bring first 6 ingredients to simmering point and maintain until fish is soft. Skim periodically. Strain off stock and adjust seasoning if necessary. Stir in lemon juice & coconut cream and heat thoroughly -- do not boil. Garnish with lemon slice & chopped green onions. Yields six portions.
2-3 pounds of snapper, grouper or cod -- or any firm white fish
2 T vegetable oil
1/4 cup Soy Sauce
1/4 cup corn oil
3/4 cups white wine
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp grated fresh ginger root
2 tsp sugar
parsley, coriander or slivered ginger root for garnish
Rinse & dry fish well. Cut lemon in half and squeeze, rubbing juice into fish, inside & out. Refrigerate for about an hour then rub with vegetable oil and place in a shallow baking dish. In a blender, mix thoroughly soy sauce, corn oil, white wine, garlic, sugar and ginger. Pour over fish. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes until the fish flakes easily and juices are opaque. Baste frequently with sauce. Garnish & serve. Yields 6 portions.
Cut the fish (any firm white fish will do but Walu is best) into cubes and marinate in lemon juice for about 2 hours. Then rinse in fresh water. After rinsing, put in a bowl and add chopped onion, chopped tomatoes & finely diced hot chilies, 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice and fresh coconut cream (you can also use canned coconut cream) to cover. Season with salt & pepper -- mix thoroughly. It’s ready to eat but better if it sits (refrigerated) for a couple more hours -- the next day it’s even better.
BHABISH'S CHICKEN CURRY (In his own words)
1 whole chicken - chopped
6 cloves garlic - pounded
5-6 chillies (optional) - pounded
1/2 onion - chopped
Tumeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Masala - 2 Tbsp, Salt - 1-1/2 Tbsp.
Soya bean oil - 6 Tbsp.
Put the pot on the stove. Put oil inside - let it heat up then fry the onions, garlic & chillies. When it is brown, put inside the tumeric and masala, chicken and salt, misc., all together nicely. Let it cook until the water from chicken dry. When it dry put 1 more cup of water. Let it boil for 15 minutes then off your stove.