Rules for Visiting a Fijian Village
One of the many amazing things about the islands of Fiji is that the Fijian culture is extremely accessible. There are many opportunities for visitors to see Fijians living and breathing their authentic way of life as they have done for centuries. Sure, there are a few elaborate shows here and there, but when you visit or stay in a Fijian village, you know you are getting the real deal. At first, it can be a bit of a culture shock. People living off the bare minimum in self-built houses that are best described as shacks. But it’s by no means a depressing experience. Fijians are generally happy and are extremely welcoming when inviting visitors into their village. It’s an uplifting experience where you’re bound to learn a great deal, not to mention reflect on what’s important in your own life. Nevertheless, Fijians do have their own distinct culture and their own set of rules, so it’s vital to know the Fiji village etiquette and what to do when visiting a Fijian village.
How can you visit a Fijian village? Typically, you need to be invited to a village, which in most cases, is either on a village visiting tour or through a homestay. Take a look at 10 Authentic Village Stays in Fiji, as well as 10 Best Village Tours in Fiji. In some cases, you may enter a village for a tourist attraction. Ask the first person you see how to get to the tourist attraction or for a guide. Of course, always assume you need to pay so have cash with you.
5 Quick Etiquette Tips for Visiting a Fijian Village
We’ll go into much more detail on these rules of etiquette below, but if you’re only going to remember five things, think of these:
- Cover your legs below the knee – the best thing to wear is a sarong
- Don’t touch people’s heads
- Bring yagona root or powder as a sevusevu (gift)
- When sitting on the floor, sit cross-legged
- In the kava ceremony, always accept the first bilo (coconut) of kava.
Want to learn more about how to visit a Fijian village? Check out How to Have a Real Fiji Cultural Experience.
What to Wear to a Fiji Village
What you need to bear in mind when staying or visiting a Fijian village is to dress conservatively at all times. This is expected of both men and women, but more so by women.
Wear a Sarong (Sulu)
Both men and women should cover the knees. The most acceptable item of clothing to do this is with a sarong (otherwise known as a sulu in Fijian). It’s best to have this prepared before going to a Fijian village. However, some Fijian village tours or homestay hosts will have spare sarongs to let you borrow.
Cover Your Shoulders
While fewer and fewer villages care about men and women covering their shoulders, others still prefer the shoulders to be covered. Enter a village with your shoulders covered, but if you are staying overnight or longer, ask before uncovering your shoulders.
Dress Smarter on Sundays
Sundays are special days for religion, so try to wear some smarter clothes on a Sunday as a sign of respect.
Don’t Wear a Hat
It is seen as a sign of disrespect to the chief to wear a hat in the village. In some cases, wearing sunglasses is disrespectful too, so ask if you can wear them if you need to.
Bring a Sevusevu (Introductory Gift)
A long-standing tradition that is still important to partake in, even for international visitors, is presenting a sevusevu to the village chief.
Presenting Yaqona as Sevusevu and How Much Yaqona to Bring
Sevusevu is a gift, and the most acceptable form of sevusevu is yaqona, otherwise known as kava. This is because yaqona is becoming increasingly more expensive for villagers to buy. Yaqona can be bought in town markets either as a root or as a powder called waqa. About 500g – 1kg of yaqona is an acceptable amount to bring. Think of it as the Fiji way of bringing a case of beer or wine to someone’s house when you visit.
Tip: Don’t assume you can buy Yaqona at the village or the island you are visiting. Always come prepared.
Other Gifts to Bring to a Fijian Village
Although yaqona is the minimum you would be expected to bring to a village, if you can’t get some Yaqona, or you want to gift something more, then gifts for the village children are very well received.
Stationary, like crayons and paper, are usually very useful and fun for children, as well as sports equipment like rugby balls. Try to avoid bringing candy, as one; some village children don’t have good access to a dentist, and two; many villages don’t have environmentally-friendly ways of disposing of rubbish like candy wrappers.
Who to Give the Sevusevu to
Traditionally, the visitor would give the gift to the turanga ni koro (the village headman), but with most tourists visiting a village with a guide or as part of a homestay, it’s best to ask your guide or homestay host. They will usually present the gift on your behalf during the kava ceremony. (See below for more on the kava ceremony).
The Kava Ceremony
When a new visitor arrives in a Fijian village, a kava ceremony is performed to officially recognise your visit to the village. This may happen soon after you arrive if you are an expected guest, or in the evening when it is more convenient for other villages to attend.
During the kava ceremony, the chief will give a speech and your guide or host will present your sevusevu to the chief. (Or if it is Yaqona root, it will be given to some villagers first to prepare into a powder to make kava). Your host/guide will say a few ceremonial words on your behalf, then you will be offered a bilo (coconut shell) of kava to drink. Before taking the bilo, clap your hands once and say “Bula!” before taking a few big gulps to finish off the drink. It is expected that you accept the first drink, but accepting more to drink after that is up to you.
After the initial ceremony, you’ll sit around the tanoa (kava bowl) and socialise with the villagers.
Having trouble keeping up with the Fijian words? Get practising with the 10 Fijian Words You Need to Know When Visiting Fiji.
Other Etiquette Rules for Staying in a Fijian Village
Some other things to keep in mind include:
- Don’t touch anyone’s head – it’s considered disrespectful
- When sitting down on the floor (which will happen often), sit crossed leg as to not expose the bottom of your feet
- Speak softly – overly expressive or raised voices might be interpreted as anger
- Most Fijians will want to be accommodating when it comes to taking photos, but it’s always better to ask before taking photos of them or their home
- Take your shoes off before going indoors, whether it’s a home, community hall or church
- If staying in a village, have some cash with you to pay your way for food or activities
- If eating with a Fijian family, it’s likely that you will all sit cross-legged on the floor. Wait until everyone is sat down and the head of the house says grace (masu) before you start eating.
- Sometimes, food might be prepared for you as a guest and you will be expected to eat first. Then the family will have whatever is left. With that in mind, if you have been given big portions, don’t try to eat as much as you can. Leave some food for the family to eat after you.
- If your unsure of what you can and can’t do, ask questions!
What sort of meals will you have in a Fijian village? Take a look at 10 Unique Foods in Fiji You Have to Try.