Over the last few weeks, thoughts about what I know and don’t know about Fijian culture have rolled around inside my head like changing tides. Do I know enough about Fijian culture as whole? How can I learn, while encouraging others to do the same?
Over the years I’ve relied heavily on the little I do know – who I am as an itaukei – which many Fijians argue is more than enough. This involves having a good understanding of where my father is from, and the customs and traditions that make us who we are, starting from the wider area all the way down to the tribe, clan, household, and the role and responsibility that’s been passed down to me through my DNA (i tutu ni vanua, yasana, tikina, koro, yavusa, mataqali, tokatoka).
But the longer I’m in Fiji, the more I realise there is so much more to discover. There are so many areas of Fiji that I’d love to explore, engage in, and learn more about. During my last seven week trip to Fiji, I felt my mind and heart stretch with all I was able to absorb. The food, the people, the language, the customs and so much more. It’s richness, adaptability, diversity, depth and even it’s imperfections have fascinated me and tugged on my conscious to learn even more. I am taken by all there is to learn, and all there is to share with the many Fijians who have grown up somewhat isolated from their culture, people who want to find it or reconnect with this part of what makes them who they are.
I’ve also been thinking of ways I can continue my learning outside of Fiji, now that I’m back in Sydney. How can I help bridge the gaps between people who know a lot, and those who don’t? How can I help bring these two groups of people closer together? What can I discover about Fiji, and Fijian culture in the process? How can I share what I’ve found?
I started looking for opportunities to learn, places where I’d be immersed in Fijian culture – social events, art exhibitions, research projects, festivals, interviews, talanoa sessions and community classes and workshops. Then, once I am there, I challenge myself to approach people (yikes!), engage in conversations, ask questions and speak on my own experiences too.
So when I heard about Marama ni Viti, a free two-day workshop for Fijian women in Sydney, it spiked my interested straight away. Hosted by The Veiqia Project, organisers openly invited Fijian women in Sydney who want to learn about Fijian masi, food, language and culture.
I arrived at the workshop on day two, and was met with room full of energetic and engaged women at a cooking table, learning how to prepare vakalolo, a warm sweet dessert made out of cassava and coconut. The women excitedly told me they were beginning to shift from the cooking table to the floor for the next segment of the class – learning about masi – how it’s made, the different designs, how it should and shouldn’t be worn, and how people use masi for decoration during significant ceremonies and events.
The wonderful Dr Tarisi Vunidilo (pictured in the featured image on this post) from Auckland University taught and facilitated our talanoa as we moved through the different topics. What I loved most about her teaching style was that she was encouraged conversation, invited us to share our experiences and answered all of our questions clearly, making sure we understood before moving onto the next question or topic. It set the scene for open and honest conversations, and more than anything, it was fun! We laughed, ate, danced, sang and stayed back once the workshop was finished to talanoa some more. We all agreed that we wanted to attend workshops like this more often – spaces where we can connect with Fijian culture, and other Fijian women.
I’d like to thank Dr Tarisi and the incredible women behind The Veiqia Project for investing their time, energy, resources and knowledge into us. Dr Tarisi told me that she hopes it’s the the start of an ongoing dialogue for Fijian women living abroad, and I’m thankful to be a part of it. If you’re interested, I encourage you to reach out to the ladies from Veiqia, and if you’re in Sydney, I encourage you to join us at future workshops. The connections we make with our culture, and with one another are invaluable.
To find out more about The Veiqia Project, a creative research project inspired by the practice of Fijian female tattooing, head to their website by clicking here.