Before I moved to Fiji, there were a lot of iTaukei (native Fijian) cultural practices that I wasn’t aware of and if the company I was recruited by weren’t so effective at training, I may never have known! So here is a list of some of the cultural considerations I learnt in training that new visitors to Fiji might wish to know about:
1. Closed questions
I recommend asking open questions instead of closed questions. A closed question is one that usually follows with a yes/no answer. In Fiji, if you ask someone a closed question, they might answer ‘yes’ even if the answer is ‘no’ because they think that by saying ‘yes’ they will make you happy.
If you ask “Is this the bus to Suva?” a person might respond ‘Yes!’ and then you get on the bus, and find out you are not exactly going to Suva. Instead you should ask “Where is this bus going?”.
People in Fiji are very friendly and greet each other with ‘Bula’. ‘Bula’ translates to “hello”, “goodbye”, “welcome”, “love”, “happiness”, “health” and more.
Saying Bula to other people is a way of signifying peace. In the past when tribes fought they would not talk to each other but when they lived in peace they would always greet each other with ‘Bula’. Society has a fragile fabric and by greeting each other everyday with ‘Bula’, we can maintain peaceful relationships in Fiji.
3. Eating a meal as a guest in someone’s home
Wait for a prayer to be said before eating.
4. Sacred area of the head
For native Fijians, the head and the hair is a sacred area. You shouldn’t touch someone else’s head or hair. You shouldn’t wear hats or sunglasses on your head when you are in a traditional village, or when you are indoors. Only a chief can wear a hat in a village.
Vinaka means thank-you.
In Australia, if someone asks you if you want a glass of water and you say “thank-you” it usually means “yes, thank-you” and the person will get you a glass of water. In Fiji, if someone asks you if you want a glass of water and you say “vinaka” it means “no, thank-you” and the person will not get you a glass of water.
6. Raising Eyebrows
If someone raises there eyebrows at you it means “yes”. So if you ask a question and someone raises their eyebrows, they are agreeing with you. This is hard to spot when you’re not used to it. I keep thinking people are simply staring back at me, but actually they are answering my question with a slight eyebrow raise.
7. Asking Personal Questions
People like to ask personal questions when they first meet you, such as “What is your name”, “Where are you from”, “What do you do?”, “Are you married?” and (if you are married) “Why don’t you have children?”. Foreigners might find it intrusive but it’s just a show of friendliness. Fijians middle names are sometimes linked to their heritage and there is a six-degrees of separation that links you to everyone else. Therefore by asking these types of person questions, it is just a local way or working out who you are.
8. Asking “Where are you going?”
People ask “Where are you going?” but it’s a greeting – they don’t actually care where you are going. The response is to point in the direction you are going and say “I’m just going over here” or to point in that direction and then do a thumbs up.
People always say to us “I’m just going over here” and we forget that it’s a common practice all the time. We think they are telling us something important and start saying “Why? What’s over there? Should we be going over there??”.
9. Sharing Food
Fijians share food as a group at meal times. If you bring food, you share too. We had a plumber come over the other day, and his children came with him. One of them went exploring our fridge on the search for soft drink. Whilst that was a bit of a surprising moment for us, sharing is traditional and it creates for a pretty caring community!