Wedding Bliss: Tourists wed in traditional Fijian costumes made from tapa.
Weddings are probably among the most favourite occasions that people attend. They are times of great rejoicing, of celebration.
Weddings are also fascinating places to be. Fascinating because of the pomp and ceremony involved with customs and traditions that add to the flavour of this special occasion.
No wedding is the same. Wedding customs and traditions vary between races, cultures and countries.
In Fiji, marriage customs differ slightly between different provinces. In most countries, weddings can only go ahead after the father of the bride-to-be has given his permission.
In most cases either the bridegroom or his parents visit the girl’s father to ask for her hand in marriage.
And this is also true for Fiji and Fijian weddings. In fact there are so many ceremonies that take place before, during and after a wedding – these differ from place to place.
Generally before a marriage can take place, the prospective bridegroom seeks permission in the traditional manner from his intended’s father.
In a chiefly wedding, members of the man’s mataqali (clan) approach the girl’s father, taking with them several tabua (whale’s teeth). Each side has a traditional spokesman – known as mata.
The host’s mata speaks first – welcoming the visitors. The visitors’ mata then speaks – explaining the reason for the trip. This formal speech is called Na vakasavu i tukutuku or formal proposal.
When he finishes, the host’s mata then says “Vakavitu!” to which the hosts says “Vakawalu!” He acknowledges the news saying “may the girl be yours. Mana!” His people immediately say “ye dina!” and all those present cobo (clap).
This reply is called na kena ulivi ni tukutuku. The head of the visiting mataqali then presents a tabua to his host – this is called i duguci. At this point, the girl’s father leaves the place and formally informs his daughter.
The father can, however, refuse the proposal by presenting a tabua in return to the visitors.
This form of refusal is called ai diri. But if the proposal is successful the visitors are served yaqona or kava which is not part of the formalities. Betrothal is completed when the girl has been informed – called na tabai lago or a vosa yalewa. The formal betrothal ceremony if called veimusumusuki.
Members of the girl’s mataqali visit the man’s family shortly after the veimusumusuki. The return visit (called vakadonumata) is to confirm the marriage.
During this visit, members of the host family present a mataqali buta (a feast of baked food) to their visitors. They take it back to their own village where it is divided and eaten. The next ceremony, na loku bogi, occurs when elder mata from the man’s mataqali visit the girl’s family to announce the proposed marriage date.
In the past, in formally arranged marriages, courtship was not allowed. The bride and groom only met on the wedding day itself.
The traditional marriage ceremony is called vakawati which means taking a husband or wife.
The religious (church) ceremony is called vakamau – derived from the Tongan word “fakamau” meaning to confirm. The way the ceremony is performed varies in different social circles.
At a chiefly wedding, mats are spread on the floor of a house specially built for the couple or a house loaned for the occasion.
The house usually belongs to someone from the man’s mataqali. This custom – i butubutu – is performed on the day itself.
When the ceremony is held in a church, the i butubutu is placed before the altar or communion table and the couple stand on this. After the Christian ceremony is over, any masi worn by the bride and bridegroom are removed and left on the i butubutu. The masi and i butubutu are given to the minister.
More traditional ceremonies are held after the wedding ceremony. Usually there is a wedding feast or as is the norm nowadays, a reception.
Wedding customs and ceremonies differ in different parts of Fiji. In Lau, for example, a long piece of gatu (Tongan tapa or masi cloth) is spread between the bride’s parents’ house and her husband’s.
If she comes from another village, it is spread between the house where she is staying and her husband’s.
The man, together with his male relatives, then goes to the girl’s house and presents a long piece of masi and a tabua to her relatives.
He does this in silence – her relatives accept it with cobo and saying vinaka. The visitors return home and the ceremony is repeated by the girl’s relatives. They exchange gifts back and forth until one side runs out.
At dusk, women from the girl’s mataqali go to the newly weds’ house where they perform a ceremony called i tevutevu or i tevu ibe.
Each person (in the order of their social standing) places a mat on the floor where the couple will sleep, one mat on top of the other. The bride’s mother is usually the last to spread a mat.
These days, bedding – pillows, blankets, sheets and mosquito nets are also given. The girl’s close relatives also present mats and tabua. And they hang up a large gatu to separate the sleeping area from the rest of the house.
The man’s female relatives present similar gifts after the girl’s relatives have returned home.
The man’s mataqali prepare feasts which they present (with tabuas) to the girl’s family. There are two feasts – one, i vola ni yalewa, is presented to the girl’s mother.
The other, magiti ni tevutevu is presented to her mataqali. They then invite the bride to occupy her new home by presenting her mataqali with tabua called i lakovi ni yalewa.
Clothed in masi, she is formally taken to her new home – carrying a tabua known as i kaukau. Meanwhile, her husband waits for (a tabua in hand) in their new home. Once she crosses the threshold, the masi and tabua are exchanged.
The couple then sit down to their first evening meal (i vakayakavi) together. This is a small meal of the magiti ni tevutevu. After eating, they wash their hands in sweet scented coconut oil (waiwai).
This is the signal for her relatives to claim anything used in the meal. Entertainment usually follows after which the newly weds retire behind the gatu.
Another feast is prepared the next morning by the man’s mataqali. Called the i dola ni duba, it is presented to the girl’s people. It is done to dertermine the girl’s virginity.
This is done by looking at a baked pig. A hole in the pig’s rump means the girl was not a virgin when she married. This leads to bitter words between the two mataqali and the ceremony ends abruptly as the girl’s mataqali go home.
But if there are no such signs, there is great rejoicing which lasts four days. During this time, the couple are confined to their house and forbidden to bathe. They are supplied with cooked food.
This is also the time, the girl’s relatives present a tabua to her husband’s people asking them to look after her. Called the i tataulaki, it signifies that the girl has now been handed over to her husband and has become a member of his family. She remains a member of his mataqali until he dies.
On the fifth day, the bride is taken by her husband’s female relatives to bathe in the sea or a nearby river.
The women also fish – this ceremony is called vakasobusobu. While she is out, her husband and his male relatives prepare vakalolo (a Fijian sweet).
Prior to their return, the women string together all the fish caught. They put the fish and a tabua in the girl’s fishing basket (noke) which is given to her parents.
Her husband’s people then give her dry clothing and a large piece of masi in a ceremony called i vakamamaca.
A final feast called na magiti ni cece ibe ends the wedding ceremonies. Women from both sides divide among themselves all the presents found in the house occupied by the newlyweds. Some of these wedding customs and traditions are no longer followed.
But the majority are still practiced today adding to the pomp and ceremony of the Fijian wedding.