Monday, January 08, 2007

Rites of passage for Fijian girls - then and now

A hundred and fifty years ago it was customary for Fijian girls to be tattooed before marriage but this custom seemed to have disappeared perhaps a hundred years ago. I found a drawing of a girl's tattoo on the internet.

There is a rite of passage for Fijian girls that is sometimes performed in the present day for a girl who is about twelve or thirteen. We attended one of these ceremonies where the girl was dressed up in masi and a feast prepared. I did a little oil painting of Sylvia and her twelve year old daughter.


loloma said...

Thanks for posting this, it is very interesting. Frankly, I don't know much about tattooing in Fiji. I was under the impression that it wasn't that common in Fiji -unlike Samoa or NZ/Aotearoa, for example.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

I have been told that women who were about sixty years old in the 1940's had tattoos. Since that time there are only a few tattoos made, on arms, etc.
There's a legend that some Samoans visited Fiji, noticed that women were tattooed and wanted to take the custom back to their islands. They made up a chant about women being tattooed, but the chant got changed somehow, and in Samoa the men became tattooed.

tovata said...

One of the last females to be tatooed in Fiji was the daughter of Ratu Kilakila from Somosomo Tavenuni. She was tatooed before being taken to Tubou, Lakeba in Lau to be the wife of Taliai Tupou who was the younger son of Roko Malani of the Vuanirewa clan.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Hello Tovata and bula si'a to your man from Seaqaqa which is not far from Labasa. They have the best wesi dancers - when they move it is the vanua dancing!
I looked up your blog site and you are just starting I notice. Well, enjoy it and write lots!
Peceli said thanks for that information just as he was hurrying to run off to play golf.

tovata said...

Bula vinaka Wendy and Peceli, thanks for the welcome. I made a slight mistake with the infor I posted. Roko Taliai Tupou was the brother of Roko Malani and their father was Roko Rasolo. The hubby is fast asleep after a long day's work looking at figures.
Regards from Sydney

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Thanks Loloma, I'll try and look up the names to see when this was. Peceli said that his great-aunt in Naseakula had tattoos and perhaps other women of her generation.
W. said...

Bula Si'a, Yeah, my grandma, had one of those. She is from Kedra, Dogotuki. She once told me that it is was performed to girls that had just become a young lady.

I remembered that I wanted to have one coz it looked cool,,, She discouraged me, said it was painful. Hence, they did a big lovo! Still wish I could have that tattoo though..

Its a disappearing art that needs to be revived, Esp. in Fiji.

Tisha Tunaulu Wedhorn

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Hello Tisha,
I like the look of some tattoos on skin - but temporary painted ones! Thanks for your comment. Have you ever been to your grandmother's village in Dogotuki?
Re the picture of the young (modern) Fijian girl posted - well, she got married last Saturday and there was a huge weddding. She married a Cook Islander boy and so there was lots of fun at the wedding.

tisha said...

Hi wendy,

Yes,It was a compulsory thing to go back when I was growing up for chrissy. Grew up in Savusavu too.


Anonymous said...

Howdy first of all love your blog.

Malani/Talia Tupou would make that around first half of the 1800's

Anonymous said...

Hey All,

The tattooing was very common much early on - before Fiji was discovered by Voyagers. The reason it is pretty much extinct today is due to Christianity arriving to the Islands. I know some of you may take offense to this but hear me out first. Upon landing they noticed our customs and thought it barbaric. So they tried to instill in us the Word ... i.e. Bible. And so, like a lot of things - it became taboo to teach it let alone talk about it with anyone else. If you don't believe me feel free to check out the diaries from sailors and voyagers who passed through in the early 1800s - they were pretty specific!

Its a shame that its become a little known custom, but thanks to the internet maybe we can relive our cultural history eh?

According to some texts they practiced it religiously around the outermost parts of Fiji - I can't be sure given they had no idea the number of islands there were ...

Kasanita said...

I agree with what you have just said *anonymous ... however the practice continued well into the 1800's - in fact there's a book that explains everything called: The Hill Tribes Of Fiji by A.B. Brewster. p. 184

The tattooing was still being done when the author arrived in 1870. Although later it had no meaning - it was originally practiced as a sort of baptism through puberty.
It was originally practiced only in the royal clan of Bau, but popularity led it to also be practiced in Nadroga, Westward and down the coast, Suva, Rewa, and Colo East. However after christianity entered Bau, Rewa and Suva issued a taboo preventing any more tattooing c/- Ratu Cakodrove. But it was still being practiced in Colo East and the surrounding regions by 1884. However by now they had adapted it somewhat and instead of hiding it under the dresses, they opted to show it on their faces like the Maori's.

In essence it was the female rite of passage just as the male right of passage was circumcision. Both were originally deeply religious naming ceremonies which today would probably be considered a baptism.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Yes it was a female rite of passage. About the missionaries trying to put a ban on tattooing women, I wonder if it was about two things - their views on sexuality as the tattoos were on the intimate body parts, and also a kind of view that it was a cruel practice.

Anonymous said...

It's intresting to know that tattoopng is part of our tradition as kai Viti's.

I have always marvelled at our Samoan brothers with their well designed tattoos and always thought if we Fijians also had tattoos as part of our tradition since we are also Pacific Islanders- I don't know but now I'm glad that I can say that yes tattoo was and is part of my tradition- So maybe back in the days, our ancestors used the same designes on their tattoos to print on masi's. I don't know really- but to believe that yes they did that- it's quite cool for me- and probably like our Maori brothers- tattoos always have a symbolic meaning to it! Yay -- yerrr...... I was dressed up in a Masi Kuvui on my 21st birthday and always wished to use the same design on the masi for my tattoo- but was hesistant from having the tattoo done on me coz I thought that nah- tattoo ain't part of my culture- that's white man stuff- knowm saying?? Now, thanks to this article_ I will get that tatt done asap!!

Vinaka and God Bless Fiji!!

Anonymous said...

Ni Bula,
I am currently working on a research paper about dying/dead Fijian customs and I was just inquiring whether anyone here knew of anyone who was still well-versed in the TRADITIONAL Fijian art of tattooing. By traditional I mean following proper protocol, using traditional designs, and traditional tools. Please contact me on

Any help would be much appreciated.
Vinaka Vakalevu