From the amount of times I have been told to “marry one Fijian boy,” I think it is finally time that I share what relationships, marriages and weddings look like in Fiji. Firstly, it is important to note that this is a personal account, and I am still learning about how relationships work here, as they are entirely different from home.
This past weekend I attended my first Fijian wedding in the town of Tavua for our school secretary’s wedding. For her wedding, the engagement or presenting of a tabua (whale’s tooth), took place in November of last year. The boy’s family will present the tabua, as it is their job to impress the girl’s father. Typically this ceremony will be the first time the families meet and will take place right after they find out about the relationship, which is kept a secret up to this point. As it is nearly impossible to keep secrets with coconut wireless and gossip in the village, this engagement tends to happen very shortly after a couple starts dating. I find this challenging because it seems most times people have to get married before they really know each other due to the dating culture.
Once the tabua has been presented, the relationship is public. From this point forward, it will look a little more like a relationship we’re used to seeing because you might actually see them together in public. However, it is still very different! The amount of time couples spend together is very minimal, gender roles come into play (the woman does the washing/cooking while the man gathers firewood/fishes), and public affection is never shown. You may see a couple on a bus together but you would rarely see them siting together on that bus.
Anyways, Mrs. Lavo (our newly married secretary) arrived in the mainland one week before her wedding. I was shocked that she worked right up until the wedding date; however, in Fijian culture, the boy’s family hosts the wedding in their village so there is very little planning or preparing from the girls end. All Mrs. Lavo had to do was show up! Even her attire was already planned as she wore a traditional masi print dress. Talk about a difference from home where thousands of dollars are spent and all details are planned way in advance down to the bride’s hair, what shoes will be worn, and the brand of alcohol that will be served.
For a wedding, it is only appropriate to show up in group, so all of us teachers from Ratu Naivalu Memorial School showed up together in a minivan wearing our matching sulu jabas. We brought a sevusevu, which is the yaqona root before being pounded into powder to mix the kava, to present to Mrs. Lavo’s family-a sign of respect. At the beginning of the ceremony, the girl’s and the boy’s families are very separate and each had their own tent. It was not until the church service that the bride and groom interacted. During the church service vows, a sermon, and singing took place, but the groom was never be given permission to kiss the bride!
After the church service, during the 2 hours we waited for lunch (Fiji time), I noticed a difference between the two tents. From the distant boy’s tent there seemed to be a partying going on with loud music and laughing. However, from the girl’s side there were solemn faces and serious looks. People didn’t seem to be as happy as I would have expected. I found this to be very strange until it was explained to me that the girl’s family is sad, because they are essentially giving away the girl. From this point forward, Mrs. Lavo will live in the boy’s village, associate with his family, and even spend her holidays in her new village, Tavua.
Next, was the procession of the girl’s family to join the boy’s tent, and then, finally, it was time to eat a delicious feast of fish, chicken, and beef. The dancing and kava drinking started immediately after lunch and continued on until about one in the morning. Right around 6 pm, all the guests departed including the Mrs. Lavo’s family. Miss Lupe and I (another teacher/my good friend) were the only guests of Mrs. Lavo’s to stay. She had requested that we stay to enjoy the party and drink kava, so of course, we did. And a party it was! We drank lots of kava, danced and even snuck a little rum! Early the next morning, half awake, we caught a bus to Lautoka and headed back to the island.