Fijian friendliness, hospitality and generosity are just three of the strengths that make it such a special destination. Wherever you are you will be greeted with a smile and “Bula”, the Fijian word for “Hello” and literally meaning “Life”. Fijian culture is very relational, and genuine interest is taken in you, and your family history. If you take the time to sit and talk you will build friendships that often last a lifetime.
The further an ethnic Fijian village is away from a city, the more traditional they will be. The best rule of thumb is to follow the lead of a local. Be prepared to remove shoes when entering a home or church. When you first enter a house, sit on the floor unless offered a chair. Fijian people use the phrase ‘tulou’ (pronounced too-low) whenever you are passing in front or behind someone or if you reach over their heads to get something. Very traditional villages do not allow shouting in the village, the wearing of sunglasses or hats, or carrying bags over your shoulder. Please avoid touching a Fijian person on the head, as the head is sacred!
Attire in Fiji is generally casual, though for women in particular it is very modest. Fijian women wear a sarong or “sulu”. Sulus must be worn long, at least below the knees, preferably to the ankles. It is also important to cover your shoulders, so please do not bring clothing with no sleeves, low necklines, or that expose your midriff. When swimming women wear shorts and tee shirt over their swimwear. Men’s attire is very casual, so wearing shorts and a T-shirt is quite acceptable. For formal occasions men wear a “pocket sulu”. In urban areas the dress code is a lot more Western style, but we recommend that you dress modestly.
English, Fijian and Hindi are the three official languages of Fiji. English is widely spoken. Fijian people, though speaking English, communicate quite differently than Westerners do. Western communication methods use mostly words, are very direct and information based. The Fijian method of communication is relational, known as ‘high context’ so words are not as important as the context around them. They often use facial gestures instead of speaking and will raise their eyebrows as a response to your question. The response may mean ‘yes’ but if you have asked a direct question, it may also mean ‘good question’. A Fijian person will not respond to a direct question in the way you might expect. They are more concerned with keeping the relationship intact so will sometimes say what they think you want to hear. The word “no” is rarely used in Fiji. Choosing how you word your questions, and giving more than one choice will help you both communicate effectively. Another way is to ask someone to ask another person on your behalf.
Although English is widely spoken in Fiji, learning a little of the Fijian language will endear you to the local people. Bauan Fijian is the official dialect of the Fijian people, but each district or island will have a different dialect spoken amongst themselves. Here are some common words and phrases in Fijian.
Fijian is a soft spoken and fluid language. Some of the sounds are pronounced differently to the way we would write them:
“G” is pronounced “nG” e.g. Sega, meaning “no” is Senga
“D” is pronounced “nD” e.g. Nadi airport is Nandi
“C” is pronounced “TH” e.g. Moce, meaning “goodbye” is Mothe – similar to “mother”
“B” is pronounced “mB” e.g. Bula, meaning “hello” is mBula
“Q” is pronounced “nG” e.g. Soqeta, a female name is Songeta
“J” is pronounced “CH” e.g. Josefa, a male name is Chosefa
|Ni Sa Bula
|Nee Sah mBoo-lah
|A respectful ‘Hello’
|Vinaka Vaka Levu
|Thank you very much
|Casual ‘How’s it going?’
|It’s going OK
|No (though rarely used)
|Please relax and enjoy
Despite what seems a daunting list of things to learn to live in Fijian culture, the Fijian people are very gracious, and understand that you will not know everything. If you make a small effort they will be very forgiving. Relax and enjoy your outreach experience with the world’s friendliest people!