Culture & Customs

Below you’ll find a few tips from Habitat Fiji about local culture and customs:

Life in a Fijian society is usually simple and laid back but at the same time has structure and protocols that date back as far as Fijian history goes, i.e. the late 1700s. These rules and protocols have been passed down through generations and it is important that they are followed. This is a brief guideline to some of the basic rules and protocols of Fijian society.

• It is considered rude and offensive to touch an adult’s hair as the head is the most sacred part of the body.
• Remove your shoes when entering a house.
• When in a Fijian village, there are a few important rules concerning clothing and accessories:
– Women are to wear sarongs at all times (except while on the build site), unless we are given special permission by village elders. Skirts that fall below the knees are also acceptable.

• When in a Fijian house and there are people seated on the floor:
– If you intend to move amongst them you must say the word ‘Tulou’ (pronounced ‘too-low’) while doing so. It means “excuse me”.
– You must also sit on the floor even if there are chairs available, unless you are invited by the owners of the house to use the chairs.
– While seated, if you would like to look at an item that is above the group(on a shelf or table) –
i) ask for permission to get the item,
ii) say ‘Tulou’ if you reach over someone sitting near you,
iii) clap twice with cupped hands when you return to your seat.

• When partaking in a ‘kava’ ceremony, a very important part of Fijian culture when people come together to share a drink made from kava, a plant root:
– If it is a traditional kava ceremony you will be informed. In these ceremonies there are a lot of speeches and it is polite to remain quiet for the duration of a speech. It is alright to take photos during the ceremony, but it is advisable and respectful that only the team leader takes photos and shares them with the rest of the group later. A social kava session is freer and usually involves storytelling, singing and dancing; feel free to take as many pictures as you want.
– When presented with a bowl of kava there are three steps to follow:
i) clap once with cupped hands and take the bowl,
ii) say ‘bula’ loud enough for everyone to hear. This step only applies for your first bowl of kava, for every subsequent bowl just do the first and last steps,
iii) give the bowl back to the presenter and then clap three times with cupped hands.