Video: Tongan Culture in Fiji

Hubby’s colleague invited us this past Saturday for a Tongan cultural tour. She is half-Tongan, half-Fijian, and her family hosted us for a fascinating day that gave us an overview of Tongan heritage in Fiji.

We started off at Naroro, a Tongan village in Sigatoka, where we loaded into a van to travel up the hill to a historic Tongan fort, Tavuni, which is a national cultural heritage site.

At the entrance to the fort, there is a bure (traditional Fijian house) that doubles as a visitor’s center and ceremonial location. Hubby and I were honored as guests in a sevusevu, a ceremony where a gift of yaqona (the root of a pepper plant) is presented to the chief and kava (the powder form of yaqona) is served out of a ceremonial bowl (tanoa). The Tongan chief we met with is a member of the royal family in Tonga.

After the drinking of kava, an elder gave us an oral history of Tongans in Fiji, dating back to the 1700s. He said there are two main clans that trace their ancestry back to the first Tongans in Fiji, and all the land that we were surrounded by is Tongan land, either acquired through war or gifting. He said he told this history in the hope that we will pass it on to others, and it hit home to me that storytelling is integral to humans, from generation to generation. It was a touching moment.

After the ceremony, a guide showed us the historic Tongan fort that was burned by the British in the 1800s, supposedly to stop the practice of cannibalism. Chiefs and commoners used to live on this land, and some are buried there. The site has an incredible view of the Sigatoka River, and you can see the ocean in the distance from the highest point of the cliff.

The Tongan clan that hosted us then gave us a tour of their farm, where they grow papayas, pumpkin, kumala and other crops. They honored us in another kava ceremony before we had a lovo (traditional meal cooked in an Earth oven) lunch. I loved the kai–big and meaty freshwater clams that were harvested from the river.

To send us off, the Tongans sang “Isa Lei,” a traditional Fijian song, in a lovely choral style.

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