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Talking Taukei with Tu – The significance of the meke

Written by on June 13, 2024

Fiji, a small nation rich in culture and traditions, uniquely preserves its stories not in conventional libraries but throughout its natural and human landscape. The essence of Fijian history and knowledge is found in rock, wood, leaf, flower, and especially in people, collectively forming the Vanua. Without a written language before colonization, Fijians used oral traditions to pass down their history. This rich oral culture is vividly expressed in Meke—an intricate blend of song, dance, chant, and movement. Meke performances, crafted by the Daunivucu, encapsulate everything from assassinations and epic journeys to forbidden romances and comedies. Every move and word helps the community remember and honour significant events and relationships, teaching each generation valuable lessons in an engaging way.

The arts play a crucial role in Fijian society, ensuring the accurate transmission of knowledge across generations. Just as no one enjoys a film on a blurry screen or a book with missing pages, Fijians are highly critical of Meke performances, valuing their clarity and completeness. Through tales set to song and rhyme, practices and stories are kept alive well beyond the lifetimes of their creators.

When an event is about to occur, a Meke is requested of the Daunivucu. In most cases, the Daunivucu will look for a similar event that occurred in the past and use that as inspiration for the song and dance. The wording and motions are chosen carefully to resonate with the audience, connecting the present to the past and inspiring hope for the future. This method of cultural preservation is both sophisticated and resilient, showcasing the deep respect and importance placed on oral traditions in Fiji. It’s a fascinating blend of entertainment and education, a living repository that encapsulates the struggles, triumphs, and romances of the people, ensuring the vibrancy of Fijian heritage endures.

NB: ‘Tu’ is a consultant in Fijian iTaukei history and lore doing work with youth and other organisations to help educate people on iTaukei culture and heritage.

Fiji, Men perform a ‘meke wesi’A group of men perform the ‘meke wesi’, a male war dance from Fiji that incorporates props such as spears and fans. Naked from the waist up, they wear ceremonial costume including tiered ‘masi’ (bark cloth) skirts and flowered leis. Caption reads: A ‘Meke’ “Wezi”, a fan and spear dance, 1965. 2005/010/1/14/42. Credit: Album / Universal Images Group / Bristol Archives/UIG

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