The Vanua / Land

The experience of vanua, the land and the people who live and work on it, is at the basis of Fijian life. Asesela Ravuvu, a Fijian social scientist, describesvanua as follows:

“Vanua literally means land, but it also refers to the social and cultural aspects of the physical  environment identified with a social group…For avanua to be recognized, it must have people living on it and supporting its rights and interests. A land without a people is likened to a person without a soul. The people are the souls of the physical environment…The land is the physical or geographical entity upon which their survival depends. It is a major source of life; it provides nourishment, shelter, and protection. Land is therefore an extension of the self, and people are an extension of the lend. Land becomes lifeless and useless without the people, and likewise the people are helpless and insecure without land to thrive on.”In a 1999 report by Bank of Hawaii tribal ownership of  about 90% of the land was cited as “the single largest barrier to economic growth”. It is also the reason why Fijian culture is still alive and strong in most places. This cannot be measured in economic terms, but you can see it in the smiles and the generous hospitality of the Fijian people.


From a structural perspective, vanua is a social unit, the largest group of relatives. A yasuva is a group of people that traces their heritage on the male side to a common ancestor or ancestor god (Vu). The yasuva is divide into clans (mataquali), such as chiefs (turaga), heralds or spokesmen of the chiefs (mata-ni-vanua), priests (bete) and fishermen (gone dau).

Vakavanua means to life the life of the land, the traditional life style. To live according to vakaturaga, or the chiefly way, denotes not only the traditional lifestyle but also the personal characteristics necessary to maintain it. Much of these characteristics are seemingly opposed to western ideas of progress and ideas of entrepreneurship, and are sometimes perceived as complacency and compliant. There is nothing, however, that precludes hard work, and it promotes a life in balance an harmony since it places respect and humility at the center of being; not progress. Loloma, the feeling of kindness and love, is what arises from living according to . Solidarity is the aim; caring for others, the means. As some traditions fade, especially in the urban centers, there is often conflict between the generations, and the elders bemoan the lack of respect by the younger people.

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