Yalo I Viti - Spirit of Fiji

Printed bark cloth
MASIKESA, printed bark-cloth, made from the bark of the Paper Mulberry (Broussentia papyrifera) 87.7.16

Fiji was first settled more than 3500 years ago. These early settlers are thought to have sailed from Melanesia and were probably from mixed racial background, including Polynesians and Melanesians. Archaeological evidence shows that these early inhabitants were mainly shore and sea based people who made finely decorated clay pots, called ‘lapita’ by archaeologists. Lapita style pottery, made from about 3500 to 2000 years ago, has been found in other areas of the Pacific, including New Britain and New Caledonia.

About 2500 years ago, the population appears to have increased markedly and people began moving inland. Land was cleared for agriculture, settlements were made on hilltops, and cannibalism became common. Around the same time, the Lapita pottery was replaced by more functional and plain pottery. Further changes to the pottery occurred a little over 2000 years ago.

The archaeological record shows that the Fijian people and culture varied widely with time, evolving through 3500 years of mixing of ancestral Polynesian, Melanesian and west Polynesian peoples.

Dress and Adornment

The usual dress for women was the liku, a skirt made from vegetable fibre. From about the age of seven girls wore a short liku. Following initiation, which consisted of elaborate tattooing of the loins and genital lips, unmarried girls were entitled to wear a longer type of liku, signifying that they were eligible for marriage.

On the other hand men wore masi (bark cloth), which was also reserved exclusively for men. Following initiation (circumcision), boys were entitled to wear the malo (loincloth) of manhood and they moved from their home to the men’s house. Personal ornaments worn by men included decorative hair combs, shell arm bands, animal bone or teeth necklaces, and ornamental ear plugs. Men cultivated elaborate hairstyles as a symbol of masculinity.

  • (left) Liku, man’s skirt probably made from the waloa creeper, a parasitic creeper which was generally reserved for men of chiefly rank. A648
  • (right) Liku, woman’s skirt, A632
  • (foreground) iSerasasa, Tongan decorative haircomb, made from coconut leaflet midribs. Combs like this were used as a hair or beard ornament and were worn in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. A868


Ancestor worship was the focus of religion in Fiji. Ancestors were deified as the Kalou (god) of the various clans. Each ancestor spirit or God was worshipped in its own burekalou (spirit-house), which was erected by its descendents, and was served by its own line of bete (priests). Priests, considered to be possessed, allowed descendents to communicate with their ancestors.

Rituals associated with ancestor worship dominated all aspects of daily life. The day normally began with priests and chiefs making an offering of yaqona (kava) to a god. When important matters were under consideration, tabua or presentation Sperm Whale’s teeth were given with the offering.

(photo to come!)Sedreniwaiwai, priest’s oil dish. Dishes like this were used either to hold scented coconut oil with which a priest would annoint himself before invoking his god, or were used as a palette for mixing face and body paints. D702


During the first half of the nineteenth century, many parts of Fiji were in a state of constant warfare. Clubs made in a variety of forms, were the favourite weapon. Clubs, such as I ula (throwing clubs), I wau (double handed clubs) and Vunikau (tree root clubs) were used in combat as well as moto (spears), dakai or dakai titi (bows) and arrows. By the 1870s, the use of axes (clubs with hafted European axeheads), had virtually superseded the club as a fighting weapon.


Bowai, baseball-bat club, H1196

Vunikau, club made from the rootstock of a tree, H1196