Fijian communities in Aotearoa

A starting point for building your understanding of Fijian cultures. It includes some common concepts, terms and phrases that families in Aotearoa might use and value. Read it alongside the related page Pacific peoples and cultures in Aotearoa.

Land and people

Fiji is an independent Pacific nation of more than 330 islands, about 110 of which are permanently inhabited. Most people live on the two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

There are 3 main ethnic groups in Fiji, the (indigenous original settlers of Fiji), indigenous Rotuman people, and Fijian-Indian.

By the late-1980s, the Fijian-Indian population exceeded the indigenous Fijian population. Sections of the indigenous population became concerned about their ability to hold power in Fiji. Tensions led to political unrest and coups that began in 1987. These were difficult times for the country and especially for Fijian-Indians who suffered violence and persecution. Families that had leased customary lands to grow crops and had lived on those lands for generations suddenly found themselves landless and homeless when the leases expired and were not renewed. The unrest led many Fijian-Indians to leave and resettle elsewhere, particularly in Canada, the United States, Australia and Aotearoa.

The Fijian constitution of September 2013 acknowledges the rights of iTaukei and Rotuman to their customary land, cultures, customs and values. Fijian-Indians are recognised as full citizens of Fiji, but they don’t have ownership rights to customary land, although they can lease it.

iTaukei society

Traditional roles define the nature of relationships between people, and the hierarchy in families and wider society. Order is maintained and promoted when members understand their position in the hierarchy and act accordingly.

Chiefs, who are usually male, are at the top of these hierarchies, followed by others based on their roles in the community.

Fijian-Indian society

In the late 19th century, about 60,000 Indians were brought to Fiji to work in the sugar industry. Some stayed in Fiji. Fijian-Indians developed their own particular cultural identity while maintaining certain elements of their original cultures. One element that has lost wide significance is the caste system.

iTaukei culture and values

Sautu (family wellbeing)

denotes a state of being. ‘Sau’ reflects being filled with mana arising from one’s position or performance of a role. ‘Tu’ is to rise following the successful discharge of one’s duty. 

Sautu is related to a family’s ability to sustain itself and deal with life’s challenges. It represents a positive achievement for a family. It is compared to the top-most part of a house (doka ni vale) which serves as the crowning glory in the building process. 

Vakarokoroko (respect)

Vakarokoroko is critical to the harmonious relationships in a Fijian family, and by extension, a community. The closer the relationship, for example brother and sister, the stronger the expectation to demonstrate respect. 

Respectful behaviour is expressed through acts of courtesy and the language used to refer to each other. A person who regularly displays respect will be regarded as being vakaturaga (of chiefly conduct and manner). 

Veidokai (respect or honour) has the same meaning as vakarokoroko and the words are often used interchangeably.

Veirogorogoci (communication, sharing, listening)

For family relationships to be sustainable there has to be veirogorogoci – ongoing communication, sharing, and listening to each other. For example, when a parent is talking to a child, the child is expected to listen and not interrupt. The child is given time to voice their view after the parent has spoken. The parent is expected to role model veirogorogoci. 

Veirogorogoci reflects obedience to, and observance of, the family order, rituals, and processes. 

Veivakabekabei (praising)

Veivakabekabei denotes the importance of valuing and nurturing others. Serving or caring for others, including children and elders, is valued. Boasting or grandstanding runs counter to Fijian values. It is good manners not to put yourself first and to allow others to hold standing before you, to show deference. 


Fijians place great importance on kawa, family lineage and history. A good kawa is interpreted as a reflection of a person’s ancestral history, family and quality of upbringing. Everyone, including children, is expected to uphold their family’s legacy through achievement and social conduct. 

In iTaukei custom, every transitional stage in a child’s life is celebrated. Some communities have traditional practices such as naming ceremonies for a firstborn.

Mana and tabu

The concept of mana implies having supernatural powers arising from one’s position at birth and connection to the spiritual world. Mana reflects a state of reverence and sacredness in very close relationships, particularly among family. Care is taken to ensure mana is not violated and to avoid causing offence. In formal gatherings, mana is respected by observing traditional protocols and rituals of engagement.

Tabu, derived from veitabui, is closely associated with mana and limits certain activities or behaviours. This is to reflect the sacredness of a matter, relationship or event. For instance, a chief is said to have mana. Being sacred, a chief is approached with deference and respect. There is also tabu between family members, especially between brothers and sisters.

Fijian-Indian family roles and values

Fijian-Indian families are usually patriarchal. The men are often the gatekeepers of families, depending on where the family sits in the traditional – contemporary continuum.

Fijian-Indian families are typically nuclear. The extended family is not encouraged to get involved in matters considered the business of the nuclear unit.

A male child is considered important in order to carry on the family genealogy. A girl child has a spiritual position. For Hindus, she is considered a representative of the Goddess Latchmi.

Child-rearing practices aim to build resilience to counteract life’s adversities. Children are raised with high expectations to succeed and to contribute to the family’s wealth. Many Fijian-Indian families look negatively on children’s rights to express views and have more social freedom. This is the biggest area of contention for Aotearoa-raised children who are torn between traditional expectations and rules, and the social norms and values surrounding them.

Orphans or children who lose their fathers are integrated into extended families to maintain their identity. Generally, a boy would be taken into his father’s family while a girl may go with the maternal side.

Fijian-Indian communities have not traditionally supported ethnic intermarriage, but this is changing. Historically, some Fijian-Indian families disowned members who married outside their ethnicity which resulted in people being disconnected from each other for generations.

Family terms – iTaukei

iTaukei English
luvequ yalewa daughter
luvequ tagane son
young children
tina mother

Common greetings and phrases – iTaukei

iTaukei English
Greetings, hello (informal)
Greetings, hello (formal)
Bula, ni gole mai Welcome, come in
Ni bulabula vinaka? How are you?
Au bulabula vinaka, vakacava o kemuni? I’m fine thanks, and you?
Thank you
Tulou Excuse me
Vosoti au Apologies, sorry

Family terms – Fiji Hindi

Fiji Hindi English
beti daughter
beta son
baccē baby
baccōṁ children
māṁ mother
pitā father
parivāra family

Common greetings and phrases - Fiji Hindi

Fiji Hindi English
Kaise Greetings, hello (informal)
Namaste Greetings, hello (formal)
Svāgata Welcome, come in
Aaap kiaseh hain? How are you?
Theek hai Good (in response to “How are you?”)
Meharbani she Please
Shukriya Thank you
Maaf kijiyeh Excuse me
Nameste Goodbye
Māphī māmgatā hūm Apologies, sorry

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū

Most of the information in this article comes from Va'aifetū, the Oranga Tamariki cultural practice tool for working with Pacific children and their families. Read it to find out more about Pacific cultures and building relationships with Pacific peoples.

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū | Practice Centre(external link)