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The Arts of Fiji

Much of Fiji’s arts and crafts are a reflection of the country’s Polynesian and Melanesian heritage. Traditionally, women’s crafts and men’s crafts are separate, the women predominantly in charge of pottery and the men of woodcarving.

The village of Nalotu on the island of Kadavu and the provinces of Rewa and Nadroga are famous for their pottery, much of which is still made in accordance with the rules and methods that were used hundreds of years ago. In these areas, as well as in villages throughout Fiji, travelers can purchase pottery that is decorative, as well as functional. Diana Tugea, a famous potter from Sigatoka Valley, makes pottery that is typically used for cooking, while Taraivini Wati, a potter from Nasilai, is famed for her ornately decorated pots that are used to store water.

Craftswomen from Fiji are also known for making tapa, or masi, which is fashioned out of the bark of mulberry trees and then decorated with black and rust-colored designs, often times with stencils representing a particular village or family. Masi was traditionally used as a loin cloth and otherwise associated with cultural rituals, but is now commonly given as a gift on formal occasions and used as wall hangings. The island of Vatulele, located south of Viti Levu, is renowned for its masi work.

Female artisans also make mats and baskets by weaving together leaves of the pandanus tree (and sometimes the coconut palm). The process involves many steps, including gathering, de-thorning, boiling, drying and bleaching the leaves and then decorating the woven mats with borders of colored wool. The mats come in different sizes and are often given as wedding gifts and are a popular tourist item in Fiji. Craftswomen also make taa, a delicate and difficult to produce material made from the young, unripe leaves of palm trees, which is used to fashion hats and handbags.

Male artisans in Fiji, meanwhile, are most famed for their stunning woodcarving work. Traditionally, the woodcarving techniques and designs were used for fashioning items, such as cannibal forks, yaquona vessels and spears and clubs used in warfare. Some of these woodcarvings can be found on display at The Fiji Museum in Suva while others can still be bought from local artisans. The Tanoa drinking bowl, used for serving kava, Fiji’s national drink, is the most common woodcarved item available for purchase.

The promotion of arts and culture and the preservation of traditional crafts are an important part of Fiji’s development strategy. The Department of Culture and Heritage organizes arts events and attempts to maintain and grow a market for traditional handicrafts from Fiji. It also organizes the Melanesian Arts & Cultural Festival, which is held every four years.