Fijian Meke Dance
Meke (pronounced meh-kay) is the traditional storytelling song and dance of the indigenous Fijians, this visual medium was originally used to send messages from one village to another, document important historical events, or record a prominent person’s life for future generations. It is by far the most impressive and spectacular expression of Fijian performing artistry that still functions today as a focus of traditional identity and cohesion.
The Meke consists of two parts, firstly; the Matana – a group of dancers performing a sequence of choreographed moves usually arranged in one or more rows, standing up or sitting on the ground as in the lively Vakamalolo (Sitting dance), with the second part being the musical accompaniment called Vakatara consisting of singers and instrumentalists seated directly behind them.
The traditional Fijian dress and accompanying adornments worn during the Meke performance are a visual spectacle in itself, the men don traditional warrior costumes and the females wear traditional clothing, generally, a sulu (sarong) with a bright colorful Salusalu (pronounced as sar-loo-sar-loo), Fijian for garland, a necklace of flowers woven together by strands of vau (dried bark of wild hibiscus), this is normally partnered with the Vesa, leafy wrists and ankle accessories to complete the ensamble. Depending on the variation and meaning of the meke, liberal amounts of bright red and black face and body paint may be applied, to the Matana’s providing a deeper cultural reference to the choreography.
Thou the most common visual accessory is the iri ni meke a highly decorated ornamental, normally round in shape hand-woven dance fan. woven from somo and voivoi (dyed black and naturally coloured pandanus respectively) with a large central extension ending in a tassel of vau (hibiscus fibre), that is tucked in at the back of the waist when not in use.
The Harmony (Vocal and Instruments)
Most meke begin with a distinct stanza to accompany the dancers as they emerge in a single file to take up their places. During the performance, the harmony is in at least three parts and is typically accompanied by one lali ni meke (small drum of a hollowed-out log with slit opening) and beating sticks, with rhythm provided by a number of derua (bamboo stamping tubes) and cobo (clapping with hollowed hands), interspersed with the musical instruments are the Fijian dance items including spears and iri ni meke.
There are several versions of the meke, both men and women perform the Meke but with very different roles. The men take centre stage with bold, strong and powerful, warrior-like movements. The women take a more feminine and graceful role, with soft and fluid movements. We have collected together several of the most common Mekes seen across Fiji.
The Cibi Meke is of Bauan origin and war dance, came to prominence in the rugby field in 1939 when it was performed by the Fiji national rugby union team before the match.
‘The origins of the cibi date back to the country’s warring times with their Pacific neighbors and intertribal warfare. On their return home the warriors heralded their victory by displaying flags – one for every enemy slain. They were met by the women who would sing songs with accompanying gestures. The cibi was meant for the open battle to inspire the troops, but it was sung with more vigour when the victorious army returned home to celebrate’ (Cibi, 2022)
Vakamalolo (Sitting dance) – Video
A lively dance in which performers sit in a line, often using an iri ni meke (ornamental fan). It is performed by men or women, rarely if ever mixed. In the beginning, the dancers often have their backs turned to the audience, then gradually turn (taiki) to face them.
Seasea (Women’s fan dance)
The most graceful of Fijian meke, performed only by women. There is very little movement of the feet, most of the action being with the iri ni meke and with subtle movements of the head and upper body.
Meke i Wau (Club dance) – Meke Wesi (Spear Dance) – Video
A war-like meke for men is said to have originated as a preparation for warfare, lively and gymnastic. The performers are dressed as traditional warriors and each carries a particular type of war club with a curved end or spear at their
Meke ni yaqona (Kava Ceremony Chant) – Video
Formal chant accompanying the chiefly kava ceremony, solemn and rich in harmonies. All participants are seated, except for the man who serves the kava, who is also the main performer. Many meke ni yaqona is so old
‘Some words and verses of ancient meke are no longer understood, and virtually no one knows any longer the meaning of some of the physical movements or gestures of the dancers’ (Getty,2012). It is a very impressive sight in its sacredness.
Fiji Poi and Fire dance – Video
The Poi, originating from the Maori people of New Zealand, is a spectacular aerial acrobatics fire display normally performed at fire walking shows. this should not be missed if you have the opportunity.
The Indo-Fijians have made their own cultural mark on the dance scene. with the symbolic bharathnatym and kathak dance routines, the most well know. Like the indigenous Fijian Meke dance, each of the choreographed moves and subtle gestures signifies a particular meaning, slowly accumulating together to form a narrative and story that can be passed on to the community and future generations.