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Drinking to mana and ethnicity: trajectories of yaqona practice and symbolism in Eastern Fiji.


On the evening of the 28th June 1875, at the start of the return leg of his collector's journey to the interior of Viti Levu island, the Baron Anatole von Htigel arrived in the large chiefdom of Serea (Roth and Hooper 1990:39ff.). A chicken was killed for his feast, a warrior-like meke (dance) was organised in his honour, and a huge yaqona (i.e. kava) plant uprooted and brought into the village. The Baron describes how 'the great yaqona root was then carded by two crouching attendants from the back of the house and respectfully laid before me' (Roth and Hooper 1990:41). His herald touched and accepted the yaqona root on his behalf. A semi-circle of young men then masticated bits of the root, handing balls of the substance to an 'officiator' who, then, mixed the yaqona with water. Accompanied by much chanting, gesticulating and bodily swaying, the Baron was served the first drink. His herald was served the next drink, the bowl of which he sent spinning along the mat towards the tanoa (a large serving bowl). All of the men were then served their yaqona in order of rank.

One hundred and one years and one month later, I pitched up in the same chiefdom to carry out my fieldwork. This stay in Serea began with my installation at the sacred top of the yaqona ceremony in the chief's house (Abramson 1993). And, mastication of the yaqona apart, (this being a practice prohibited on hygienic grounds by the former colonial administration), and with the more frequent use of powdered rather than fresh yaqona nowadays, the ritual was to all intents and purposes the same as that held for the Baron in 1875.

On the basis of this observation, it is tempting to conclude that yaqona use in Fiji has remained essentially stable over one hundred years. This conclusion would be erroneous. Rather, in the chiefdoms, farmsteads, hotels and towns of Fiji significant changes in yaqona's meaning and application have occurred. Thus, the chiefly ceremonial described above derives from an older priestly usage, whilst this same chiefly yaqona has itself been adapted over the long term in quite different ways by contemporary sorcerers (purportedly) and by healers (demonstrably). Moreover, throughout the Fijian tourist industry, yaqona ceremonies that bear only a tenuous relation to those organised for the Baron and myself in our respective centuries are regularly put on for tourists. It seems, therefore, that yaqona meaning and use is significantly unstable across a range of contexts in spite of the observation that, in one particular ceremonial context, at least, familiar rites deliver an enduring core of meanings and procedures.

Theoretically speaking, this finding strengthens both of the main anthropological discourses on the history of Oceanic cultural practices: or, at least, lends support to some of their respective elements. Thus, in dwelling upon the purposeful modification of yaqona practices by sorcerers, healers and hoteliers, the observation ethnographically re-captures and re-affirms the creative agency that ethnic Fijians routinely exercise over their Fijianness. Such creativity is often brought to bear symbolically in the 'novel articulation' of forms like Fijian yaqona when it is re-fashioned and used as 'an emblematic custom' (Thomas 1993:868) to culturally counter the objectifying stereotypes of competing ethnic neighbours (Linnekin 1990). This finding also enhances the work of Borofsky (1987), Linnekin and Poyer (1990), Jolly (1982, 1992) and Thomas (1992). In such complex, asymetrical circumstances, ethnic identity and cultural difference are carefully re-invented by Fijians and other indigenous Pacific Island groups as boundary markers and symbolic vehicles of their own defiant autonomy.

At the same time, in recovering from inventiveness a core of enduring meaning, this initial finding also sustains the theoretical premise of the centrality of the longue duree. Sahlins (1981a, 1993, 1994), in particular, has productively elaborated this position in a series of powerful studies, as have, influentially, Toren (1988) and Turner (1997) and, with some considerable originality, Pomponio (1990). This considerable body of research brings out the symbolic continuities and cultural constants hidden--and sometimes not so hidden--within changing traditional practices. And, on the strength of this work there can be little question of under-estimating the degree to which manifestly purposeful and creative processes of change in Oceanic contexts are also heavily shaped and constrained by underlying ontological frameworks.

All of which is to say that, at its most abstract level, like the play of grammar in language, structures of enduring meaning have to be understood in terms of dynamic possibility as well as axiological constraint, and as the inscribed limits to a transforming system of thought rather than as categorically inscriptive habitus. Expressed, for example, by Valeri in relation to the pre-modern Hawaiian kingship, the structured tradition was not a '... mere stereotyped reproduction' but a set of '... past potentialities for the present that could be actualized in many different forms' (Valeri 1990:68). In fact, this Hawaiian past appeared in the present '... as a process which invited and legitimated its creative continuation.' Gambit-like on a chess-board, '... it was possible to creatively select those precedents that best fitted changing situations in the present ...' (Valeri 1990:68).

By the same token, it is important to see that the tactical invention of custom in the cause of modern ethnicity lies at the pulsing heart of a specifically structured world-view as well as in the hands of human autonomy and creativity. Thus, ascendant, if not dominant, in Fijian towns, this emerging world view today tacitly assumes the gradual disconnnection of persons from ancestral powers and the objectification of processes and relations that might otherwise cognitively encompass actors and subject them. Moreover, this is a sphere in which, amidst a repertoire of manipulable objects and relations, ethnic symbols and performances are regularly given to slip and slide about each other, before being politically tied down in emblematic contrast. Here, in spite of much practical entanglement and subjective hybridity, actors recruited to ethnic and religious groupings are pressed to view and position themselves as essentially distinctive, progressively bounded, freely active entities (Thomas 1991). And, in fact, freely expressive of their ethnicity, Fijians drink yaqona as a customary practice rather than an alteration of state, achieving quintessential Fijian-ness against the grain of the complex articulations, entanglements and impingements which criss-cross the lived spaces they co-inhabit with Fiji Indians, Fiji Banabans and others.

Consequently, the account describes two heavily signified pathways of Fijian tradition in which yaqona is routinely drunk, each pathway ascribing to dynamic tradition radically different articulations of persons, objects and Fijian powers. In the older of these pathways, ethnic Fijians look backwards towards ancestral sources, and look transversely across indigenous contexts, strategically deploying yaqona to modify their embodiment of clan ancestors and their relations with the mana of external gods and stranger chiefs. Here, yaqona is drunk for or against mana, to alter familiar states of Fijian-ness as intra-culturally derived. Whilst, along the second of these pathways of tradition, looking backwards to their ancestors and outwards towards other ethnic groups, yaqona is prepared within distinctly modern circuits, transforming contemporary ways of being disconnectedly modern and autonomous into modern ways of being autonomous yet loyal to ancestral tradition.

As a result, the argument in this paper has to be that manifold forms of yaqona use appear within imagined worlds as the creative realization of cultural possibility before they further develop--if they do at all--as the inventive product of tactical reason. This is not to say that the external ethnic relations of Fijian-ness play no part in realizing the ritual logic of yaqona use. They do, as is witnessed by the fact that, for essentially political reasons, ethnic Fijians tend to consider the chiefly yaqona rite to be the 'authentic' ritual and for other less collectivising forms described in this account to be derivative and less traditionally Fijian.

Much, though, has already been written of the circumstances (political, economic, constitutional and legal) in which Fijian traditions have been re-invented and instrumentally pressed into service by Europeans and Fijians (Clammer 1973; Thomas 1992, 1993). Here, by contrast, the specific aim is to show how a key emblem of Fijian existence (yaqona) may indeed become a part of this wider ethnic politics but only in the broader context of other ritual transformations of yaqona that, far from being banished by the invention of new tradition, continue to exceed, underlie and qualify ethnicity's essentialist claims.


Tourism is now the largest industry in Fiji and much of this industry is devoted to catering for the cultural tourist. Most cultural tourists undertake a spot of island hopping, make a visit to a real Fijian village, meet a real Fijian chief, purchase a bula shirt, acquire a supposedly authentic Fijian sword, participate in a real Fijian feast (magiti), and finally, always, participate in an authentic yaqona ceremony. To provide the tourist with this traditional package, entrepreneurs invest in the transfer of material culture from the village chiefdoms to the market place, a transfer that aestheticises powerful ritual mechanisms in the name of Fijian 'culture' and 'tradition'.

A colourful leaflet published by the Sonaisali Island Resort, south west of Nadi, in 1998, takes this transfer very lightly. It reads:</p>

<pre> Celebrate Fiji's joyful culture. Traditional Fijian ceremonies are a unique blend of the sacred, the serious and plain fun! Much of the time, Fiji's culture comes to you on Sonaisali--local villagers

entertain in our restaurant and perform Mekes (Fijian song and

dance), followed by an authentic Fijian Lovo Feast [which will include a yaqona ceremony, A.A.]. </pre> <p>More sensitive to the possible problem in transferring a sacred ritual to a luxury resort, a brochure of the Fijian Visitors Bureau nonetheless assures visitors that:</p> <pre> The yaqona ceremony has great significance in Fijian life but is now considered a social drink as well as a ceremony. Yaqona drinking is common in Fijian villages and it is quite normal to see groups of men gathered around the tanoa swapping stories as the bilo, a half coconut shell, is passed around ... All visitors can try yaqona as a social drink ... The Fiji Visitor's Bureau will be happy to initiate you and present you with a certificate of

membership to the "Fellowship of Fiji Kava Drinkers". </pre> <p>Unlike the authenticity offered by the Sonaisali Hotel, the Fellowship is consciously marketed as an invention (Hobsbawm 1983; Thomas 1992). And, far from being troubled by its patently inauthentic status, the Visitors Bureau seems to take the view that the de-sacralised basis for the commodification of yaqona ceremony has already been initiated not by themselves but by 'authentic' Fijians in the villages.

Empirically speaking, how does the ceremony as a commodity differ from the ceremony as a ritual? Gender provides the first difference. In the chiefdoms and outlying towns, women refrain from drinking yaqona completely or only drink it informally, sitting just outside the ritually significant perimeter, often seated according to the rank of their husbands (Toren 1990; personal communication 2005). By contrast, tourists are initiated into the Fellowship of Fiji Kava Drinkers independently of gender and, consequently, women join their male companions in the symbolic upper half of the ceremony. The same goes for age. Whilst, in the chiefdoms, young men typically serve as 'workers' within the ceremony, pounding and serving the yaqona, in the hotels, and in villages that offer tourists 'the true Fijian experience', young foreign men will be elevated as core drinkers. And, who will officiate and who will be chief?. One or two tourists might well become chiefs for the evening, whilst junior chiefs, mixers, heralds and servers will all usually be drawn from the caucus of Fijian hotel workers or guides. Dressed in regulation patterned sulu (Fijian sarongs) and bula shirts, these professional Fijians will also frequently turn out in cotton-pointed sulu, their bare, muscular upper halves draped with garlands of flowers and glistening with coconut oil, and with their hair adorned with a hibiscus.

This sartorial combination borrows from high chiefly ceremonial but also takes aesthetic liberties so that wearers are suitably photogenic. In fact, paid to convince and fascinate the European with an exotic show of Fijian-ness, waged Fijians not only stage the most aesthetically photogenic and culturally different performance imaginable (leaning on prevailing fashions within the industry), they also find the freedom to re-assemble the powerful ritual structures of ceremonial hierarchy in a way that aesthetically democratises it for themselves and their clients. Many of the Fijians who take part in the ceremony will never be true heralds or chiefs back in their own chiefdoms, but they can adopt these roles at the heart of the tourist ceremony which, thereby, attains the carnivalesque status of mock hierarchy and ethnic theatre.

Two factors determine the degree of freedom open to individuals who professionally manipulate and re-invent the tourists' yaqona ceremony. Firstly, of course, the delivery of a performance that sells. And, secondly, the ability to transpose a set of ritual actions from which ancestral and divine powers have been extracted.

Generally, what readily appeals and sells in the tourist sector are easily performable, visually recordable, ideally portable instances of Oceanic otherness. These criteria are creatively met by the production and sale of colourful pieces of 'tourist art' including wooden tanoa (large serving bowls) and bilo (coconut cups), or by the production of performances that, photographed a hundred times, metamorphose into enveloped souvenirs of visual Fijian-ness. The achievement of these criteria demands dispensing with the standard four days of exceedingly intense sociability that is the normal duration of Fijian ritual (veiqaravi) in favour of short 'camera bites' of culture. Consequently, in this sector, at least, the transformation of Fijian ritual practice into Fiji tourist art is driven by the logic of ethnic contrast but also by the commemorative peculiarities of the tourist experience.

In the second place, the market-responsive aestheticisation of yaqona ritual can only take place at all because the ancestors, the gods and the mana of the village rites have all been perceptibly withdrawn from the yaqona in its town-bound transfer from the sacred centres of 'the land' (Abramson 2000). (1) These ancient figures and powers are routinely invoked for tourists but it is understood by Fijians that, in the absence of a recognised chief, pastor or government minister, the invocations are rhetorical and the mana of the ancestral gods unavailable for tourists. It is the critical withdrawal and absence of these singularly Fijian forces from the tourists' yaqona ceremony that makes possible within it both the symbolic twists and turns of ethnicity, and the satisfaction of tourist needs. Paradoxically, the yaqona ceremony must become less Fijian for Fijians in order to become more Fijian for tourists.

In the tourist industry generally, yaqona drinking is presented by Fijians, with varying degrees of good faith, as a striking example of authentic Fijian culture (for tourists to observe, take home and domestically consume) and as an objectified expression of sovereign Fijian ethnicity (for Fijians to feel in the presence of other ethnic groups). So secularised has yaqona become with this elaboration of ethnicity for self and others, that yaqona usage has recently also passed into the hands of Europeans themselves. Thus, tablets of yaqona, marketed as Kava Kava or 'Ava 'Ava, have been on sale in health food outlets across Europe for the last five years or so. Bottles of one brand on sale in the UK contain 100 300mg tablets and, amongst other ingredients, 'Kava Kava root powder'. The motif on one of the jars is of a spray of yaqona leaves with a trimmed root of the plant inset on a skyblue background. And, the small accompanying leaflet suggests that 'Kava Kava' will be effective as an invigorating 'pick-me-up'. The seal of approval on the jar claims that the tablets have 'certified potency'. Much or most of the dry kava root output required for this industry is fanned in Fiji, though recent Swiss and German reports that concentrations of kava may contribute to liver disease may have damaged this industry. (2} Indeed, alongside similar foreign herbal products such as ginseng, Kava Kava tablets target the growing European market in homeopathic medicines from the Orient and the Tropics. The relevant association is, of course, with the tropical rain forest (teeming with life and undiscovered local medicines) and the desert island (flanked by virgin beaches, ringed by palms, evocative of Garden of Eden erotica and virility). In fact, once infamously signified by cannibalism, war and death, Fijian-ness is now globally promoted through the inverse symbols of Life, Eros and Health. Hence, too, the French perfume, Fidjee, and the recent issue in the UK of a bottled mineral water called 'Fiji' said to derive from '... the last bastion of ecological sanctity ... an aquifer deep beneath ... pristine tropical rain forests on the main island of Viti Levu' ( It must be noted, too, that Fiji Indians also regularly drink yaqona or, to be more accurate, 'take grog', often in their stores which typically serve as meeting places as well as sites of purchase and sale. This they do, no doubt, to smooth the path of trading relationships with ethnic Fijians but also because, against the thrust of the reductive stereotypes that are imposed upon them, drinking yaqona mildly asserts the hybridity of Fiji Indian ethnicity in contemporary Fiji. (3)

But, what is the general cultural nature of the ethnicity associated with the invention and re-invention of yaqona? Two aspects may be valuably clarified. The first is that emblematic, as opposed to ritually embedded, Fijian-ness is fashioned at the heart of a modernity whose key principles and values are 'detachment' and 'separation'. This means that, though typically compromised by continuing ritual attachments, a simultaneous desire to inhabit spaces dominated by market flows (rather than ritual transformations) urges the separation of Fijian persons from embodied roots (vu) and powers (mana); their separation from the moral envelope of kinship and collective property; the separation of personal well-being from ancestral visitations and sorcerer's magic; and, finally, the real political separation of individual Fijian persons as citizens from the chiefdom's voting blocks and bodies. It is only with the part-emergence of these modern separations in spaces peculiar to them that Fijian-ness, still ritually embedded and transformed elsewhere, is also transposed into elements of a possessibly objectified ethnicity.

Having said that, objectified Fijian-ness does not transpose automatically as ethnicity. Rather, its forms are constructed by actors, pushed by modern circumstances on a quest for a new 'meaningfulness' (Borofsky 1987:145). These are actors who wrestle simultaneously with both the freeing of modern presents and the constraining essence of Fijian pasts. In fact, at this primary level, drinking yaqona as an emblem of Fijian ethnicity, contrasts not with other ethnicities (which it does do subsequently) but with the alternative modern Fijian trends of cosmopolitanism and Christian fundamentalism (Newland 2004). Thus, whereas ethnicity conservatively mediates the contradiction between ritual embeddedness and modern detachment by splitting Fijian-ness at two parallel levels of being, Pentecostal and cosmopolitan transformations of modern Fijian-ness re-position a growing number of ethnic Fijians, quite outside the ritual trajectory of tradition. Consequently, drinking yaqona to ethnic effect triangulates Fijian identity not just with respect to other ethnicities, but also with respect to ritual transformations of Fijian-ness, and post-traditional ways of being Fijian.


Yaqona drinking in Fiji is usually associated with chiefly hierarchy (Hocart 1929, 1936, 1941, 1952; Toren 1988, 1990). Chiefs sit symbolically 'high' (e cake), enter and exit the house by a 'high' side door, and drink first, whilst commoners and other ranks sit symbolically 'low', enter and exit the house by a door at the 'lower' end of the house (era). Commoners and other ranks drink afterwards. Raw yaqona and sacred tabua (whale teeth) move upwards during the ceremony. And, nobody may rise or lift any limb above the chief's head where his special power (mana) is known to be concentrated. Elder men sit higher than younger unmarried men (who tend to perform technically menial roles in the ceremony), whilst, except for women who are exceptionally appointed chief (which does indeed happen), women sit outside the ceremonial circle in the ranked order of their husbands (Toren personal communication) or are absent.

However, whilst symbols of rank, status and gender frequently predicate the ritual use of yaqona, empirically there is more to the enduring rites of yaqona drinking than the symbolic expression of hierarchy. Thus, the following sections of the paper identify and schematically outline the structure of five significant historical transformations of yaqona, each pivotally involving the embodiment and ritual transmission of mana by extraordinary persons. One of these transformations results in a more hierarchical variant of the chiefly ceremony, one in a less hierarchical variant, and one in a variant that is positively anti-hierarchical.

The Priestly Yaqona

In pre-colonial times, a priest (bete) occupied the chiefdom's bure ni kalou or 'god-house'. Each morning, the chief would enter the god-house to take yaqona, prepared by the priest. The yaqona was mixed with water in a tanoa made of the hard wood of the vesi tree and set directly underneath a strip of masi (bark cloth), hanging from the rafters of the god-house. (4) The chief would drink, followed by the priest. Subsequently, the god (kalou vu) would leave the highest point of the bure, slide down the strip of masi, and enter the chief's body.

Up until this moment, the people of the chiefdom were forbidden to leave their own houses (Sahlins personal communication). However, with the god's descent from the highest physical point in the land and with his extraordinary entry into the sacred person of the chief, normal life could begin again. In effect, the chiefdom was reborn on a daily basis when, through the mediation of the priestly yaqona, and along the pathway provided by the bark-cloth, the unity of the god and the chief's sacred body was mystically re-constituted.

In their exact pre-Christian form, the priestly yaqona rites no longer survive in contemporary Fiji. However, a recognisable kernel of these rites continues to be transmitted. In the interior of Viti Levu, informants say that, in the old days, Fijian men just took only yaqona for breakfast. And, still today, after breakfast, men, nearly always stop off en route to their food gardens (veiwere or teitei) to drink yaqona.

A similar continuity affects Christian practice in the chiefdoms. (Or, at least, it affects Methodist and Catholic practice. Pentecostal churches bar the drinking of yaqona and effectively banish the chief from religion (Ryle 2001; Newland 2004).) Thus, Sunday Methodist Church seems to finish after the minister (vakatawa) administers his final blessing in the church. However, after the service, the chiefs leave their separate pews at the 'high' end of the Church to re-assemble at the 'high' end of the minister's house. Here, turaga (chiefs) and vakatawa (minister) drink yaqona, together with other, high-ranking members of the chief's clan. God (na kalou), Christ, the British Queen, the health of the chief, the minister and the Church are all oratorically blessed at this drinking.

Just as in the old god-house, this Christian continuation establishes an elite rite from which most of the chiefdom and most of the congregation have been excluded. Only the chief, members of the chiefly clans, guests, a herald and the priestly minister remain to drink. Consequently, apart from the obvious fact that the god no longer comes down a strip of bark-cloth, and that only the spatial extension of the god's Christian mana is embodied, it seems that the old rite has not been totally dismantled but reformed, relocated, transposed and given the final say in the Fiji-Christian order. In the process, the Christian institution not only reproduces Fijian categories and relations internally (Toren 1988), it also recapitulates the priestly and chiefly elitism of its pre-Christian precursor within a cumulative sequence of sacred forms.

The Chiefly Yaqona (Vakaturaga) in Contemporary Time

When high-placed chiefs are present and, especially, when important, unrelated guests are to be looked after, yaqona drinking assumes the status of a 'heavy' ceremonial event. Such heaviness (vakabibi) implies a degree of procedural completeness, incorporating several essential elements that have survived the longue duree.

The Divinity of the Chief and the Hierarchy of the Ceremony

As Hocart pointed out long ago, the strong hospitality that is extended to guests can be put down to the categorical identification which Fijians make between guests and chiefs (Hocart 1952; Sahlins 1981b). Both are termed vulagi (or 'origin spirits of the sky') and both are ritually incorporated within the chiefdom. The crucial point is not that Fijians are an ethically hospitable people (which they are), but that the chiefs, themselves, are legendary guests, and that all guests, therefore, obligatorily receive quintessential chiefly treatment.

In this regard, clan (mataqali) and village (koro) histories tell of how the divine ancestors of the village chiefs came from other chiefdoms, located far across the sea and the horizon. Consequently, too, the arrival of important guests who are without kinship bonds in the chiefdom is ceremonially stage-managed to ensure that their coming symbolically recapitulates the arrival of the first stranger chief. Thus, the presentation of gifts to both the chief and the chiefly guest is typically broken up and decisively labelled into the scenes: cavu ikelekele ('shifting the anchor'), vakasobu ('disembarkation') and qaloqalovi ('welcoming ashore'), a symbolisation that can do nothing but recall the mytho-historical reality of the chief's oceanic origin and arrival (Ravuvu 1987). Guests are led to the chief's house where they sit by his side, drink the first cup of yaqona, eat with him, stay under his own roof or in the immediate vicinity. This chiefly treatment of the guest reminds the chiefdom not that they have a new guest but that their chief--like his guest--is a permanent though venerable stranger. In this guise, the chief materialises a divinity that originates in the sky or, at the very least, embodies this deity's mana.

The chief then becomes '... the corporeal god of the people who make the offering' (Ravuvu 1987:239). And, it is in the overall ceremonial structure of this symbolic context that, embodied by the chiefs and the men who drink to commune with them, the deity's mana is declared dina ('real' and 'true') after the first round of drinking. Only then, can large-scale ceremonial exchange (solevu) and feasting (magiti) begin in earnest in the chiefdom, a feast that is referred to, on its material redistribution to the mataqali ('clans'), as ai wase ni yaqona vakaturaga, ('the divisions of the chiefly yaqona'). It is at this stage, too, that, having been excluded from the actual drinking that produces the key apotheosis, the women and children partake symbolically of the yaqona (in the divisibly edible form of ai wase ni yaqona) to accede to the same collective, god-headed body.

Consequently, conducted in the presence of the chiefs and their guests, the yaqona rites take place with the deities, Fijian and Christian, stationed just behind the symbolic 'high' end of the ceremony. And, it is in relation to this juxtaposition of the aristocratic and the divine, that what the anthropologist then sees as 'hierarchy' is the geometrically variable inscription and embodiment of divinity up and down the ceremonial space of the drinking.

Hierarchy and Complementarity

Notwithstanding the 'heaviness' of this hierarchy, its symbolic expression and cultural assertion are not the purpose of the ritual. Hierarchy is the inescapable starting point of these ceremonies and a necessary condition of their ritual ability to positively transform states of imagined Fijian being. However, the rites also possess a procedural sequence, based upon a distinctive narrative structure, the correct symbolic enactment of which progressively transposes and dissolves the hierarchy.

Firstly, the hierarchical thread that weaves its way down through the drinking spirals left and right as it falls from e cake to era. The ceremony begins when the herald moves 'upwards' to face the chief (or chiefs, when more than one chief shares the upper end of the ceremony) and eventually sit by him to his left. Then, his young assistant, the cup bearer, who in some areas is called Ra Yaqona, 'Lord Yaqona' (Hocart 1929:66), offers a bowl of liquid yaqona to the chief. And, the chief drinks. However, the next to drink (ha rabe, 'the kick', Hocart 1941:61) is not the second ranked chief but the herald himself: the 'talking chief' or mata ni vanua (literally, 'the eye' or 'face of the land'). In symbolic terms, the first bowl is drunk by the 'sky spirit' (ha vulagi), whilst the second is quaffed by this 'eye of the land'. After the chief has drunk, the company shouts 'maca', ('It is empty!') but, after the rabe has drunk, the company is silent, though the rabe may clap (cobo) himself. The third cup is drunk by another chief, after which the company shouts 'maca', and the fourth by a common man of no chiefly rank who is also a rabe and, therefore, symbolically, an 'eye of the land'. Consequently, the drinking occurs in descending order of chiefly rank, rank however interrupted by the upwards intervention of the rabe who drinks, noiselessly, after every chief. The status order is: chief, rabe, chief, rabe, chief, rabe and, in symbolic terms, sky, land, sky, land, sky, land. To emphasise the binary opposition involved in this symbolic alternation, collective percussion greets each manifestation of mana, whilst drinking by 'the land' is met with silence.

Why should the order of aristocratic rank be broken up in this way? What does the complementary opposition of symbolic sky and land in the yaqona drinking ceremony signify? As master of ceremonies, the herald receives offerings of yaqona and whale teeth which he passes 'up' to the chief who, in turn, passes them back 'down' to him. The herald also oratorically directs blessings symbolically upwards to the chief on behalf of those who have offered these gifts. Via the flow of things and words, therefore, the ceremony is focused on the person of the chief but pivots on the figure of the herald.

So, who is the herald? In his pivotal role, and as 'eye' or 'face of the land', the herald initially faces the chief and his gods with his back to the 'lower' domain of autochthonous ancestors or vu. In fact, his title mata also designates a freshwater spring and, likened to a spring, the herald is conceptualised as the embodiment of a force that (a) flows outwards from the land, and (b) progressively upwards to merge with the 'higher' powers of the external sea and horizon. Indeed, an old Lau Islands song says that the yaqona '... bubbles up heavenward ... [it] ... goes and seizes the horizon' (Hocart 1929:64). Thus, within the ritual, and as its principal objective, mata and mana are ushered towards each other, their convergence made cosmically possible by the suitable juxtaposition of their respective waqa ('vessels'), the herald and the chief. In these roles, the human chief and herald positively mediate the cosmic spirits of the sky and the land. And, it is the initial opposition and progressive fusion of these personified powers that is symbolised by the alternation in drinking order of the chief and the rabe. Indeed, the fusion of chief and herald, sky and land, is the crucial objective of the chiefly yaqona rites, not the expression of hierarchy. Why?

The result is the ritual formation of a unified ceremonial body, marked by its collective clapping and by pressure placed by all individuals not to quit until all of the liquid is consumed from the tanoa and until the last offering of yaqona has been presented. Men who fall asleep are jokingly poked and harangued into waking up as if taking either physical or mental leave of the ceremony weakens its essential unity. Consequently, the symbolism of the drinking points to the ritual birth of a unified ceremonial being, headed by the divine chief, backed by the gods behind him, and made flesh by the men of the land and their lowly terrestrial ancestors. These ancestors are represented both by the bits of solid yaqona that remain undissolved in each bowl (ha kota), by the men's genitals that are jokingly pinched by their cross-cousins and by the ancestral animal or plant names (cavuti) that are regularly called out in jest. The yaqona is, thus, symbolically equated to the imminent virility and sexual excess of the autochthonous ancestors. Noticeably, as the fresh or dried root is mixed with water, and the plant transubstantiates, the herald declares: 'Yaqona bulabula', 'Yaqona, alive, alive!'

The festive animal that is also presented by the herald to the chief and redistributed to the whole village also mirrors this unified being. This is an animal whose head is given to the chief, whose other limbs and organs are distributed separately to each clan, and which is said to further divide the yaqona (see previous page). This unified body is referred to as na lomavata, ('the inside together' or 'holding together', Ravuvu 1987:39-40), its holistic chiefly incorporation of live ancestors and living descent lines, ceremonially dissolving divisions due to clanship and separate birth. The result is a seamless, second chiefly body (Kantorowicz 1957), made up of humans but metaphorically likened to a fish or animal with a chiefly head. In the Viti Levu interior village of Mataisau, the yaqona-induced unity of a single sacred body with the chiefly mana as head is likened to being '... smothered together by one club' (Ravuvu 1987:91). And, to signify this plural embodiment of the commoners, chiefs are always addressed kemudou, 'You', a very royal plural. Moreover, in the heavily subsumed state that results in the birth of a new unified body, individuals describe the mild stupor they each separately experience as mateni ('deathly') as if some part of each individual's living being has been killed off by this chiefly smothering.

In sum, the objective of the chief's yaqona is the embodiment of the stranger god by the chief and the holistic accession of all members of the chiefdom to its chiefly body. By contrast with the priestly rites, this is a dual event that makes the chiefly embodiment of the god in the village ceremonially subject to the chief's embodiment of terrestrial clans and their descendants.

Of Births and Brothers: The Life-Giving Properties of the Yaqona Rites

In fact, two other important layers of symbolism further signify the unification of the chief and the herald, the sky and the land, and the formation of the chief's second body. One of these layers involves women, the other invokes brothers.

Scenario 1: The encompassment of women's mana. Unless, as is exceptionally the case, they are chiefs themselves, women do not normally participate at chiefly yaqona drinking ceremonies. Women are, though, represented at the spatial centre of the rites, the wooden tanoa in which the male ancestral broth of yaqona is mixed, poured, and brought to life, being symbolically female. On the underside of the tanoa, a pair of women's breasts (sucu) is carved out of the wood whilst a cord of coconut fibre (vau), tied to a small cowrie shell, said to be an umbilical cord, is threaded through the 'high' end of the bowl. This is pointed upwards towards the chief.

The symbolism suggests to drinkers the juxtaposition of a phallically potent ancestral broth, a chief possessed of mana, and an understated female presence represented by the wooden tanoa. So that, in effect, during the drinking, the ritualised second body seems to emerge out of the female body of the tanoa. Traditionally, indeed, at the installations of (gods into) paramount chiefs, the stage-managed performance suggests that '... the chief's old self dies and the god takes its place as a new self which is born, nursed into life, and bathed to cleanse it of the impurities of the womb' (Hocart 1941:38). In normal Fijian yaqona ceremonies at which a chief presides, this female symbolism is much weaker than in the analogous ceremony in Tonga where it is usual for women to serve the drink and where, anyway, the kava plant is said to have originated from the island grave of a leprous woman (Bott and Leach 1972; Douaire-Marsaudon 2001). The strong image in both places is of kava being born of women, drunk by men, and converted into a ritually encompassing male body which embodies the generative power of ancestors and the unifying power of the stranger.

Scenario 2: Fraternal division and reconciliation. Hocart (1952) located yaqona rites inside of an imagined complex of life-giving myth and ritual. Today, as he makes the offering of yaqona to the chief, the herald blesses the fertility of the chief's crops, extols his many children, and praises the vigour of both Church and British Monarchy. Since, in Fijian minds, the health of the chief and the health of the chiefdom proceed hand in hand, undoubtedly the yaqona rites are experienced as regenerative. But how, precisely, do they revivify? What is their 'take' on life?

Drinking yaqona is widely understood by Fijians to be pacifying as well as unifying. Consequently, the bulk of the village or assembly who cluster 'below' the chief's mana exchange an acknowledged capacity for being rivalrous and mutually belligerent for a unity in which the rivalry of rank is dissolved. This particular sort of life-giving is, then, less a directly regenerative property of mana than its ritual deployment in the exorcism of seriously aggressive qualities. In fact, birth order is identified as the locus of unavoidable jealousy that readily gives rise to serious quarrelling. Protocols of kinship behaviour, in which younger brothers are expected to automatically defer to elder ones, routinise the ideal pattern of fraternity. However, even as they do so, Fijians know that, because the stakes of kingroup leadership politics are high, in reality many brothers frequently fight. This they are anticipated to do to the point when, as adults, younger brothers tend to break away from their elder brother's group to establish lineal segments of their own (tokatoka or mata vei tacini). Moreover, after a generation or two, new lineal segments often surreptitiously begin to acquire new plant and animal totems (veicuti), 'discover' new migration histories (itukutuku) and, especially where control over land is concerned, begin to behave as independently exogamous patricians (mataqali). Consequently, in most koro (village chiefdoms), though official versions of clan histories are oft-repeated in public just as they are officially recorded in government offices, behind closed doors and at night, visitors and kin will often be told contradictory versions, always turning on the highly political issue of whether particular mataqali are as independent as they claim or whether they are 'really' the rivalrous descendants of brothers. It is the resentment that results from the ambiguity of clan claim and counter-claim, and which constantly simmers below the superficially regulated surface of social life, that generates the rifts which are routinely referred upwards symbolically to be dissolved by the unifying mana of the chief.

Usually, quarrelling individuals are taken to the chief's house at night to perform a soro (a 'reconciliation' or 'exoneration', Ravuvu 1987:151) where, in a small, formally conducted ceremony, mediated by the herald, they drink in order of birth. No shaking of hands, no apologies, no compensations: 'merely' a ceremonial drinking in recognition of the precedence of the chief and the sacredness of his mana, and in anticipation of their merging in the restorative second body. In effect, the soro heals the rift between the parties by re-enacting the arrival of the stranger chief and the voluntary surrender of the primordial 'flesh of the land' to the strange and extraordinary power which the chief incarnates. As a result, the paths between kin-groups previously at logger-heads are 'cleansed' or 'unblocked' (Ravuvu 1987:74-79). Further violence is averted and the community is rescued from the splits that emanate from transmitted patterns of brotherly conflict, including the spectre of sorcerous fratricide (Ravuvu 1987:151).

This life-giving peace of brothers is promoted on the strength of a further ritual mechanism, elucidated by a key narrative offered to me rather matter-of-factly in the chiefdom of Serea at the end of the 1970s. After nearly two years in the field, whilst re-mapping the village site, I was shown an old house-site foundation (yavu) in the symbolically elevated, chiefly Waikalou section of the village. Nobody was allowed to build on this ancient yavu because, 'long ago', it had belonged to the heralds who had formerly lived next to the chiefs. The extraordinary revelation was that the first Waikalou chief and the first herald had been brothers (veitacini vata) and today, irrespective of marriages, members of their respective mataqali call each other 'brother'. The brothers had fought and, as a result, the herald had moved apart from the chief to live in Navatukea, that part of the chiefdom today occupied by the original taukei, the lowly 'owners of the village site'. Typically, this momentous event and the scar it left on the village site was narrated in the 'we' form, as though it had happened within living memory.

Now, whilst this historical fragment meant little in and of itself, it did immediately reinforce the significance of another bit of information, related to me a year earlier. Whilst I was systematically collecting the itukutuku ('tellings') of the Serean clans, the eldest man of the Nacaubouta clan, and official herald of Serea, had instructed me to write down in my notes that their ancestor Leka was born in paradisical Nakauvadra before his brother Rorogaca, the ancestor of the Waikalou chiefs. Leka, consequently, was appointed chief. However, as his name suggests (leka means 'short'), the ancestral leader of the Serean heralds was too short to withstand challenges from his jealous, younger, taller sibling. Under threat, therefore, Leka left Nakauvadra to take up his position as herald to his younger brother, who, subsequently, became chief in Serea. Since then, the descendants of Leka have been in the clan of the heralds whilst those of Rorogaca have been in the clan of the Waimaro chiefs.

Now, this text so closely mirrors the story of the abandoned house-foundations as to be a version of it. The two versions reinforce each other, differing only in their understanding of where the momentous rupture took place: at the top of the world or at the top of the village! Both narratives tell of:

a. primordial sibling rivalry between first and second brothers

b. envy between these brothers as to who would be chief

c. the usurpation of the elder by the younger brother

d. the splitting of the sibling group, with the younger brother remaining in a 'high' place as chief and the elder brother quitting this 'high' place for a 'lower' place, along with the 'flesh of the land'.

In which case, it is plain, that the chiefly yaqona ritual quietly reverses the narrative order of this basic myth by bringing about, at each session, the reunion, reconciliation and unification of primordial elder and younger brother in the personages of the herald and chief respectively. Interestingly, too, the fact that herald and chief are thought of as alienated halves of an original unity is reiterated today by the routine separation of every guest from his or her herald and from the yaqona they are expected to bring to a village as a sevu or 'offering'. Thus, guests are spirited 'up' by the chief, whilst the yaqona is taken 'down' by the herald. This split is immediately repaired in the drinking that ensues when the same yaqona is mixed and presented by the presiding herald firstly to the chief, then to the herald, then to the guest, then down to the company again. (This is where the Baron and I came in!) Here, as always, on the back of the core soro between a separated chiefly guest and his/her herald, primordial brothers once united and then divided, are again re-united, extraordinarily by the all-encompassing ritual embrace of the chief and the mana he embodies.

On the basis of these narratives (which are very familiar to most village-based Fijians), it is clear that, whilst Fijians do acclaim the mana of the chief in the chiefly yaqona rites, the point of this acclamation is not the simple celebration of hierarchy. Rather, the hierarchy is acclaimed at the point where previously alienated parts of a fraternal whole are ritually united. This possibility is both entertained and ceremonially shaped by the narratives that culturally surround and embed the chiefly yaqona drinking.

The next section shows how another narrative surrounds yaqona drinking, embedding the practice in an alternatively malevolent possibility. This structural possibility is marked by the refusal of the primordial elder brother to surrender to the unnatural rule of the primordial younger, an imagined scenario that is still, however, thought to be real and to continuously affect the efficacy of the mana today.

Imagined Antithesis I: The Elfish Contrary

This text, also regularly told in Serea, recalls a primordial contest, held between two autochthonous brothers, Rodriginivanua and Rorogaca. The brother who was tallest, the brother whose dog was fiercest, the brother who could successfully tell the difference between a plantain and a whales tooth: he would be chief of Serea. The story insists that the younger of the two brothers, Rorogaca, won the contest but that, because he was younger and because he feared the wrath of his elder brother, he left the area to become a chief in another place.

In fact, the presence of a contrary lineage that seems to incarnate this very same refusal of a junior chieftaincy was revealed to me by members of clan Nadaloi, a mataqali who reside next to the heralds in the lower part of the chiefdom. Interestingly, clan Nadaloi elders reported that they too used to live close by the chiefs where they acted as the latter's bete or 'priests'. (The 'lower' chiefdom is thereby full of exiles not just autochthons!) After nearly two years in the field, a group of men from this clan led me a couple of miles into the rain forest to see a set of legendary earth works which they said belonged to the veli, the real, tiny ancestors of the Serean chiefs. Pride of place was taken by a mound, about 2 metres high, surrounded by a shallow ditch or moat, which was presented as the installation mound of the veli chief. Downhill from this mound was a very small creek, which we followed until we came to the first of three rocks, resting in the bed of the creek. This first rock was the veli chief's ulai (or 'pig' in Waimaro dialect). A hundred or so yards downstream, we came upon another very flat, shield-shaped rock which was said to be the veli chief's vonu (turtle). Further downstream yet again, was another rock with a hole in it which, it was said, was the veli's latrine (vale vo). Each of these stones and the mound had been cleared and kept visible, presumably by members of this clan since the earthworks in question lay on their land. The veli, themselves, were reputed to be very short, exactly like the mythical elder brother of the chief, and identical to Leka, ('Shorty'), the ancestor of the herald's clan. Moreover, as taukei ni veli ('owners of the veli'), members of clan Nadaloi claim to be rightful substitutes for the heralds at chiefly yaqona ceremonies where the latter are absent.

Additionally, as the 'true' ancestors of the chiefs, the veli are autochthonous rebels, contraries who, at every turn, challenge the powers of the visible chiefs. For instance, the veli make it rain when the chief wants dry weather. And, in response, the village chief must refrain from drinking any water ('not even brush his teeth!') to combat the veli. Or, if the veli chief has decreed a drought, the chief should pour water over a particular stone in one of the creeks (also pointed out to me) to reverse the situation.

As a result, in the chiefdom's political imagination, the mana at the head of the chiefly yaqona rites is continually challenged by a belligerent presence from the nether regions of the forest, one that seems to usurp and pre-empt the conciliatory mission of the herald. This tendency is always expressed in the frequent claims by many in the common 'low' section of the village that they do not need their chiefs, that the veli chief is the only real chief, and that rivalrous brothers, primordial or otherwise, never truly bury their differences. This thought pattern is replicated even more damagingly in the logic and practice of sorcery.

Imagined Antithesis II: The Sorcerer's Yaqona

The elicited response that I always received regarding the practice of sorcery (drau ni kau) in the chiefdom of Serea, involved a cross between a ouijie board and a seance. Somehow, according to my Fijian informants, sorcerers fingered their victims on a mirror on which the letters of the alphabet were written and then the victims became ill or died. However, except insofar as it offered the image of sorcerers operating alone, this version was sharply contradicted by the vastly more frequent allusions to a practice of sorcery that depended upon drinking yaqona. These allusions indicated that:

1. Many or, quite possibly, all chiefs are killed by sorcerers.

2. Sorcery crystallises and furthers rivalry and jealousy.

3. Brothers, especially, target each other with sorcery.

4. Sorcerers tend to live mai veikau ('in the bush') rather than in the village. And, it is in the bush that they practice drau ni kau around a tanoa of yaqona. Here, they drink alone, typically, after stealing a peripheral body part of their victims such as a fingernail or a hair.

5. People who steal land often kill their wronged victims by sorcery.

6. Elder brothers are frequently said to have stolen land off younger brothers

7. Attending Methodist church services is the best way for anyone to repel the malevolent attentions of sorcerers.

In short, the sorcerer is revealed to be a jealous rival, frequently an elder brother, who kills chiefs and younger brothers, and who does so by drinking yaqona alone in 'lower' regions of the forest. Via this assemblage of traits, the sorcerer figures symmetrically as an antichief: an unrequited elder brother who directs yaqona to kill rather than to enhance life. He separates human parts from bodies instead of uniting them. And, by widening the rift between brothers, he exacerbates the naturally divisive effects of birth order and rank rather than referring them to the hierarchical rites that dissolve them. In these respects, and dispersed about the community, sorcerers appear as doubles of the veil chief, simultaneously more 'grass-roots' and more lethal. In fact, probably, no one has ever seen a Fijian sorcerer. However, having seen them or not, armed with the conviction that sorcerers augment veli contrariness from the nether regions of the chiefdom, and usually in jealous opposition to the usurpations of younger brothers, villagers can imaginatively deduce the essential properties and modus operandi of Fijian sorcery.

This brings the account to a final transformation: that of the healer's yaqona.

The Healer's Yaqona

Recently, a new category of healer has emerged in Fiji. These healers heal mainly, but not exclusively, in the towns with the help of yaqona and are called dauvagunu, (literally 'drinking experts'). In the villages, dauvagunu are nearly always older men though in town, healers also include women and middle aged men. These healers may address the same type of physical complaint that other traditional specialists and doctors address but they are much more likely to diagnose and treat pathologies that can be attributed to sorcerers and ancestral spirits than what doctors would see as physical causes. The identity and practice of these healers has been well described by Katz (1993).

Healers always sit at the symbolic top of the yaqona bowl (tanoa) and work from this otherwise chiefly position whilst patients sit 'below'. Patients initiate the healing process by offering a sevu of yaqona and another small gift such as a pack of cigarettes and, sometimes, though not usually, money. Many healers have an assistant who might also be an apprentice. These are sometimes called liga ni wai ('the hand of the water' or 'medicine') (Katz 1993:182). Consequently, healing work with yaqona preserves the symbolic hierarchy of the 'below' and the 'above' without, however, retaining the services of the chief; though a chief may, of course, become a healer. In the shape of an assistant, it also retains the semblance of a herald, but not a herald, as such. Therefore, the tripartite structure of two poles and mediator is reproduced but with a different cast of players.

Healers usually practice after receiving a revelatory and instructive vision, which often comes to them in a dream. This visionary message may come from their own clan's terrestrial ancestor or vu, from another clan's vu, or from God (Na Kalou). However, where the vision is said to come from God, it emanates from the terrestrially serpentine manifestation of Degei, the ancient Fijian god of the mountain top (Katz 1993:82-83) rather than from the unequivocally heaven-based Christian god. Healers treat patients by further direct communication with their terrestrial vu and it is usually this vu that is said to be responsible for the healing. Healers or apprentices may become a locus of possession by the vu (Katz 1993:77) in which case they are referred to as waqawaqa, (literally 'vessels'), a term more frequently used to describe the vehicular status of chiefs in relation to the gods that they embody and socially transport.

Moreover, healers are often required to interpret dreams (tadra) which, generally, '... are seen as descriptions or predictions of events that express the wishes and actions of the characters in the dream' (Katz 1993:161). In this context, they prevent dreams from becoming true by directing their cures at those agencies whose present and future influence upon the patient's life-world is mirrored in the patient's dream world. In effect, in the yaqona rites of the dauvagunu, the dreams and visions of the patient are interpreted by way of the dreams and visions of the healer. And, it is the lucid conjunction of the two sets of dreams and visions, led by the healer's embodiment of her/his spiritual insight, that is the objective of the healer's yaqona drinking.

This oneiric conjunction can only occur if the healer follows a 'straight path': in which case, she or he will become a conduit and vessel for mana. By being possessed of mana, the healer will then be able to truly see the meaning of the patient's dreams of the cause of his troubles. One healer told Katz that 'The amount of truth in each individual determines the power of his healing' (Katz 1993:92). Another located such truth in mana, and mana in his eyes: 'Just look into my eyes. That's where you'll see plenty of mana' (Katz 1993:178). Whilst others also located the primary source of mana in a box (a kato ni mana) at the bottom of the ocean (Katz 1993:22). Interestingly, this was also the source of the mana claimed by 19th century successors of the Fijian millenarian prophet, Navosavakadua (Kaplan 1995).

However, when the dauvagunu deploys yaqona, the object is not to facilitate a flow of mana from healer to patient, incorporating the patient in the healer's restorative ritual body. In fact, symbolically speaking, the patient always remains somatically external to the healer. And, whilst the rites, themselves, do not mystically reconcile Fijian patient and healer as incarnations of symbolic elder and younger brothers, ancestral messages conveyed by the healer do direct the patient back to brother-related conflicts in the patient's community and to the conciliatory power of the chief's yaqona.

Moreover, Katz repeatedly reports that if dauvagunu do not commit wholly to 'the straight path' of their vu and, if they also attempt to become healers for material gain rather than because they have received an elective message from the vu, their yaqona based practices degenerate into sorcery. Thus, '... to serve the Vu for evil purposes ...' sorcerers '... may hold the bilo so that one or two of their fingers go into the yaqona, or they may pick at some of the little pieces of yaqona which settle to the bottom of the bilo, so that some of the yaqona dribbles off their fingers before they drink the bilo. When their fingers touch the yaqona before they drink it, then their Vu are drinking the yaqona before they are' (Ratu Noa quoted in Katz 1993:170). Technically, therefore, healers and sorcerers are virtual doubles, and only a strong moral commitment to the unification of communities rather than to their division, and to individual gain on top of this division, stops the dauvagunu from transforming into her/his binary opposite.

In fact, the dauvagunu transforms the structure of mana transmission by pre-empting the sorcerer's mobilisation of contrary powers of the land. S/he borrows from the sorcerer's unceremoniously individual manipulation of the yaqona ceremony but, by following the unifying path prescribed by his own ancestral vu rather than the divisive path perused by the veli, the healer displaces the sorcerer, and makes mana blocked by the sorcerer flow therapeutically in the patient's broader network.


Consequently, it is clear that healers transform 'live' yaqona not to replace existing forms of embodiment and encompassment, but to 'creatively continue' the same enduringly productive tradition. Indeed the overall situation is one in which derivations of the enduring mana/vanua structure group, branch and accumulate, negate and complement, instrumentally modifying each other's respective effects in a dynamic field of embedded ancestry and embodied mana.

But beyond the ritualised intra-cultural transformation of different Fijian motivations and states, the drinking of 'dead' yaqona to ethnic effect occurs as the apparently fixed expression of a single state: that of being essentially Fijian. In fact, ethnic inventions of yaqona serially replace each other in a linear series, each invention perceptibly seeking the best expression of ethnicity in and for a particular conjuncture, to then quietly slip away. Here, unlike the cumulative propensity of the structural set, apart from creating a string of past events for historians to retrospectively record, the historical ethnic series exerts no aggregate effect upon the contemporary sense of Fijian-ness. Indeed, it is the very obvious disconnection of customary yaqona drinking from previous emblematic instances, as well as its complete separation from the field of embodied ancestry and mana, that frees Fijians to inventively experiment with the form and to trans-culturally commodify or extend yaqona drinking as a 'custom' that Fijians possess.

As far as theory is concerned, the structural history of yaqona is not to be shunned by anthropologists who might otherwise be drawn into thinking that retaining structure in society takes everything away from history. This is not the case. In fact, a structural history remains vital in illuminating the imagined frameworks that constrain actors and shape action along particular trajectories of practice, and crucial in highlighting the stubborn contradictions that typically arise between imagined frameworks and parallel trajectories even as they entangle. These enduring contradictions complicate the life of all social agency, pushing agents towards, more or less, mythological ruminations on the double-binds of socio-cultural practice (Levi-Strauss 1968:229) or, more radically, towards additive or ruptural change.

Fortunately for the multi-cultural perspective in contemporary Fiji, the ritualised transformation of embodied ancestral precedents creates an underlying series of shifting states and relations that disturbingly contradicts the reductive play of ethnic essentialism. This is especially important given that, today, though the land question in politics is truly dominated by the ethnic stereotype of a collective people, an indivisible land, and the unchallengeably unifying rule of the Fijian chiefs, the ritual trajectory continues to circulate other figures of Fijian-ness, variously at odds with this hegemonic image.

The general point would seem to be that, analysing the complex articulation of spheres, entities and relations in contemporary Fiji and, exposing the diverse positioning of the ethnic Fijian actors that inhabit them, depends not only upon a consideration of the inter-cultural relations between different ethnic groups but upon prior analysis of the intra-cultural relations between different Fijian states. In fact, continually transforming as a logically juxtaposed set of oppositions and supports, intra-cultural relations of being traditionally Fijian will always outlive and exceed the scale of ethnic Fijian-ness in politics, and always, therefore, reverberate with the material possibilities--and hopes--of quite different Fijian futures.


This piece has benefited considerably from comments on earlier drafts made by Marshall Sahlins, Steven Hooper, and Serge Tcherkezoff and by responses to the later effort received from Elfriede Hermann, Wolfgang Kempf, Michael Scott, and Eric Hirsch. I am also grateful to Steffen Herrmann for information relating to the ban on kava in Germany.


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(1.) Comparing the movement of yaqona with the contemporary, still sacred circulation of tabua (whales teeth) in the current conjuncture highlights the extent to which drinking yaqona socially in some contexts is so obviously secularised.

(2.) See Ed Johnston, 'Awa and the Liver', available online at 20and%20the%20Liver.pdf.

(3.) On this point I am indebted to Jacqueline Leckie, University of Otago, NZ.

(4.) With the advent of Christianity, the tall, thatched, god-houses were pulled down, their substantial earth foundation mounds were flattened, and the bete priesthood was dissolved.

Allen Abramson

University College London
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