Fiji: Fire Walking

The Islands of Fiji

Map of Country

Figure 1: Islands of Fiji in the South Pacific

 

Abstract

Natives of Fiji practice the ceremony of Fire Walking very frequently. The celebration is performed throughout the year and not restricted to a certain time or day. A majority of the ceremonies are held for tourists who are visiting the islands.

  As the title of the ceremony suggests, Fire Walking is the performance of a native Fijian walking barefoot on extremely hot stones. Preparations are taken almost a week in advance for the celebration to occur. The participants (only men) of the celebration must follow strict precautions before the celebration to ensure that they will not be burned by the stones. Fire Walking is a spiritual celebration that brings a sense of community the native culture of Fiji .

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Additional Image 1   Additional Image 2

Figure 2: Fijian Fire Wlaker Figure 3: Fire Walking

Introduction

Fiji is an island in the South Pacific, well known for it's exotic culture, customs and celebrations. Among these events is the spectacular ceremony of Fire Walking. Although Fire Walking today is performed all over the island, mainly for the entertainment of tourists, it is a celebration that has been an investment in Fiji and it's culture economically, socially and religiously.

Fire Walking is a sacred celebration that keeps the culture of Fiji alive for future generations. This tradition and symbolism keeps people connected to their community and keeps other people interested in this South Pacific island as well. (Rao)

  Fiji is a popular tourist destination because of ancient celebrations and rituals like Fire Walking, which represent the true native Fijian culture. Although the original celebration is rarely practiced today, except on the island of Beqa , Fire Walking is performed as an ancient legendary celebration because of it's huge popularity among tourists.

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Context of Fiji

Fiji is located in the South Pacific, east of Australia, two thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand. In comparison to other places, Fiji is slightly smaller than New Jersey and has a total of 332 islands; all of these islands make up Fiji, it is not just one single island. It is a tropical mountainous country with not much temperature variation. The capital of Fiji is Suva, and one of its biggest industries is Tourism. Legend holds that a great chief led his people across the Pacific into Fiji. (Fiji Visitors Bureau) Fiji was inhabited by Southeast Asians from Indonesia. In 1970, Fiji became independent after being a British colony for almost a century. (The Central Intelligence Agency)

 

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Origins of Fijian Fire Walking

  Knowing what we know about Fiji geographically speaking, it makes sense that the celebration of Fire Walking remains such a popular ritual. Celebrations help establish a feeling of belonging and establish a national identity and culture. Because Fiji is made up of many small islands, this celebration provided symbolism and established deeply-rooted meaning to this ritual on a massive scale. It gave all the people on all of the islands a feeling of being connected. (Petrone)

  Because Fire Walking was passed down among tribes, social ties were established. As legend holds, the ability to walk on fire was first given to a warrior by the name of Tui-na-viqality. He was from the island of Beqa right off the coast of Viti Levu . The legend tells that Tui-na-viqality spared the life of a spirit god while fishing for eels, and in return the spirit god gave him the immunity to fire. His descendants were also given the rite of "vilavilairevo" (jumping into the oven), thus only the members of his tribe, the Sawau tribe perform the ceremony. Tribes that have been adopted by the Sawau have also been able to perform the ceremony. ( Fiji Visitors Bureau) So this special immunity establishes a bond as a collective whole, and these tribes in turn pass on what was learned and given to them.

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Performance

These special celebrations and events keep a way of life alive from generation to generation. And these special ceremonies continue to be performed year after year, following the same ritualistic guidelines.

  Men are chosen as representatives from different villages. Ten days prior to the ceremony they segregate themselves from females and are not allowed to eat coconut. The fire pit is dug out twelve to fifteen feet in diameter and three to four feet deep. Large river stones are then collected and placed in the pit, filling it up. Six to eight hours before the ceremony a log fire is built over the top of the stones, heating them up. "If you throw a handkerchief on the stones, it will burst into flames." ( Stanley ) The Firewalkers are led to the arena accompanied by dances and chants. Leaves and vines are grazed across the stones to prepare the pit. The men then proceed to walk across the stones in a few different phases. Finally a bundle of grass is thrown onto the pit and the group huddles in the center while chanting a song. Bands around the ankle of each participant are thrown into the pit. These bands are made of tree ferns that do not burn. The pit is finally covered with earth and days later the ankle bands are recovered and ground up, mixed with water, and eaten by the Firewalkers. ( Fiji Visitors Bureau)

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Artifact

The main artifact used in the ceremony of Fire Walking  would be the fire pit itself. It is a giant cicular pit dug into the earth and layered with large stones. A fire is ignited over the pit causing the stones to be extremely hot. http://www.fijifvb.gov.fj/about/history/legends/fire_w.shtml.

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Interpretation

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Prognosis for Fijian Fire Walking

The act of Fire Walking is viewed as a social investment in the economy of Fiji because it is such a popular tourist attraction. Today the celebration is performed mainly at resort hotels around the island. ( Stanley ) The originality and authenticity of the ceremony is being replaced with versions more suited to the tourist, who has this preconceived notion of what a tropical native ritualistic celebration is like. Native Fijians are straying from the original context and tradition of Fire Walking to more flamboyant performances that appeal to the masses. The legend also holds that the ceremony could only be performed on the island of Beqa and only by members of a certain tribe. Now it is performed all over Fiji as entertainment for tourists.

 

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Conclusion

  Fire Walking in Fiji is an ancient ritualistic celebration handed down from generation to generation because of belief in the powers of a spirit god granting fire immunity to the Sawau tribe. Since the modernization of the islands of Fiji and because of the growing tourist economy, the original native ceremony has lost much of its authenticity. Although traditional Fire Walking remains sacred, the celebration has been commercialized to keep pace with the growth in tourism. (Rao) However ornamental this celebration has become, it still remains a symbol of the culture of Fiji and demonstrates what was learned and what is being kept alive for future generations.

 

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Internet References Cited

  • Fiji Visitors Bureau

    Firewalking on the Island of Beqa , and Legend of the Firewalkers of Fiji : Legends . The Fiji Islands . www.fijivisitorsbureau.com

  • Stanley, David.

    •  Fijian Firewalking : Customs . MoonHandBooks. 21 Oct. 2004 http://www.moon.com/closer/fiji customs.html (website)

  • The Central Intelligence Agency.

    •  Fiji : The World Fact Book . 21 Oct. 2004 http://www.fijifvb.gov.fj/about/history/legends.shtml

  • Stanley, David.

    •  Fiji : Moon Handbooks . Avalon Traveling Publishing, 2004.

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Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Dorson, Richard M.

    •1982      Material Components in Celebrations . In Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual . Victor Turner, ed, pp. 33-57. Smithsonian institution Press, Washington .

  • Glickman, Carl D.

    •2003       Symbols and Celebrations That Sustain Education . Educational Leadership, Mar 2003, Vol 60 Issue 6.

  • Luboshitzky, Dvora and Gaber, Bennett Lee.

    •2001       Holidays and Celebrations as a Spiritual Occupation . Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, Jun 2001, Vol. 48 Issue 2.

  •  Petrone, Karen.

    •2000       Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades : Celebrations in the Time of Stalin . Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 2000.

  • Rao, Vijayendra.

    •2001      Celebrations as Social Investment : Festival expenditures, Unit Price Variation and Social Status in Rural India . Journal of development Studies, Oct 2001, Vol. 38 Issue 1.

  • Turner, Victor, and Edith Turner

    •1982      Religious Celebrations . In Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual . Victor turner, ed, pp. 201-219. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

     

     

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