Tradition and hierarchy
Fijian indigenous society is very communal, with great importance attached to the family unit, the village, and the vanua (land). A hierarchy of chiefs presides over villages, clans, and tribes. Chiefly positions are hereditary; a deceased chief is invariably followed by a kinsman or kinswoman, though not necessarily his own son or daughter. This reflects Polynesian influence: in most other Melanesian societies, chiefs are appointed on merit.
The largest social unit for Fijians is the
Yavusa, defined by
R.A. Derrick as the "direct agnate descendants of a single kalou-vu" (deified ancestor). Chiefly succession was from older brother/sister to younger brother/sister, after the death of their father/mother. When the youngest brother/sister died, the eldest son/daughter of the eldest brother/sister became chief. This tradition still influences Fijian society today, though less rigidly: there is more of a tendency nowadays towards primogeniture.
Each brother/sister in the family then formed his own branch of the yavusa, called the Mataqali. Each mataqali became the custodian of a specific task. A fully developed Yavusa has several mataqali:
- Turaga: This mataqali descends from the original ancestor through primogeniture - inheritance of the eldest son in each succeeding generation. The chief of a village is always chosen from the Turaga mataqali.
- Sau turaga: These are next in rank to the chiefs, support him, and enforce his commands and also have final say in the installation of a Chief
Mata ni vanua: These form the official heralds of the village. They are also in charge of ceremonial functions.
- Bete: This was the traditional priestly class. The kalou-vu was believed to speak through the Bete.
- Bati: This mataqali forms the traditional warrior class.
Dau (skill) and
Matai: these are the crafts people and specialized skilled people of the tribe e.g. Dau ni vucu (Poet/choreographer/composer), Dau ni yau (treasurer), Mataisau (carpenter/or Canoe builder)
The mataqali are subdivided into
Tokatoka, each comprising closely related families.
Several mataqali comprise a village, several of which form a yavusa or district. The British colonial rulers amalgamated the districts into
Yasana, or Provinces. The districts also form three
Matanitu, or Confederacies. These are often said to be agglomerations of provinces, but as the latter were a colonial imposition, the boundaries do not coincide exactly, and the Provinces of Tailevu, Ra, Naitasiri, Lomaiviti and parts of Yasawa and Ba makes the Kubuna Confederacy. This Confederacy in modern Fiji is considered to be the most senior. The other two are Burebasaga (covering the rest of Viti Levu), and Tovata, covering Vanua Levu, Lau archipelago and Rotuma. Despite its isolation and relatively small size, Tovata has been politically dominant since Fiji gained its independence in 1970.