All about Fijian Masi or Barkcloth

All about Fijian masi or barkcloth

A popular art form in Fiji is the creation of the Fijian masi, also known as tapa cloth. The bark cloth commonly known as tapa was named by early explorers who derived the term from Tahiti, Samoa and Tonga where the word was used to refer to the white unpainted borders of the finished product. Masi is made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree (Broussonetia papyrifera). Masi can be used as a ceremonial dress, garments, wall décor, table mat or blanket.


How to create Fijian masi?

Making masi requires a lot of hard work. Fijian women strip the bark, soak it in water for a few days, and then beat the strips with a wooden mallet (ike) into sheets of varying thickness and size. Then the edges of the smaller pieces of cloth are overlapped and felted or glued until the masi is the desired size.

Once the cloth is prepared, designs are added using red, brown or black dye. In decorating barkcloth, Fijians employ a great variety of techniques to create elaborate patterns of motifs. The different kinds of masi include masi kesa (stencilled), masi kuvui (brown or smoked), seyavu (white or plain), and masi vakarerega (yellow). The different colours reflect a person’s rank in society, with white or brown masi used by thoe chiefs. The bold rectilinear patterns on the present work were produced through the use of stencils, traditionally made from banana leaves or other large-leaved plants. Nowadays, x-ray film appears to be a unique technique to Fiji.

In the Lau islands of eastern Fiji a Tongan-style rubbing technique using a tablet or rubbing board (kupeti) was also used on large sheets of cloth. The resulting cloth, (gatuvakatoga), was commonly used in chiefly ritual. 

Significance of the pattern or design

There is usually a story or meaning behind the pattern created, and many motifs are highly protected in Fiji. In villages, masi traditions and patterns are passed down through the generations. Artists who move out of their village often continue to make masi, bringing their traditions and patterns with them.

Fijians use the juice of the mangrove tree’s bark to create the paint or dye to decorate the masi. To make black paint, the soot of burned candlenut fruit is added to the mangrove juice. To make red or brown paint, red clay from the earth is added. Mangrove trees and candlenut trees grow in Fiji. The patterns and motifs are painted free-hand, stenciled, or stamped on to the masi with these natural dyes.

Fijian artists make masi using materials they have on hand and inspiration from their natural environment. Since Fiji is made up of hundreds of islands, shells, the sea, or the native plants are common motifs. 

What’s masi used for?

In the past, Fijian masi was used for men’s clothing, bedding, house partitions and mosquito curtains. Fijians display and present them as ceremonial gifts during important ceremonies such as weddings, births and funerals. Some masi kesa are so huge that it requires many people to carry and present them in a ritual procession. After receiving the cloth, the ranking chief orders it to be cut into smaller pieces to be distributed to different individuals, who preserve them. 

Traditionally, masi was also worn for ceremonial purposes by the Chiefs of the different villages. Masi is still used within the home as a blanket or mattress, and the accumulation of masi is seen as a sign of wealth. Masi was also presented to dignitaries during special functions or celebrations. In the Kingdom of Tonga, the King often walks on masi carpets during official ceremonies. 


All about the famous kava and yaqona in Fiji

All about the famous Kava and Yaqona in Fiji

Kava, locally known as yaqona or grog, is an integral part of Fijian culture. It is consumed ritually when welcoming visitors, sending village members on journeys, christening boats, laying the foundations of homes, casting magical spells, making deals, settling arguments and, as is usually the case, chatting.

Kava is traditionally served as a part of a ceremonial atmosphere, most commonly in welcoming guests into a village and on important occasions. When visiting Fiji, you will find yourself taking part in plenty of kava ceremonies, especially when you visit any traditional villages. It is customary to present a gift of Yaqona (kava root) to the village head as a long-held tradition in Fiji.


History of kava

Traditionally, Pacific Islanders crushed, chewed and ground the root and stump of the shrub, then soaked it in cold water to produce a drink for ceremonies and cultural practices. These rituals were said to strengthen ties among groups, reaffirm status and help people communicate with spirits

Many Pacific Islanders who have settled in Australia have continued drinking kava or using kava extracts.

What is kava or yaqona?

Kava is a drug made from the ground roots of the plant Piper methysticum, a member of the pepper family that also includes black pepper. It is a native plant found in the South Pacific.

Kava can be taken as a drink or as a supplement or extract. The drink is made from the crushed root of the yoqana (pronounced yang-go-na) plant. Legend has it that kava was the drink of choice for the kings and queens of many countries in the Pacific Islands. The kava is often used for sedative, hypnotic and muscle-relaxant effects. When drunk, it creates a sense of calm, numbness and relaxation for the drinker. 

How to receive kava in a kava ceremony?

Your host will offer kava as high tide (full cup) or low tide (half cup). When presented with the kava, clap once and yell ‘Bula!’ (Fijian for hello). Drink the kava in one gulp if possible, clap three more times and end with the word Maca – pronounced ‘Ma-tha’.

Kava ceremony etiquette

You are expected to dress modestly and respectfully when participating in a kava ceremony. It is also a tradition to present the village chief with a kava root, which you can find at any Fijian market. 

Guests will sit in a circle around a communicable kava tanoa (bowl) which is placed in front of the chief. The ceremony commences with the actual production of the kava. 



Delve deeper into Fijian culture with local experiences

Delve deeper into Fijian culture with local experiences

Participating in a kava ceremony — a traditional custom where you and a Fijian village leader sit in a circle around a big wooden tanoa bowl — is considered the ultimate cultural activity in Fiji. But not many tourists know that there are other exciting ways to get to know the South Pacific country. In this list, we narrowed down four of the must-try customs you could do to dive deeper into Fiji’s history and culture:

1.  Lifestyle: Navala Village

Fancy visiting a 200-year-old settlement and getting awe-inspired by its thatched-roof abodes? Navala Village keeps traditional Fijian living alive, as it doesn’t only keep the time-honoured architectural design. Still, it’s also home to more than a thousand local inhabitants who welcome tourists warmly into their community. Don’t forget to bring your camera to immortalise the surroundings and take snapshots of you interacting with locals. 


2. Spiritual: Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple


Fancy visiting a 200-year-old settlement and getting awe-inspired by its thatched-roof abodes? Navala Village keeps traditional Fijian living alive, as it doesn’t only keep the time-honoured architectural design. Still, it’s also home to more than a thousand local inhabitants who welcome tourists warmly into their community. Don’t forget to bring your camera to immortalise the surroundings and take snapshots of you interacting with locals. 

3. Gastronomic: The Lovo Feast

For those who don’t know what the traditional Fijian meal lovo is made of: it consists of chicken, fish, pork, taro, yams, and cassava. Then, they’re wrapped in banana leaves and thrown onto the hot stones from largest to smallest in an underground oven. The lovo is next covered with more banana leaves, coconut stalks, and burlap sacks, where they’re cooked for another two hours. Needless to say, a lot of effort and time are put into this meal, and it’s worth devouring over and over again.

  1. Rituals: Kava Ceremony

One of the most important and popular cultural rituals in Fiji is the kava drinking ceremony. Sometimes referred to as Yakoqa, it’s a feature of pretty much every village you visit and resort you stay at.


The ritual involves sitting in a circle around a large bowl (kava tanoa) which is placed in front of the leader. Once prepared, the drink is served to each member of the group one at a time, either at high tide (full cup) or low tide (half cup). However, remember to dress modestly if you’re visiting a traditional Fijian village. It’s recommended that you bring a kava root from any of the local markets to offer to the village chief as a form of respect. 


The art of basket weaving (tali kato) in Fiji

The art of basket weaving (tali kato) in Fiji

Tali kato is the art of weaving traditional baskets in Fiji. The island of Fulaga in Lau, the most southern group of islands of Fiji, is a renowned place for finely woven kato. This ancient craft has been passed down through generations of women and is still actively practised on the mainland of Viti Levu by Fulaga descendants.

A variety of pandanus leaves are used for talitali (weaving). The processing of the leaves determines the natural shades of tan, with some leaves dyed black and dark brown with mangrove earth pigment to achieve a dramatic pattern against the pale natural pandanus.

The intricacy of forming patterns applied during tali kato, and its seamless form requires a high level of skill and precision in measurements for the fine design application that Fulaga is well known for. Fijian woven baskets share common characteristics, and black and dark brown fibres are integrated into the weave. Characteristic motifs include the pinwheel and a variety of star shapes set into the central design.

There are many different types of woven baskets that are specific to different uses and are still used for day-to-day activities such as fishing, collecting crops and serving food. Kato (basket) for personal uses display more elaborate and fine weaving techniques today.

There are different types of woven baskets in Fiji that are specific to different uses and are still used for day to day activities such as fishing.Noke or kato ni ika is a basket used by fisherwomen, in Fiji to carry fish and other items whilst fishing. This particular basket is woven from coconut palm leaf and magimagi (coconut sinnet) is used as its handle. 

Currently, there are less than 100 weavers in Fiji preserving this traditional craft. Some of the popular items in Fiji made using tali kato include jewellery boxes and gadget cases. 


Bula Fiji