Bau - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. In traditional times, religious belief centered on the deified founders of clans, frequently worshipped in animal form. In addition, each group had its own set of animal and plant totems, deemed to be inhabited by ancestral spirits. The missionaries succeeded in driving ancient beliefs underground, but they surfaced several times at the end of the nineteenth century, usually in the form of atavistic cults as vehicles for anticolonial opposition. Today, Methodism claims the support of most Fijians, although there is an important Roman Catholic minority.

Religious Practitioners. Traditionally, priests formed hereditary clans, exercising important divinatory and healing roles and acting as the voice of the ancestral gods.

Ceremonies. These were mainly associated with life cycles and with intergroup relationships. In ancient times, there was a ceremony of first fruits, when the various tributaries of Bau brought offerings of food to the Rokotui Bau and later to the Vunivalu, these usually being in the form of delicacies for which particular groups were well known. This ceremony was conducted according to the traditional calendar.

Arts. Singing and chanting, dancing, and joke telling were the traditional arts. The sexes never danced together and had quite different dances. Both danced standing and sitting. The women used delicate hand movements, while the men often danced with fan and spear or club, or with sticks.

Medicine. Disease was understood as deriving from malevolence of the spirits, particularly after the violation of taboos. Women collected and compounded herbal cures, while men applied them—a reflection of the belief that men possessed heavenly power (mana) whereas the strength of women came from the earth. Massage was also an important healing technique, but women massaged only women, and men only men.

Death and Afterlife. The ceremony associated with death was extremely elaborate, particularly when the status of the deceased was high, reflecting its importance in traditional belief. Tributary groups would come to pay homage to the corpse and to the bereaved family, cementing ties in the process. After the burial of a high chief, a taboo was laid on the waters around Bau, and the women, having kept vigil over the corpse for four to ten days, would cut their hair; only after 100 nights of mourning would the taboos be lifted. Wives were strangled to go with their husbands into the spirit world, for on the way lurked Ravuyalo, who killed the spirits of those who failed to accompany their spouses. The unmarried were buried with a club for their own defense.

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