Veiqia: A Lost Tra­di­tion

a lost tra­di­tion

mailife - - Contents - By MELA TUILEVUKA Images by SANGEETA SINGH

Our de­pen­dence of our oral tra­di­tions means that over time things not doc­u­mented ei­ther change or are lost. To­day there are still cer­tain as­pects of our cul­ture and tra­di­tion that we do not know about. The fact that tat­too­ing was very com­mon with women in Fiji more than 150 years ago caught many by sur­prise when cover­ing the Veiqia Project – a re­search project in­spired by the prac­tice of Fi­jian fe­male tat­too­ing at the Fiji Mu­seum. The word Veiqia it­self was new to many who at­tended the project launch and I was cu­ri­ous to find out more. Af­ter some re­search I was sur­prised to find the word Veiqia refers to the tra­di­tional art form of tat­too­ing meant for iTaukei women and prac­ticed in the 1800’s – and I was un­der the im­pres­sion that tat­too­ing was not com­mon in Fiji un­like our Pa­cific neigh­bours Samoa and Tonga. The word tat­too is de­rived from the Samoan word tatau – which means to strike in. Malu is a word in the Samoan lan­guage for a fe­male-spe­cific tat­too of cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance. The malu cov­ers the legs from just be­low the knee to the up­per thighs just be­low the but­tocks, and is typ­i­cally finer and del­i­cate in de­sign com­pared to the pe’a which is the equiv­a­lent tat­too for males. The malu takes its name from a par­tic­u­lar mo­tif of the same name, usu­ally tat­tooed in the popliteal fossa (some­times re­ferred to as the kneepit or poplit) be­hind the knee. It is one of the key mo­tifs not seen on men. Ac­cord­ing to Samoan scholar Al­bert Wendt and tat­tooist Su’a Su­lu­ape Paulo II, in tat­too­ing the term ‘malu’ refers to no­tions of shel­ter­ing and pro­tec­tion. Samoan women were also tat­tooed on the hands and some­times the lower ab­domen. These prac­tices have un­der­gone a resur­gence since the late 1990s. In Fiji, how­ever, the prac­tice of Fi­jian fe­male tat­too­ing dates back to the 1800s but was lost fol­low­ing the ar­rival of mis­sion­ar­ies and has been some­thing of a taboo sub­ject for many years. It is also un­der­stood that it was cus­tom­ary for iTaukei women to be tat­tooed be­fore mar­riage or it was done to sig­nify the rite of pas­sage to pu­berty for young girls – sim­i­lar to the prac­tice of cir­cum­ci­sion for men, but this cus­tom seemed to have faded out a hun­dred years ago. Veiqia was orig­i­nally prac­ticed only in the royal clan of Bau, but this spread to Nadroga and down the coast to Suva and Rewa. Leg­end has it that some Samoans vis­ited Fiji and no­ticed that women had tat­toos and took the idea back to their is­lands. A chant was made about women be­ing tat­tooed but the chant was changed along the way that in Samoa the men be­came tat­tooed. One of the blog­gers on the Babasiga Blog page stated that the last fe­male to be tat­tooed in Fiji was the daugh­ter of Ratu Ki­lak­ila from So­mo­somo in Tave­uni way back in the 1800’s. She was tat­tooed be­fore shes was taken to Tubou, Lakeba in Lau to be the wife of Taliai Tupou who was the brother of Roko Malani of the Vuanirewa clan. The art of Veiqia is pretty much ex­tinct to­day and it is

be­lieved that due to Chris­tian­ity and the ar­rival of the early voy­agers who upon land­ing no­ticed our cus­toms and thought it bar­baric. The Veiqia Project launched to co­in­cide with In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day cel­e­bra­tions. Min­is­ter for Women, Chil­dren and Poverty Al­le­vi­a­tion Mere­seini Vu­ni­waqa who launched the project stated the rea­son why this tra­di­tional art is even more im­por­tant to cel­e­brate is be­cause in Fiji, women were the tat­too artists other­wise known as daubati. Shar­ing some of her cul­tural knowl­edge, Vu­ni­waqa said that the daubati have been de­scribed as hered­i­tary priest­esses. “Girls were tat­tooed at pu­berty, the cer­e­mony ini­ti­ated them as women and sig­ni­fied their el­i­gi­bil­ity for mar­riage.” “The art of veiqia is a sym­bolic ev­i­dence of the strength, re­silience, re­source­ful­ness and cre­ativ­ity of women.” Vu­ni­waqa said tra­di­tional knowl­edge, ver­nac­u­lar and folk­lore to­gether make up our unique cul­ture and tra­di­tions which have in some in­stances lost their rel­e­vance in mod­ern day set­tings. “It is ex­hi­bi­tions like these which in some way con­trib­ute to the re­vival of those tra­di­tions and cul­tures which are so im­por­tant in iden­ti­fy­ing where we come from as an in­di­vid­ual. And therein lies an­other im­por­tant role of woman as a cus­to­dian of tra­di­tional knowl­edge and art.” Vu­ni­waqa said that through the project, women artists are be­ing em­pow­ered to not only con­trib­ute to the re­vival of tra­di­tional knowl­edge and art but also to use their art as a means of im­prov­ing their liveli­hoods and those of their fam­i­lies. “I must there­fore con­grat­u­late the Veiqia Project and the Fiji Mu­seum, to­gether with all col­lab­o­rat­ing artists for this ini­tia­tive of bring­ing back into fo­cus the tra­di­tional art of tat­too­ing in Fiji.” The project is a cre­ative re­search in­spired by the prac­tice of Fi­jian fe­male tat­too­ing. In 2015 five con­tem­po­rary Fi­jian women artists were en­gaged in Aus­tralia and New Zealand to par­tic­i­pate in shared re­search ac­tiv­i­ties and mu­seum vis­its. Through a shared on­line fo­rum and time spent with Fi­jian Col­lec­tions at mu­se­ums in Fiji, New Zealand and the United King­dom, the artists have gen­er­ated and in­dige­nous re­search ar­chive driven by per­sonal, artis­tic and re­la­tional con­nec­tions. The Veiqia Project Ex­hi­bi­tion cu­rated by Tarisi SoroviVu­ni­dilo and Ema Tavola took place in Auck­land, New Zealand in March last year for the Auck­land Arts Fes­ti­val and co­in­cided with the Pa­cific Arts As­so­ci­a­tion XII In­ter­na­tional Sym­po­sium. Artists are col­lab­o­rat­ing with Fiji-based artists to pro­duce new work to be in­cluded in the 3-month ex­hi­bi­tion at the Fiji Mu­seum. Artists are: Mar­garet Aull, Se­lai Buasala, Mereula Buliru­arua, El­iz­a­beth Ed­wards, Donita Hulme, Kata­rina Le­sumai, Joana Mono­lagi, Dul­cie Ste­wart, Laurel Ste­wart, Luisa Tora, and VOU Dance Fiji.

Ba­tiniqia or tat­too tool

Cu­ra­tor Tarisi Sorovi-Vu­ni­dilo with artists Mereula Buliru­arua and Donita Hulme look­ing at ba­tiniqia (tat­too­ing tools) from the Fiji Mu­seum’s Col­lec­tion

Veiqia Project Cu­ra­tor Ms Tarisi Sorovi-Vu­ni­dilo and Min­is­ter for Women, Mrs Mere­seini Vu­ni­waqa at the launch­ing of the Veiqia Project

An an­cient art re­vived

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Fiji

© PressReader. All rights reserved.