Nawaka Meke Group Keeps Cul­ture Alive

mailife - - Contents - By MELA KATONIVUALIKU Pho­tos ANDY PAUL

WITH the tides of change creep­ing in slowly and mod­ern­iza­tion tak­ing over, the essence of Fiji cul­ture and tra­di­tion is un­der threat. Some vil­lages and com­mu­ni­ties are strug­gling to keep in­tact what iden­ti­fies Fiji from the rest of the world by keep­ing tra­di­tional dances known as meke and songs known as vucu alive. Meke is a Fi­jian com­mu­nal dance which com­bines danc­ing, singing, chant­ing, clap­ping and beat­ing of bam­boo drums the derua. But meke is much more than a dance – it is a medium of sto­ry­telling in song and move­ment de­pict­ing im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal events, tra­di­tional tales, leg­ends and el­e­ments of cul­ture to be handed down from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. In ear­lier days, meke were per­formed in vil­lage set­tings for spe­cial oc­ca­sions – typ­i­cally for vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries. To­day the tra­di­tional dance has evolved into shorter forms, mak­ing them more ac­ces­si­ble to tourists and other vis­i­tors for both en­ter­tain­ment and ed­u­ca­tion. Dur­ing a visit to Nawaka in Nadi last March, the vil­lage was un­usu­ally quiet and all the women were gone. Lit­tle did we know they were all in the vil­lage hall get­ting ready to en­ter­tain a bus load of tourists who had cho­sen Nawaka as a stopover. Part of the en­ter­tain­ment group is 56-year-old Nanise Turaga, who has been per­form­ing with the group for the past 30 years. She said she likes noth­ing bet­ter than see­ing tourists light up with a smile when they per­form. The Ra vil­lager was born in Nawaka, her mother’s vil­lage, and finds her fun in life be­ing part of the Nawaka En­ter­tain­ment Group. She be­gan her as­so­ci­a­tion with the group in 1974 and is one of the long­est serv­ing mem­bers. “I started off when I was in Class 8 with the late Mr Iliaseri Nakoro, the group founder,” Turaga said. Her start with the group in­volved ex­plain­ing to tourists what the lyrics of the meke meant and what sort of meke was

be­ing per­formed. “The for­ma­tion of this group, which used to be known as Ceva Kei Koroba, in the early 1960s was a dream come true for the late Mr Nakoro.” Nawaka vil­lage has long been a stop­ping point for cruise ship tourists whose pro­grams in­volve vil­lage vis­its. It was Mr Nakoro’s dream that a meke group be es­tab­lished by the Nawaka vil­lagers of to show their cul­ture and tra­di­tion and gen­er­ate in­come from it. His vi­sion has come a long way, with the group also re­leas­ing an al­bum of pop­u­lar Fi­jian songs and some meke lyrics which can be heard on board any Fiji Air­ways flight. “Per­form­ing for vil­lage group tours and ma­jor ho­tels here in Nadi is our main source of in­come,” Turaga said. “It may not seem much, but it is some­thing to help me get by.” The 40-mem­ber group of men, women and youths per­form dif­fer­ent types of Fi­jian meke in­clud­ing seasea, meke iri, meke wesi and meke i wau and also sing a few pop­u­lar Fi­jian num­bers. Nawaka wel­fare of­fi­cer Iliesa Savai said young chil­dren of the vil­lage were es­x­tremely lucky to watch the meke per­for­mances a vil­lage tour was sched­uled. “Times are chang­ing and our cul­ture and tra­di­tion erod­ing slowly with it,” Savai said. “We are for­tu­nate to be able to per­form our cul­tural dances for tourists as it not only gen­er­ates in­come but most im­por­tantly, we are keep­ing cul­ture and tra­di­tion alive.” He said Nokoro’s vi­sion for the group more than 40 years ago was still very suc­cess­ful to­day. “If only Mr Nokoro could see us to­day and how far his vi­sion has ben­e­fit­ted us vil­lagers in terms of in­come gen­er­a­tion and pre­serv­ing our cul­ture, am sure he would be happy.” Savai said a few mem­bers of the group were cho­sen to travel with of­fi­cials from the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Her­itage to per­form in Korea, China and the United King­dom. They have also been in­vited by top busi­ness houses to per­form at prod­uct launches, birth­days, an­niver­saries and pri­vate func­tions, it per­forms at large re­sorts such as the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal and has sched­uled per­for­mances at the Hil­ton Re­sort and Spar ev­ery Satur­day night.

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