Nawaka Meke Group Keeps Culture Alive
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.