There’s a famous saying that goes “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. It’s a saying that could apply anywhere in the world, not just Rome. It basically means adhering to the rules and laws of any particular country – of doing as they do.
It’s important to know the cultural rules and etiquette of any country and Fiji is no exception to the rule. Among indigenous Fijians etiquette is very important. Fijians are a very polite people. In Western culture, for example, when we want to attract someone’s attention or beg somebody’s pardon, we say excuse me. The Fijian word for this is tilou or tulou (pronounced teelow or toolow) – you can say either one – both are correct.
Here are where, when and how to use the word tilou: say tilou when reaching over or passing behind a person or overtaking a chief when on a single track; if your head is above everybody else, you are too high, so also say tulou before reaching for something above someone, in walking behind or by someone sitting down or in touching someone.
Another important thing to remember is that the head is considered to be a Fijian’s most sacred part and must never be touched. So what do you do if you want to touch, look or use something. It’s simple – ask the person’s permission.
Follow these instructions and you’ll be okay:
1. Ask the person’s permission
a. Au tara mada na (what you want to do, touch or handle)
b. Au lako mada yani (when you want to pass by)
c. Au tara mada na (part of the body) when you want to touch someone’s body – not the head.
2. Do what you want to do and say tulou or tilou.
Two other phrases worth remembering are “Au kerea mada” and “Vinaka Vakalevu.” Au (ow) means I, kerea means ask for and mada, a particle which follows verbs. Au kerea mada is the Fijian equivalent for please, you can use that or yalo vinaka. For example. Au kerea mada na suka – please pass the sugar. And so forth. Vinaka is our way of saying thank you, vinaka vaka levu meaning thank you very much.
When entering a village or wanting to use some area of village land – it’s good to ask permission to take pictures of the village or to use the surrounding areas – or most importantly the beach. In most cases, it is necessary to present a sevusevu (offering/gift) of yaqona (kava). And you also ask permission when leaving.