Visiting Fijian heritage artist share their knowledge and skills
4 Apr 2018
Five senior iTaukei (Indigenous Fijian) artists visited New Zealand as part of this year’s cultural and artistic exchange.
The artists specialise in iTaukei Daunivucu (composition, chanting & choreography), Meke (traditional Fijian dance) and Vakaiukuuku (iTaukei costume design), Mataisau (Carving), Masi (Fijian tapa making) and Sokotaka (Navigation).
These iTaukei artists are considered ‘Living Human Treasures’ in Fiji.
Over 14-19 March the artists shared their skills and traditional knowledge in Wellington and Auckland through workshops, demonstrations and talks, including featuring at the Pacific Arts Summit.
Auckland Libraries hosted the artists in a free public programme and the delegation also visited Te Papa, Auckland Museum and Alexander Turnbull Library as part of exchanging cultural knowledge.
The visiting iTauikei artists were:
- Ratu Meli Bulitogalevu (Navunievu village, Bua) – Daunivucu (Master Chanter/Choreographer). Video of performance at Te Papa. (32 seconds)
- Inise Eremasi (Dravuwalu, Naceva, Kadavu) – Meke Seasea (Dancer/Choreographer of Fijian women’s dance) and costume designer
- Akanisi Mocesaya (Korotulu, Moce Island, Lau) – Masi (Fijian Tapa Maker)
- Setareki Laveti (Fulaga island, Lau) – Mataisau (Master Carver); voyager of the Drua (Double Hull canoe)
- Angelo Smith (Serua, Viti Levu) – Soko Ni Drua (Master Navigator/captain of double hull canoe)
The iTaukei artists were hosted through Creative New Zealand’s international Pasifika cultural and artistic exchange programme. The initiative is designed to support an exchange of ideas and knowledge between visiting Pacific heritage artists and New Zealand Pacific arts practitioners, as well as support Pacific communities to preserve, develop and transmit their customary artistic practices.
The 2018 cultural exchange programme was delivered in partnership with Auckland Libraries, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, iTaukei Institute of Language & Culture: Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, Fiji Arts Council and Uto ni Yalo Trust.
The artist liaison for this year’s programme was Fijian poet and artist Daren Kamali, who is also the Senior Curator Pacific at Auckland Libraries.
“It is a great honour to be involved in this exchange of iTaukei Fijian Heritage artists to New Zealand,” says Daren.
“As a Fiji born contemporary poet/artist I have always drawn from inspirations of Fijian Heritage arts like Daunivucu (master chanting) and Masi designs to incorporate into my creations, even with the use of bilingual performances. It is important that our Heritage artists get the rightful acknowledgement that not only they create and express, but that is passed down through generations.
It feels humbling and uplifting to be able to give back to Fiji and its people through this exchange. Vinaka vaka levu to Creative New Zealand and Auckland Libraries for making this possible.”
The cultural and artistic exchange programme has previously brought master heritage artists from Samoa, Tonga, Niue, the Cook Islands and Tokelau to Aotearoa to help maintain and continue the transmission of Pasifika traditional cultural knowledge.
Fijian heritage artists' bio information
Ratu Meli Bulitogalevu – Daunivucu (Master Chanter/Choreographer)
Navunievu village, Bua
Ratu Meli is the Ka Levu or Kaumatua of the group of visiting iTaukei artists.
He has been practicing Daunivucu since 1978, and began composing and choreographing Meke in different parts of Vanua Levu for traditional, contemporary, Christian and childrens groups.
His meke lyrics are sung by the famous Black Rose of Nadi. He has composed and choreographed nearly 20 meke through a gift given by two ladies of ‘Naicobocobo’ – a place where spirits of those who have passed on dwell.
Chants come to him naturally and he sees movement for men and women dancers.
Inise Eremasi – Meke Seasea (Dancer/Choreographer of Fijian women’s dance) and costume designer
Dravuwalu village, Naceva, Kadavu
Inise Eremasi hails from the village of Dravuwalu in the district of Naceva on the beautiful island of Kadavu, known as “small New Zealand” in Fiji.
She has been practising for 20 years. Her passion is in learning and performing traditional meke, and alongside this, the hunger to learn an art form that beautifies and decorates the intricate and vibrant movements of a meke.
She is a member of the Dolce Sounds Dulali group, which was formed four years ago to safeguard, conserve and promote the Fijian culture in dance and folksongs. They perform traditional meke and also sing choral numbers (hymns and anthems) and folksongs. She sings mezzo-soprano and contralto.
Apart from being a performing artist, she is also in charge of the group’s meke costumes, where she looks after making and creating new costumes, exploring ideas of how to fully authenticate Fijian costumes overseas and not contemporise it. The use of natural fibres and materials, and ways of attaining these costumes without any use of artificial methods, is their primary focus.
Akanisi Mocesaya – Masi (Fijian Tapa Maker)
Korotulu village, Moce Island (Lau)
Akanisi Mocesaya hails from the village of Korotulu in Moce Island in the Lau Group. She has been practicing her art form for over 30 years.
The village of Korotolu is renowned in the Lau Group as one of the villages that is talented in the skills of masi making, with knowledge transferred from generation to generation. All her sisters were taught by her mother from a very young age. At 12 years old she left school and began to learn the skills, now earning an income from masi making.
She has been a member of the Fiji Crafts Society since 2002 and has been awarded various prizes in most Craft Competitions organised by the Fiji Arts Council, included the Traditional Craftsperson of the Year in 2013. She has also represented Fiji in the Festival of Pacific Arts held in Solomon Islands in 2012.
Setareki Laveti – Mataisau (Master Carver); voyager of the Drua (Double Hull canoe)
Fulaga island, Lau
Setareki Laveti has over 20 years of experience as a carver and over 10 years as a master carver, with interest in sculptures.
In that time he has produced carvings for commercial entities, resorts, individuals and on board traditional vessels from Fiji, Cook Islands, New Zealand and Vanuatu.
In terms of voyaging, he has been a regular crewmember on the Uto ni Yalo since 2010 with over 80,000 kms of sailing experience visiting 13 countries around the vast Pacific Ocean. During these visits he has shared his carving skills extensively with the indigenous people he meets.
He is currently a core crew member on the vaka Uto ni Yalo; they are focused on community work in the rural island communities around Fiji, particularly in terms of marine conservation awareness.
Angelo Smith – Soko Ni Drua (Master Navigator/captain of double hull canoe)
Serua, Viti Levu
Angelo Smith has been practicing navigation for 10 years.
He is a Waka/Vaka Captain, Royal Yachting Association (RYA) sail instructor, RYA Offshore Yachtmaster and youth worker.
He has been First Officer of the Waka Hinemoana since 2016. This role includes community awareness sails, youth training programmes and team building sail programmes.
In 2015 he Captained the vaka Uto ni Yalo on a voyage from Fiji to Vanuatu to Bouganville to Solomon Islands to Aotearoa to Fiji, for Wellington Chocolate Factory. The voyage marked the first sustainably shipped cocoa beans from Bouganville to Wellington.
In 2014 he Captained Uto ni Yalo on the MUA voyage for IUCN World Parks Congress (global forum on protected areas), traveling from Fiji to Vanuatu to Australia to Aotearoa, returning to Fiji.
Over 2013 to 2014 he Captained Waka Okeanos for a Sustainable Sea Transport project through the south and north Pacific (Fiji to Palau, Vanuatu, Solomons). The project included Cyclone Pam relief work, shipping food and supplies throughout Vanuatu.
He was part of the crew on Uto ni Yalo on Te Mana O Te Moana Voyage in 2011-2012.