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He wants to keep meke alive

Shalveen Chand
Sunday, April 10, 2016

WHAT is a meke?

Music is woven into the fabric of Fiji and the meke embraces traditional song and dance to tell of legends, love stories, history and spirits of the islands. It can vary from a blood-curdling spear dance to a gentle and graceful fan dance.

This has been the way stories of the past have been preserved and in some places in Fiji, the traditional meke of certain areas are slowly dying because of infrequent use.

In 2013, members of the VOU Dance Group embarked on a project called the Mataqali Drift where they travelled to their villages and looked for their traditional meke.

VOU's lead man Edward Soro embarked on a journey that took him to Nakasaleka in Kadavu where he hoped to learn the different meke of his clan.

"It was an eye-opening experience from me as I found out that the meke common to the village had not been practised in a while," Mr Soro said.

"The daunivucu told me that because there had no major traditional function for a long time, the meke had not been performed and if they were to do one, they would need to borrow from the neighbouring village.

"The knowledge is there but the lack of performance means that it is not being practised on a daily basis."

Soro will graduate with postgraduate qualifications from University of Auckland in New Zealand.

"As part of my thesis, I also dug deep into how meke could be preserved and how it can be taught to our children," he said.

"We have had talks with the Ministry of Education on how we could explore this. They have asked us to send our curriculum and teaching methods and we have done that.

"What we are saying is to make the teaching of meke or traditional dances fun. These are children we are proposing to teach in schools and if it is not fun for them, they would become disinterested."

Mr Soro said other members also took up the Mataqali Drift and found that in their villages in Bua, Ra and Namosi, a similar situation existed where there had been no practise of the meke.

"I think only those villages involved in the tourism industry as performers are keeping the meke alive because for them it is earning a living," Mr Soro said.

"For us, we want to know our origins and learn about our culture and incorporate it with the contemporary dance to ensure that we carry on the essence from thereon.

"In that way we would also be carrying in our dances, the messages and stories of our ancestors. On a personal note, the meke should be practised more often in order for us to preserve what our ancestors gave us."

Soro said Fiji had to avoid a situation like Guam where the people had long forgotten parts of their culture.

He said VOU would be performing at the Pacific Arts Festival in Guam in May and they had learnt that Guam's dances were actually borrowed from other islands.

"Our tradition is our identity," he said.

Soro hopes he will be able to preserve the traditional dances. He added the National Arts Council had videos of the old meke and hoped that these could be shared as well.

Soro took up dancing after he injured his knee in a rugby match in 2003. He took up dancing as a means of recovery and fitness but got hooked on it and is now a very successful professional dancer.

"I finished university with a degree in banking and management. I worked for a local bank for almost over a year before taking up dancing on a full-time basis," he said.

"I have no regrets and I am more successful as a dancer. I have found love and I am settled and I owe it to dancing."

Soro is a strong advocate in keeping tradition and culture alive and hopes more thought is put into this so Fiji is able to preserve and continue using the gifts from its ancestors.








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