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The tabua in Fijian culture - Part 6 -

Sikeli Qounadovu
Sunday, September 10, 2017

The information below is sourced from the Fiji Museum and the iTaukei Trust Fund Board.


Smoked tabua, or presentation sperm whale tooth. "Red" tabua, smoked by the Tongans, were the most highly-prized whale's teeth, valued for their rich patina. This fades with exposure to light, but was preserved by storing the oiled tabua wrapped in bark cloth in a dark place. Often wrongly thought to result from great age and constant handling, or from repeated rubbing with turmeric, the patina in fact was obtained by smoking the tooth in exactly the same way as in masi kuvui or smoked bark cloth production. Highly polished whale teeth — or other ivory artefacts — were dipped in coconut oil and then hung in a little stick tepee tented in with bark cloth. A smouldering fire at the bottom of the tepee was fed with slivers of sugar cane or the sugary masawe (Cordyline teminalis) tuber, emitting a thick brown smoke which stained the oily surface of the ivory a rich orange or reddish brown, so that the finest examples looked at first glance to be carved from highly polished, beautifully grained wood.


The wooden funeral tabua of a chief of Nalawa, north-eastern Viti Levu. A tabua was, like a war club or musket, meant to accompany the corpse of a man in the grave, both tooth and weapon playing vital roles on the hazardous trek of his spirit to the afterworld. The club or musket was buried that its essence might accompany the ghost and defend him in his fight against a literally soul-destroying demon.

The tabua was needed as his "stone" to cast at a spiritual balawa or pandanus tree, a hit by this token ensuring that his wives would be strangled and buried with him that their soul might follow to care for his spirit in the afterworld.

Omission of the tabua meant his women would not follow leaving his ghost in lonely limbo. In some cases a wooden tabua was used instead of an ivory one, this apparently being sufficient to beguile the demon guardians of the spirit path.

Qalovi — tabua presented to traditionally welcome someone.

Serenidali — tabua or kava presented by the chief to the leader of the fisherfolk clan when a turtle is brought to the chiefly residence.

Soli ni yaca — a tabua presented by someone requesting for a namesake to the father of a newborn child. Also known as kerei ni yaca, vakatoka ni yaca.

Tagi valu — tabua presented by a party that's requesting for alliances in battle. Also known as duguivalu and kereivalu.

Tarai ni magiti — a tabua that's presented in reciprocation of food that was presented during a traditional function.

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