The Fiji Museum - Virtual Museum

Old Religion

The essence of Fiji’s old religion lay in ancestor worship, whereby the spirits of memorable ancestors were deified as the kalou (god) of the various clans. Thus, the hero became a war god, the great gardener a god of plenty and so on. Most remote were the kalou vu – the founder ancestors from which members of the hereditary social group traced their common descent and relationship. Each significant god or ancestor spirit was worshipped in its own exclusive bure kalou (spirithouse), erected by its descendants and served by its own line of hereditary bete (priests).

Practices would have varied throughout Fiji and over time but in the early 1800s it is thought that the day normally began with a yaqona offering to a god by its bete, chiefs and principal male devotees. Absolute silence reigned in the vicinity of the bure kalou, as prayers were offered and yaqona, an infusion prepared from the scraped narcotic root of Piper methysticum, was drunk in the ancient burau fashion. The bete knelt to suck the liquid from a leaf-lined hole in the floor, an earthenware bowl, or a dish carved from the sacred vesi (Intsia bijuga) wood. Each god or goddess spoke to its descendants through the medium of a possessed priest and entered into relics kept in the holiest part of the bure kalou. Offerings to a god normally consisted of food and goods, very often accompanied by yaqona roots for the possessed bete’s ritual.