Today and every day we celebrate our female ancestors. On International Women’s Day we launched Veiqia: na iVolavosa Vakaviti.
This year is the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages, a fantastic opportunity for us to celebrate our tattooing history. Through language people preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression.
Throughout the year we’ll be sharing Fijian words associated with veiqia. We hope these word lists will help raise awareness, revive, and document our history.
In Fiji, women were the tattoo artists (daubati) and recipients of revered qia (tattoo). Girls were tattooed at puberty; the ceremony initiated them as women and signified their eligibility for marriage.
In Ra, Adi Vilaiwasa, the daughter of Degei, was the first woman to be tattooed. She was tattooed in a cave below the sacred summit of the Nakauvadra mountain range in the valley of the upper Wainibuka River in Ra. In 1886 the cave was still used to tattoo women.
The Kauvandra Mountains (Photo-relief plates of watercolour paintings by Constance Gordon-Cumming from C.F.Gordon Cumming: At Home in Fiji, Edinburgh, Blackwood, 1888. Retrived from http://www.justpacific.com/fiji/engravings/gordon-cumming/athome/index.html).
The daubati (tattooist) painted guidelines on each girl’s body before tapping the desired weniqia (patterns) into the flesh using iqia (tattooing tool) dipped in soot. Tools included pigment typically made from dakua gum soot mixed with a little water, damp barkcloth rugs to wipe up the blood, beater sticks, and tattooing picks, each consisting of gasau reed or duruka cane handle with bone or thorn teeth set at one end at right angles to the shaft. Bone blades were typically cut into sawtoothed edge.
The pigments, which imparted a dark blue pattern under the skin, consisted of soot mixed with oil. For chiefly girls the soot was obtained by charring shelled lauci or sikeci candlenuts over a fire, catching the sooty smoke in an overturned pot, the nuts being strung on a sasa coconut leaf midrib for the purpose. The soot was then scraped free and mixed with candlenut oil. For commoners the soot was generally that obtained by burning the makadre resin from the dakua tree. In some hill districts dye was obtained from the gumu tree.
Brewster, A. B. (1922). The hill tribes of Fiji. Philadelphia: Lippincott. Retrieved from Internet Archive https://archive.org/details/hilltribesoffiji00brew
Hazlewood, David (1872). A Fijian and English and an English and Fijian dictionary : and grammar of the language with examples of native idioms (2nd ed). Sampson Low, London. Retrieved from Internet Archive https://archive.org/details/fijianenglishan00hazl/
Ravuvu, Asesela & Tabana ni Vosa kei na Itovo Vakaviti (2005). Na ivolavosa Vakaviti. Tabana ni Vosa kei na Itovo Vakaviti, Tabacakacaka Itaukei, Itovo kei na Iyau Vakamareqeti, Suva.