iQia, Qaraniqia, Qisa – for almost 100 years these words have not been spoken. In 2015 at The Veiqia Project’s first panel discussion in Suva, a woman in her 70’s commented that she had never heard of veiqia and wondered “ what else have we lost”?

We didn’t just lose the initiation of young girls into women hood, we lost rituals associated with it, like receiving their first liku (a woven skirt made from natural fibres), the making of liku, songs, dance,and language.

Through language people preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression.

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.

QIA tattoo
VEIQIA tattooing
QIALAKA to tattoo
VEIQIALAKI to continue the tattooing process
DAUBATIDAUVEIQIADAUVEISAU OR MATAINIQIA the person who tattoos. Daubati (bati (tooth) referring to the tattooing tool) have been described as hereditary priestesses
QÁRANIQIA the cave where the tattooing takes place, sometimes in the forest or a remote place
SAMUQAWE modern synonym of qia. This is more applied to men, where black tattooed writings are applied to the body usually on the hand, arm or upper torso
SAUCA to prick, as in tattooing for leprosy but qia implies to paint as well; and this constitutes the difference between sauca and qia.

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


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.

iQia (Collected between 1875 to 1877 by Anatole Von Hügel. University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Z 2783.8)
IQIA, BATINIVEIQIA, BATINISAU, KAUNIVEIQIA, OR SAUNIQIA tattooing tool. Batniveiqia refers to the sharp serrated part of the tattooing tool. Barracuda or shark teeth, turtle bone, bat bone, spine of the porcupine fish, or lemon thorn is used
IVOLANIVEIQIA tool that was used for the outline of the patterns on the body, made of the balabala (fern) or a piece of wood
ITÚKINIVEIQIA, KAUNIVEIQIA, OR ITUKINIBATINIVEIQIA tattooing tools to tap iQia (tattooing tool) into the flesh. Usually light materials, such as duruka, gasau (reed) or bitu (fine bamboo). In Lau jitolo (malltets) were made of hibiscus wood, and wauniveiqia of wild beta ginger stems used in some Viti Levu districts
IQISANIQIA OR IQISANIVEIQIA raw materials used for the tattooing process, such as dakua (candlenut), charcoal mixed with coconut oil, then the iqia (tool) is dipped in this solution for the veiqia (tattooing) to start
IQÚANIVEIQIA OR IBÓKONIVEIQIA pieces of old masi (barkcloth) to wipe the blood and excess dye during the tattooing process.
Dr Tarisi Vunidilo, Mereula Buliruarua, and Donita Hulme looking at iQia (tattooing tools) from the Fiji Museum's collecition, March 2016.


QIAIQIA patterning, or drawing of patterns

QISA, IQISA, QISAQISA To paint the body ready for tattooing

QUMU, IQUMU qisa and qumu can be used interchangeably. The only difference is that qisa tend to follow and outline in a linear fashion whereby qumu is more painting the whole surface without an outline

VEQIAYAKA to continuously make patterns or draw

WENIQIA tattoo patterns and designs


Brewster, A. B. (1922). The hill tribes of Fiji. Philadelphia: Lippincott. Retrieved from Internet Archive

Clunie, F. (1980). Tattoo and cicatrice. Fiji heritage: 1-14.
Clunie, F. (1981). Veiqia: Fijian women’s tattooing. Fiji Ministry of Information Magazine, 5(4): 18-19.

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

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.