A procession for a royal visit
While the mats that the women in this photograph are carrying may seem too plain to present to the Queen of England, their simplicity is an indication of their importance. In Fiji, the more simple the design, the more meaningful its function. Fijian artists continue to create mats and it is a practice that is growing, with many mats beings sold at market, often to tourists. With the advent of processed pandanus, they are more widely available than masi, and used heavily in wedding and funeral rituals.
In addition to masi and mats, Fijian art also includes elaborately carvings made of wood or ivory, as well as small woven god houses called bure kalou, which provided a pathway for the god to descend to the priest.
The Queen’s itinerary
Returning to the Queen’s visit in 1953, while in Fiji she visited hospitals and schools and held meetings with various Fijian politicians. She witnessed elaborate performances of traditional Fijian dances and songs and even participated in a kava ceremony, which was (and continues to be) an important aspect of Fijian culture. The kava drink is a kind of tea made from the kava root and is sipped by members of the community, in order of importance. On the occasion of the Queen’s visit, she was, as you might imagine, given the first sip of kava. In thinking about the importance of the kava ceremony, consider what might happen if everyone from a large group takes a sip from the same cup and of the same liquid. Although sipped in order of hierarchical importance, it would, in the end, put everyone in the group on the same level before beginning the event, meeting, or ceremony.
Rod Ewins, Mat-Weaving in Gau, Fiji (Fiji Museum Special Publication, 1982).
———- Staying Fijian: Vatulele Island Barkcloth and Social Identity (Adelaide: Crawford House Publishing, 2006).
———- Traditional Fijian Artifacts (Nubeena, Tasmania: Just Pacific, 2014).
J.W. Sykes, The Royal Visit to the Colony of Fiji of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh (December 1953).