Updated: Feb 2, 2022
Meke is a traditional and communal form of spiritual folk dance from Fiji which is a combination of dance and story-telling to convey narratives of daily life or long, long epic tales of victory by the gods through song.
Both men and women perform in the Meke, and the dance is viewed as a group collaboration in which men are expected to demonstrate strong, virile movements, while women are expected to be graceful and feminine.
The instruments used are either bamboo tubes called Derua, small hardwood gongs (Lali) and beating sticks.
Women in Fiji perform Meke as the fan dance, dressing in traditional skirts and applying sweet-smelling coconut oil to heighten the multi-sensory experience. Men, in their dancing, will dress as warriors and stimulate the use of spears or clubs, Meke dancers wear garlands of flowers which is called Salusalu and leafy adornments on the wrist and ankles called Vesa.
The dancing and chanting are accompanied by rhythmic clapping and beating of the lali, a traditional Fijian drum.
There are several versions of the Meke, such as the war dance, the men’s spear dance, the men’s or women’s fan dance and the sitting dance.
There are two groups who perform Meke.
● an orchestra of sorts known as Vakatara, who sits on the ground and sing and provide music,
● a Matana, who sits on the ground or stands and performs the dance moves.
The leader of a Meke is called the daunivucu who is responsible for passing down this custom of art to the next generation. It is said that they channel the spirits and teach the community how to do a particular dance. It is also believed that, if the daunivucu does not remember a Meke, then Gods must have erased it from their mind. The daunivucu taught tribesmen and women Meke that sometimes contained prophetic messages or warnings that deities wished to convey.
In the Meke, the arrangement of the space has special consideration to the extent that even the seating of the audience has to be done according to the prescribed way. There are special positions in a Meke for members of the village hierarchy placing them anywhere would be inappropriate.
Mekes are performed at special functions and at cultural nights, traditional gatherings, celebrative events and special rituals associated with death and birth.
The kind of Meke performed to commemorate someone’s death was usually performed four nights after burial or Vakabogiva. The Meke was called Vakavidiulo (flicking of maggots).
Visitors who are viewing the dance are often invited at its culmination to join in and perform a simple dance movement called the Taralala.
Traditionally after Meke was thoroughly learned, it was presented for the first time to the chief, usually on the main village green. A performer who was of chiefly rank normally wore the unprinted brown Masi Kuvui, a custom still practised today.
The following video opens a window to this magnificent dance form. Can you spot the performer with mass kuvai in it?
If you want to try the art form, here is a helpful video from the web :