Traditional Baby Showers in Fiji

Women from the village visiting new born baby (carried in center) and present traditional gifts to mother (Left) and family.© ITaukei Institute of Language & Culture

The arrival of a newborn baby is cause for great joy particularly for a newly wedded couple if it is their first born. In traditional Fijian society, when a married maiden is expecting, her husband and his kin plant uvi (yams) dalo, a rootcrop (Colocasia esculenta) and stock pigs in the pens. The matriarchs from both the man and woman’s side also begin weaving new mats in anticipation for the birth.

Prior to hospitals, traditional midwives known as VUNIKALOU were approached and on hand when labour contractions were expected. These VUNIKALOU had diverse knowledge about herbal medicines to administer to the expecting mother during and after pregnancy.

There are also elderly matriarchs on hand to administer to the expecting mother’s needs like washing, cooking, tending to the bedroom. The sleeping area is cordoned off with a huge taunamu or wall-length tapa as traditional Fijian houses do not have separate rooms. All the while mother and newborn baby must not emerge from behind this barrier until the end of the fourth night. Males too are forbidden from entering the residence where mother and newborn are until after the fourth day otherwise they will be meted out traditional punishment called ORE by the matriarchs. And young men, the baby’s father and other menfolk intentionally violate the rules as an excuse for them to bear the burdens of the ‘punishment’. This is their indirect way of showing their affection and pride towards the arrival of the newborn baby. They take a day or so to prepare their ‘punishment tokens’ which could be cooked fish, or dalo, fruits, vakalolo (grated starch with sweetened caramelized coconut milk), cigarettes, etc for the matriarchs’ enjoyment serving in the home.

When the baby is born, it is the responsibility of the baby’s father’s kin to relay the message traditionally to the baby’s vasu or maternal kin. A whale tooth is presented traditionally to relay the joyful news.

During the first four nights of the baby’s birth, kinship from both the mother and father’s side present raw dalo, freshly woven baby mats, oil, brooms, tapa cloth. The dalo presentation is called DREKEBA (stress on –a). The boiled dalo stalk is the primary meal of the new mother for it is believed that it improves lactation.

The mats are gifts for the matriarchs serving in the household. This occasion is called the ROQOROQO meaning ‘to carry’. When the women arrive (no males are still allowed in but they still do so eager to receive their ‘punishment’), they sing meke and folk songs. The matriarchs serving in the house entertain the roqoroqo parties and there is much joy. The reason behind the loud noise and merry making is said to make the newborn baby begin to understand in his/her spiritual mind and heart that there is a large family waiting for him/her and ready to support in the rearing. This is the actual roqoroqo! There is no actual carrying and kissing of the newborn baby until after the fourth night as it is believed that baby is still spiritually and physically vulnerable to all sorts of bad air and malevolence. On the fourth day, the baby’s paternal kin prepare a feast called VAKATUNUDRA (warming the blood) for the village to enjoy.

The serving matriarchs take turns in carrying the baby as the mother recovers. The one on whom the baby’s umbilical cord falls onto is the one who will provide the four night feast. This role is quietly contested as each matriarch is eager to show their affection and home network support.

Much has changed from the original notion of roqoroqo or baby showers. Today babies are born in hospitals and the ceremonies, pomp and jovial camaraderie between kinsfolk is diminishing. A version of it exists though in the modern version of visitation to a newborn baby’s family with modern gifts for both baby and mother.