The best things Fiji has to offer (in addition to the beautiful scenery, of course) are its unique culture and friendly people. And the locals love it when you speak the language, even if you only know a few words! This Fiji language guide will help you learn some useful Fijian words and phrases so you can connect better with the locals and avoid looking like a tourist!
There are three main languages spoken in Fiji. English is the most commonly used language in day-to-day life, and you'll hear and see it pretty much everywhere. This is because the British claimed Fiji as a colony in 1874 and the country remained in their control until it declared independence in 1997.
The second main language is Fijian, otherwise known as iTaukei language (the official name of the indigenous Fijian people) or Vosa Vakaviti (which directly translates to 'spoken Fijian language'). Fiji didn't have a written language until the 1830's, when colonists from the London Missionary Society began working on an alphabet.
Working with the locals, as well as their knowledge of the similar Tongan language, missionaries David Cargill and William Cross developed a writing system which was published in 1835. In the years following, it was discovered that there wasn't just one dialect of Fijian - there were many, some very different from each other - which isn't surprising as the country is comprised of over 300 islands spread out over an area of more than 1 million square kilometers. Eventually it was decided that the standard Fijian dialect would be that of a small island off the east coast of Viti Levu called Bau, whose chief would later act as the official king of Fiji.
In 1879, the British colonists began bringing indentured labourers (aka slaves) from India to work on their sugarcane farms in Fiji. By the time this horrible practice ended in 1920, the British had shipped over 60,000 Indians to Fijian shores. Although by that time much of the Indian population was Fijian-born, and therefore no longer knew India as home, they still held onto their native culture and language.
Currently, about 30% of Fiji's population is of Indian descent, making Fijian Hindi the third most-spoken language in the country.
While I hope to eventually write a separate post on Fijian Hindi, I don't currently have much knowledge about it, so the words provided on this page are from the Bau Fijian language.
The main island of Viti Levu seen from above | Image © ExpatAlli
PRONOUNCING THE FIJIAN ALPHABET
Because Fiji had no existing written alphabet and the missionaries only had the means to translate the Fijian language using their own English alphabet, it was a long and difficult process which has resulted in some vowels and consonants being difficult to properly pronounce for first-time speakers.
Though they may be difficult to remember, the rules are fairly simple, and you'll be able to pronounce Fijian words the right way as long as you remember these things:
FINDING THE RIGHT FIJIAN PHRASEBOOK
You may wish to invest in a standard phrasebook, such as Lonely Planet's pocket-sized guide. If you want to learn more about Fijian grammar, I highly suggest checking outany books written by linguistics professor A.J. Schütz. Keep in mind that Fijian phrasebooks, while very useful, may not be completely accurate, and when learning new Fijian words and phrases it's good to talk with the locals to find out the proper way to use them.
You could also consider making your own Fijian phrasebook. I like using a tiny moleskine notebook, which I can easily add words and phrases to as I learn them.
Hello // Bula
The one word you won’t be able to escape is Bula, which is the Fijian hello and means both 'life' and 'good health'. This is pronounced 'mm-BOO-la’ and is usually said with a lot of enthusiasm. The full greeting is ni sa bula vinaka (pronounced 'nee-sam-boo-la-vee-nah-kah'), though unless you’re in a situation where a formal greeting is required, I recommend not using the full phrase so you can avoid immediately standing out as a tourist.
Fijians are extremely friendly, and it's completely normal for every stranger you pass on the street to greet you with a smile and nod, or a "bula". While this can seem strange to those of us who have lived in big cities most of our lives, it doesn't take much time to get used to!
Good morning // Yadra
If you’re greeting someone early in the day, and want to look less like a tourist, you can use the word Yadra (pronounced ‘yahn-drah’), which means ‘good morning’.
Please // Kerekere
If you're asking for something, it's easiest to do it in English, though you can add the word kerekere (pronounced 'carry-carry'). Though technically it translates to 'request', it's very often used as a way of saying 'please'.
Thank you // Vinaka
When thanking someone, you can say either vinaka (pronounced 'vee-nack-ah'), or the commonly used shortened form, which is just 'naka. If you wish to express extra thanks to someone, you can say vinaka vaka levu (pronounced 'vee-nack-ah vah-kah leh-voo'), which literally means 'big thanks'.
I'm sorry // Vosoti au
If you want to apologise to someone in Fijian, you can say vosoti au (pronounced 'voe-sah-tee ow'), which translates to 'I'm sorry' or 'pardon me'.
'Bula' is the most common Fijian word you'll hear on your trip to Fiji | Image © ExpatAlli
At some point during your visit to Fiji, it's pretty much a guarantee that you'll experience 'Fiji time'. Sometimes the only thing to do is push your frustration aside and say sega na leqa, which is the Fijian version of 'hakuna matata' and means 'no worries'. This is pronounced 'seng-ah nah len-gah' (see rules above for proper pronunciation of G and Q). Though it may feel unnatural at first, it will roll off your tongue in no time, and take all your cares with it.
SAYING YES AND NO IN FIJIAN
Yes // Io
Though it's probably easier to just say 'yes' and 'no' in English, they're also pretty easy to say in Fijian. The word for yes is io (pronounced 'ee-oh'), and you may see a Fijian simply nod their head up and raise their eyebrows as a form of agreement.
No // Sega
The word for no is sega (pronounced 'seng-ah'). I've found this quite helpful when taxi drivers ask me if I need a ride - a polite 'sega vinaka' makes them realize I'm not just a tourist, and if I say it loud enough for nearby drivers to hear, I don't get offered a ride by every one of them.
The friendly locals might bid you goodbye with the popular Fijian song 'Isa Lei' | Image © ExpatAlli
Goodbye // Moce
When saying goodbye to someone in Fiji, you just have to say the simple word moce (pronounced 'moe-they'). This word means both 'goodbye' and 'sleep', so it can also be used as a way of saying 'good night'.
See you later // Sota tale
If you're saying goodbye to someone you plan on seeing again shortly, you can say sota tale (pronounced 'sow-tah tal-eh'), which means 'see you again'.
OTHER USEFUL WORDS & PHRASES
Beautiful // Totoka
If you're trying to find the right word to describe a vibrant Fijian sunset, or charm an attractive local, you can use the word totoka (pronounced 'toe-toe-kah', which can mean 'beautiful,' 'pretty' or even 'handsome'. You can also say totoka sara, which means 'very beautiful'.
One more // Dua tale
If you're enjoying a cold, refreshing drink like Vonu or Fiji Bitter (beer is bia, pronounced 'bee-ah') and want to order another round, it'll make your server very happy to hear you say dua tale (pronounced 'nn-DOO-ah TAL-eh'), which means 'one more'. If you'd like to order two more of something, just say rua tale (pronounced 'ROO-ah TAL-eh'). For other amounts, just add 'tale' (which means 'more') to the end of the number you want.
I don't understand // Au sega ni taura rawa
Since English is the main language spoken, you're unlikely to encounter someone speaking to you in Fijian. If, however, this does happen, you can tell them you don't understand by saying au sega ni taura rawa (pronounced 'ow seng-ah nee too-rah rah-wah'. No need to practice this one too much though - if you say it too perfectly they may not believe you!
Alas! // Isa
If you visit Fiji, you'll very likely hear the song Isa Lei being sung upon your departure from a hotel or resort. Isa lei (pronounced 'ee-sah lay', or the more common isa is a sound of regret or yearning, much like saying 'alas' in English. Hopefully you'll never have to use this one on your holiday, though you will probably hear it being sung to you as you leave.
Ready for Your Trip?
Since Fiji is a developing country, I recommend getting travel insurance to cover you in the event of an emergency. I use World Nomads because they offer coverage for long-term travellers like me. You can get a quote for your next trip here.
I have also compiled a comprehensive Fiji packing guide, which includes outfit suggestions and a download link for my free Fiji packing list.
You can also refer to my Fiji tourist visa guide to find out what travel documents you need to prepare in advance of your visit, and whether you're eligible for a visa waiver.
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