The importance of food in the Itaukei culture of Fiji

by Guest Contributor

Fr. Pat Colgan has recently left the parish of Ba in Fiji where Columbans have administered for over 70 years. He details the celebration that the parish held for his departure and explains the importance of food in the Itaukei culture.

two people stand in front of a large cooking pot
Parishioners cooking the food for the celebration

Very recently, the Parish of Christ the King in Ba, Fiji, bid farewell the Columbans who have served there for over 70 years, having welcomed its first diocesan Pastor a few days before. Both occasions were marked by celebrations of the Eucharist, and extra liturgical rituals. Besides on the Eucharist, the energy of the people was equally centred on the preparation of the feasts, as well as the traditional kava drink that is customarily expected to be provided (in large amounts) on such days.

With apologies to those with delicate stomachs, intricate discussions had begun some months previously about which village would slaughter what animals for the feasts and when the parish vehicle would be used to transport their carcasses for cooking beside the church. Town communities were all given various menus to prepare, so that nothing would be lacking.

A cooked pig was offered to the new parish priest in his traditional welcome, as was the leg and chest of a large cow (both wrapped in coconut fronds) to the departing Columbans. We were not obliged to offer these in turn for use at the feast, but we of course did so.

Also, our permission was sought to use some of the root crops that were offered at Mass for the guests, to which we also agreed.

For the Fijian mind, there is a natural flow of celebration that begins in Church, centred on Christ’s Last Feast with his disciples, and the feast which happens among us afterwards. On both occasions, eating and drinking are seen as ways of building and preserving the bonds of community among us, and the success of a Church gathering is often equated to the overwhelming amount of food that was offered, both during Mass, and for the consumption of the people afterwards.

In this sense, Fijians make  an innate connection between Eucharist as Bread-Offered and the fellowship afterwards as Bread– Given.  I think the Jesus who was concerned that the “people not go home hungry” (Mark 8:4, Matthew 15: 32) would readily agree!


Fr Peter O'Neill with parishioners and a cake
The cake offered at Mass to the Regional Director of Oceania, Fr. Peter O'Neill, on the occasion of the Columbans' departure from Ba Parish on 25th Feb 2023

Have a read...

Take a look back at some of our articles written by Columban Missionaries assigned to Fiji over the last 70 years.

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