20th January 1999
Meke is the Fijian expression for a traditional dance, usually performed by a group a dancer arranged in one or more rows, with music provided by singers and instrumentalists seated behind them. It is by far the most impressive and spectacular expression of Fijian performing artistry. The dancers still dress in colourful traditional costumes with floral garlands and ornaments, and liberal use of bright red and black face and body paint, though there have been some adaptations to changing times, especially for women. The most common accessory is the iri ni meke, an ornamental fan made of the leaf of the fan-palm (Pritchardia sp) that is tucked in at the back of the waist when not in use.
The words of meke are often historical, telling the story of a remarkable event or a prominent person’s life, though some are prophetic. The tradition is very much alive – meke are still being composed regularly by hereditary composers (daunivucu or vuniduvu). They also still function as a focus of traditional identity and cohesion, with the positioning of performers determined in part by hereditary status.
The harmony is in at least three parts, usually four, and is typically accompanied by one lali ni meke (small drum of a hollowed out log with slit opening), with rhythm provided by a number of derua (bamboo stamping tubes) and cobo (clapping with hollowed hands).
Most meke begin with a distinct stanza to accompany the dancers as they emerge in single file to take up their places. During the performance, the audience show their appreciation not by applause, but by shouting words of thanks and going to the performers and draping over them lengths of cloth, or give them sweets, chewing gum, or cash, or shower them with perfumed oil or talcum powder.
Meke are still loved by all people of Fiji, and are an indispensable part of any grand occasion.
The different types of meke featured in this set of stamps are as follows:
Vakamalolo (sitting dance). A lively dance in which performers sit in a line, often using an iri ni meke (ornamental fan). It is performed by men or women, rarely if ever mixed. At the beginning, the dancers often have their backs turned to the audience, then gradually turn (taiki) to face them.
Meke i Wau (club dance). A war-like meke for men, said to have originated as a preparation for warfare, lively and gymnastic. The performers are dressed as traditional warriors and each carries a particular type of club with a curved end.
Seasea (women’s fan dance). The most graceful of Fijian meke, performed only by women. There is very little movement of the feet, most of the action being with the iri ni meke and with subtle movements of the head and upper body.
Meke ni yaqona - Formal chant accompanying the chiefly kava ceremony, solemn and rich in harmonies. All participants are seated, except for the man who serves the kava, who is also the main performer. Many meke ni yaqona are so old that the meaning of the words is largely lost. It is very impressive in its sacredness.
Title: Traditional Fijian Dances
Values: 13c, 81c, 87c, $3
Designer: Terry Crilley
Printer: Southern Colour Print - NZ
Process: Litho Offset
Stamp Size: 27.94 x 44.45 mm
Stamp Format: Landscape
Set: 50 (2 x 25)
Perforation Gauge: 14.32 x 14.85 mm
Paper: Peterborough Paper Converters