Collection Description

Culture Name

Bau Fijians

Culture Description

Originally from the mountains of Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu, the Bau migrated to the east coast, and by the middle of the eighteenth century had established their political center on the tiny offshore island of Bau. Aided by an increasing availability of firearms during the early nineteenth century, and culminating with the defeat of rival Rewa by the Vunivalu (paramount chief) Cakobau in 1855, Bau became the dominant political power of Fiji. Bau chiefs commanded a formidable army and navy, collected large tributes, and mandated religious practices such as cannibalism and widow-strangling that shocked the missionaries who began arriving in 1839. In 1854 Cakobau converted to Christianity and renounced cannibalism. He reigned until nearly a decade after acceding to British colonial rule in 1874, which brought about administrative reorganization, and diminished the political power and customary prerogatives of Bau chiefs.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Oceania --Polynesia



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

The Bau Fijians collection provides historical, cultural and political information on Bau and neighboring chiefdoms from first contact with European travelers in the 1640s to the advent of British colonialism in 1874. The collection specifically focuses on the period from the 1820s to 1870s, when successive chiefs extended their influence to other Islands, making Bau the political center of Fiji.

The fundamental works were authored by Wesleyan missionaries. Williams (1860), who lived Bau Island from 1840-1853, covers topics ranging from easily observable aspects of community life and court politics to the moralistic and religious logic behind controversial practices such as cannibalism and widow-strangling. Waterhouse (1866) was an anthropologically trained missionary who lived at the court of Cakobau (Thakombau) from 1849-1864 (converting him to Christianity), providing a firsthand account of signs of change in Bau burial customs, religious practices, and aspects of court etiquette, most notably the treatment of war captives and visitors from other islands.

The information in those foundational works is enriched by other, thematic works in the collection. Tippett (1968) discusses change and continuity in Fijian material culture, with particular emphasis on clubs, water craft, turtle fishing nets, and house types. Deve (1912) provides brief descriptions of life cycle events and rituals prior to the advent of Christianity. Ravulo (1913) focuses on the ritual of drinking kava by chiefs and royal guests. Hornell (1926) provides analysis of the sizes, shapes, and other features of megalithic blocks that served as sea walls, grave markers, and temple platforms.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Qia - tattooing – use "BODY ALTERATIONS (304)"

Roko Tui – sacred chief (e.g. “Roko Tui Bau” was the sacred chief of the Bau polity)

Sacred canoe – use "BOATS (501)" and "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

Vunivalu – war and executive chief (also used as title before place or personal name)

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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