From the Fiji Sun (2 January 2010)
By Dawn Gibson
When I was roughly seven or eight-years-old, I was exposed to a rather peculiar style of dancing.
I came to know it later as the ‘fara.’
Fara means ‘to ask’ in Rotuman.
And the fara is a traditional Rotuman cultural and social event, occurring annually for a month between December and January.
It is in the summertime festival of “av’ manea,” meaning ‘party time’ in Rotuman.
It is when groups of singers and dancers traverse from house to house in a prescribed area to perform and entertain their hosts, ‘asking’, as the name suggests, for their hospitality and participation.
A ‘fara’ is more or less a ‘dance marathon’ where mainly youths and occasionally older members of our society come together with guitars, ukuleles and sometimes (if they are lucky) drums, to sing and dance while visiting houses during the festive season.
This year, the Rotuman community in Suva decided to bring the tradition of fara back to life by visiting houses in the suburbs of Suva.
A number of fara enthusiasts also travelled to Pacific Harbour in Deuba to spread the festivity to other Rotuman communities there.
Fara is a very large part of the Rotuman tradition and I guarantee that if you ask any Rotuman, part-Rotuman or friend of a Rotuman, what a ‘fara’ is, they would definitely know!
It is tradition that the fara comes either very late at night or on the early hours of the morning (12am or 1am for instance) and there is no saying ‘no!’
They fara (dance) by gathering on the front lawn or verandah and home owners which they are visiting, are awoken by the sound of singing and clapping.
The house inhabitants are expected to pour talcum powder and perfume on the faras (dancers and group members) as it is believed to ward off evil spirits. Almost always, fara participants pick the house inhabitants for a dance, making the scene a lot more interesting, particularly if they are foreigners.
Although I can’t tell you the exact date when the first fara was initialised, I can tell you that this is one of the many events I look forward to during the Christmas and New Year season - simply for the unique and fun atmosphere it creates for everyone involved.
Ethel Morris, however, who is now 68-years-old, said the fara is part of Rotuman culture and history.
“The fara goes as far back as I can remember,” she said.
That should give us a more accurate perspective.
Like Christmas, the fara season comes once a year, starting from the first day of December and ending towards the middle or late January.
Another characteristic of this tradition is its impromptu nature.
“Traditionally, faras don’t let people know they are coming. They just turn up and house owners will prepare watermelon or watermelon juice. However, if the fara is an exceptionally large one, they let the village know that they are coming in advance,” Mrs Morris continued.
Yet another ‘fun fact’ to add to the fara’s features is the possibility of a ‘fuaki’ (foo-o-key). This makes the anticipation unbearable.
The question, “are they going to fuaki us?” will be running wild through the minds of the musicians and dancers alike in the fara group. If a village or house decides to fuaki the fara, this means that the faras must stay there and continue to sing, dance and entertain the household members.
This is taken very seriously and there is no such thing as ‘oh no, it’s ok,’ because that would be terribly insulting for both parties.
Fuaki means members of the fara group are traditional prisoners of the household they are in.
They can only be released traditionally when their family and village members come to seek their release.
But there is hope, however, for those who had been fuaki by a village and this hope lies in the hands of their own villagers, ones who did not take part in the fara.
Once the villagers have been notified of this, they must come to the village where the fara has been fuaki and bring with them either certain amounts of food or in some cases, a whole lovo (roasted pork, palusami, dalo and kokoda included).
This is given in exchange of the faras.
Ten years after experiencing my first fara, it is still to this day, makes my stomach churn in anticipation every time someone says, “a fara is coming!” and this is most probably directly linked to my first-hand experience in the land of the fara, Rotuma Island.
Recently, my family was fortunate to be part of a local fara that visited our grandparents’ house in Nailuva Road, Suva.
We were called in advance about the visit because there was a minimum of 60 people who pulled over outside the house in a big bus and they filled the verandah in a way I had never seen.
With music, powder, perfume, dancing and singing, I felt hints of excitement as well as fear because of the big crowd.
Afterwards, we thanked them in the usual manner - with some drinks, biscuits, snacks and a vote of thanks from my grandfather.
On the whole, a fara is definitely a one-of-a-kind experience that everyone, particularly those who live in the South Pacific, should be a part of, not only for the after-snacks, but for the warmth and smiles it fills us with.
History of the fara
It is believed that fara traces its roots back to the “manea’ hune’ele” (beach parties) of old, where young people would picnic at the beach from late afternoon through night-time, singing, dancing and merrymaking.
For young people, it was primarily undertaken as a carefree environment in which they could spend time with prospective partners without the prying eyes of a normal close-knit Rotuman community.
Modern fara involves groups of performers of varying size, often travelling in village or sometimes even district-sized groups.
Once at a particular house or hall, they begin dancing and singing accompanied by guitars, drums and ukulele, and invites the hosts to join in.
In return the recipients of this entertainment give the performers food and drink, (usually fruit and cordial) and enact the ‘nau te,’ an unceremonious tradition of sprinkling performers (in all Rotuman social environments) with perfume or talcum powder. This historically involved home-made turmeric, but the easier western alternatives now hold precedence.
Fara season is considered the highlight of the year for Rotuman people the world over. It is common for groups of Rotuman individuals who have spread across the globe through diaspora, to return to the island at av’ mane’a and participate in the festivities. It is said that the island’s population often doubles at fara time, as compared to the mid-year numbers, as a result of the popularity of the fara.