February 5, 2023
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Useful Fijian Words and Phrases

 

Home » Fijian Culture 101 » Fijian Language » Useful Fijian Words and Phrases

Editor’s Note: Vinaka to the late Dr. Albert Schutz for offering visitors this primer on useful Fijian words and phrases. Schutz is the author of the best selling Say it in Fijian and Fijian Reference Grammar

Useful Words, Phrases and concepts for the Visitor

  • yes – io
  • no – sega                        Reminder: G here represents the ng in sing.
  • work – cakacaka           Reminder: C here represents the th in then, not thin.
  • bad – cā                         This is an example of a long vowel.
  • beer – bia                      Don’t forget the m in front of the b: mb.
  • big, many – levu
  • bird – manumanu vuka    The v-sound is close to the English v, but made with both lips.
  • boy, male – tagane
  • cassava, tapioca – tavioka
  • child – gone
  • comb – i-seru
  • cup – bilo
  • eat – kana
  • fish – ika
  • food – kākana              Note the long vowel. This word has two accents.
  • girl, female – yalewa
  • handsome, beautiful – totoka – (toe-toe-kah)
  • happy, satisfied – mārau
  • house – vale
  • kava – yaqona              Reminder: the q is pronounced as the ng in finger.
  • kava bowl – tānoa
  • man – tagane
  • man – tūraga
  • matches – māsese
  • money – ilavo
  • pot – kuro
  • sleeping house – bure
  • small – lailai
  • smart – mātai
  • stone – vatu
  • stupid or crazy – lialia
  • taro – dalo
  • tobacco – tavako
  • today – nikua
  • toilet – vale lailai
  • tomorrow – ni mataka
  • tree – vū ni kau
  • village – koro
  • whale’s tooth – tabua
  • woman – marama
  • yesterday – nanoa

(For a more comprehensive vocabulary list, scroll to the bottom of the page).

Some Useful Concepts

  • killing time, fooling around – moku siga
  • wandering around – gade
  • go slowly, take your time – vaka malua
  • eat heartily – kana vaka levu
  • taboo, forbidden – tabu
  • exclamation of regret or joy– isa, isa lei
  • ashamed, shy – maduā
  • go ahead and try – tovolea mada
  • a request – kerekere

Some Useful Phrases

  • Where are you going? (Interestingly enough there are no literal equivalents for ‘How are you?’ Instead, Fijians might ask a friend they see on the street this, which is as much a greeting as it is a question.) – O sā lako i vei?
  • Good day (a polite greeting and one of the first Fijian phrases you will hear). – Nī bula.
  • A less formal greeting (literally ‘health’ and ‘life’). – Bula.
  • Good morning. – Nī sā yadra.
  • Goodbye/Good night (literally, ‘sleep’). – Nī sā moce.
  • Come here. – Lako mai ekē.
  • Good/Thank you. – Vinaka.
  • Thank you very much. – Vinaka vaka-levu.
  • Where do you come from? – O nī lako mai vei?
  • I come from New Zealand. – Au lako mai Niu Siladi.
  • What’s this? A cava oqō?
  • It’s a _____.  E dua na _____.
  • the kerosene is depleted – maca maca na karasini (also slang for depleted bodily fluids after sex) 

Greetings

The simplest way to begin using Fijian is with the greetings, and most common is:

Ni sa bula. Bula means literally ‘health’ or ‘life*. Ni refers to a number of people, but it is also a respectful way of referring to just one person. The singular form, sa bula, can be used among close friends, rather in the same way as tu and du in French and German. You can repeat the phrase for a reply, or say la, vinaka na bula,

Other greetings and common phrases:

Ni sa yadra, which means ‘Good morning*.

(Don’t forget the n sound before the dr.)

Ni sa moce. Literally, this means ‘sleep’, but it also means ‘good-bye’ or ‘good night*. (Don’t forget that c is pronounced th.)

Vinaka means ‘good’, but it is a way of saying ‘thank you’. Vinaka vaka-levu means ‘thank you very much’.

You may notice that we haven’t used an equivalent for ‘How are you?* A much more common question is ‘Where are you going?’ and it is about as un-literal as the English ‘How are you?* or ‘How do you do?’ because they arc not primarily questions, but just greetings. In Fijian, no rudeness is intended, even though being asked this immediately sounds abrupt to a speaker of English:

O sa lako ki vei? ~ Where are you going? 

Remember: b = nib; d — nd; q = ng~\~g; c ~ th (as in ‘then’); g = ng; dr — ndr.

Where?

A possible answer to the greeting O sa lako ki vei? (Where are you going?) is:

Au sa lako ki na  I’m going to the:

makete                    market
meke                       dance
sitoa                        store
wavu                       wharf
koro                        village
ulu ni vanua           mountain
vale ni yaqona        bar
baravi                     beach
otela                       hotel
yanuyanu               island

Other ‘Where?’ questions:

E vei na ?               Where’s the ?

koro                         village
koro ni vuli               school
koro ni vuli leva        university
turaga                      chief
nona vale ni turaga  chiefs house
gaunisala                  road
vale ni lotu                church
vale-lailai                  toilet
vale ni kana              restaurant
waqa                         boat
posit ovesi .               post office
baqe                          bank
waqa-vuka                plane 

E vei ko ?                 Where’s ?
                                Vanua Levu 
                                Beqa 
                                Nukulau 
                                Bau 
                                Nadi 
                                Cumming St.  
                                Tamavua      
                                Korolevu
                                Nausori

E vei ko ?                  Where’s  ?
Pita                          Peter
Sera                         Seru
Sala                         Sala  
Tevita                      David
Jone                        John
Mereoni                  Marian
Rusiate                   Rusiate

The simplest answers to the above are:
Oqo      Here (by me)
Oqori   There (by you)
Oya      Over there

Other possible ‘where* questions and answers use directional particles. Fijian can translate the English ‘at’ in two different ways: e for the place where the speaker is. and ‘mai for any other place.

O ni lako mai vei?  Au lako mai Niu Siladi.

Where do you come from?  I come from New Zealand.

O ni tiko e Vei?                 Where do you live?
Au tiko e Viti.                     I live in Fiji.
Au tiko mai Ositerelia.     I live in Australia.
Au tiko mai na otela         I live at the hotel.

Many directionals work just like nouns — that is, they follow the directional particles. Here are a few:
wai  seaward                  liu ahead                  cake  up
vanua  landward            muri behind            sobu  down
dela  top of                     tuba  outside          i matau  right
ruku  underneath          loma  inside            i mawi  left

As in English, Fijian can use directionals to indicate the past and the future. But whereas English looks back to the past, Fijian looks ahead:

Na gauna e liu = Before, the time past
(the time at ahead)
Na gauna e muri ~ Future
(the time at behind) 

What?

In 1866, the Reverend W. Moore described ‘what? questions as {he key to the language. His technique — not a bad one — was to engage in a constant dialogue like this:                

A cava oqo?                           What’s this?
           oqori?                         What’s that (by you)?   
           oya?                            What’s this? (over there)? 

E dua na .                              A ________________                   

vale                                          house
bare                                         sleeping house
vatu                                         stone
tanoa                                       kava bowl
kuro                                         pot
tabua                                       whale’s tooth
iseru                                        comb
lawa                                         net
vonu                                        turtle
vu ni kau                                 tree
ika                                            fish
manumami vuka                    bird

Evidently, the Reverend Moore was not much concerned about politeness, for his questions do not contain the words that make them less abrupt. It is much better to use the polite words, as in the following question:

A cava beka oqo?                  What’s this (please)?

The word mataqali (species, kind) is used with cava to translate ‘what kind of?’
Na mataqali cava    What kind of ____ is this? (beka) oqo?
ika                            fish
vale                          house
manumanu vuka    bird
vonu                         turtle
waqa                        canoe
vu ni kau                  tree
se ni kau                  flower

Another variation of ‘what’ is:
A cava beka kom cakava tiko?    What are you doing? The answer may be:

Au sa _________________tiko          I’m__________________
moku siga cakacaka gade           killing time working wandering around 
gunu yaqona                                 drinking kava resting                                   
vakacegu                                       resting

Who? How many? How much?

The word for ‘who?’ works just like a name and follows the proper marker ko (O when used at the beginning of a sentence). For example:                                                 

Oya ko tamaqu

O Jone                                        John
O Sala                                         Sala
O Rusiate                                    Rusiate       
O Viti                                           Fiji 
O cei?                                         Who?

O cei beka na yacamuni?          Who? What’s your name?

Na yacaqu ko________________  My name is_________________

O cei oya?                                Who’s that (over there)? .

Oya ko Rusiate                        That’s Rusiate                              

Before we can ask ‘how many?’ we have, to know Fijian
numbers. Some of them are:

dua 1
rua 2
tolu 3
vd 4
lima 5
ono 6
vitu 7
wain 8
ciwa 9
tint 10
tini ka dua 11
tini ka rua 12
ruasagavulu 20
ruasagavulu ka dua 21
duanadrau 100
dua na drau ka dua 101
dua na udolu 1,000

The word vica ‘how many?’ works just like the set of numbers.

e dua na ika, e rua na ika, e vica na ika?    one fish or a fish,  two fish, how many fish?

Note the two translations for the first item. E dua na can mean either (specifically) ‘one’ or (indefinitely) ‘a’.

Vica is a useful word for shoppers, for it is used to translate English ‘how much?’ when it refers to price:

E vica na kena i-sau?                  What’s the [its] price? 
E vica na i-vodovodo?                 How much is the fare?
E yalima na sede.                        It’s 5 cents.
E yava na dola ka tini na sede.   It s $4.10.

For items of great cultural importance, Fijian has words that include definite quantities. For example:
ten mats  e dua na sas3  e dua na buru  

ten pigs                  e dua na rara
ten mats                 e dua na sasa
ten turtles              e dua na bi
ten whale’s teeth   e dua na vulo

When?

Naica or na gauna cava translates English ‘when?’, and each expression is used after the particle e; Naica Hs used for days, weeks, or months; na-gauna cava is used for more specific times.
E na tekivu e na gauna  cava na meke?                                    When will the meke (dance) begin?E na va E E na va na kaloko                                                                      At four o’clock.
E a lako e naica?                                                                     
 When did he go?
E nanoa.                                                                                    Yesterday

Time questions and answers, make use of the particles a and na, which correspond roughly to past (or completion) and future tense. In addition, many other expressions serve to indicate time.

GENERAL:
Na gauna oqo e liu e muri makawa                            Now the past the future olden times
E nanoa                                                                        yesterday
E daidai nikua                                                              today
ni mataka                                                                     tomorrow
siga                                                                              day
macawa                                                                       week
vula                                                                              month
yabaki                                                                          year

Names of Days, Months: 

The names for Monday and Tuesday were borrowed from English. In his dictionary, Hazlewood used Mode; now Moniti is used perhaps in imitation of Tongan Monite.
‘Tuesday’’ was borrowed as Tiisiti.
The names for other days are compounds:

The names for the months were also borrowed:

Janne ri       January
Feperuari    February 
Maji            March 
Epereli        April 
Me              May 
June            June 
Jidai            July
Okosita       August
Sepiteba     September
O koto pa   October
Nove ba     November
Tiseba        December

Just like personal names, the names for months take the proper marker ko:
Na Vida ko Tiseba            December, or, the month of December

A translation of the numerals of the year turns out to be unexpectedly long, — to speakers of English.
E dua na iidoln, e ciwa na drau, vitusagavulu ka dua — means “1971”. But then, so does ‘nineteen hundred and seventy-one’ seem long. 

Home » Fijian Culture 101 » Fijian Language » Useful Fijian Words and Phrases

Top photo of Mr. Roko Nubutautau courtesy of Rob Rickman

©2022 Dr. Albert J. Schütz

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