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  • B.M. Allsopp

Houses, Fiji style

For the last few weeks, I've been writing an article about a beautiful Sydney house known locally as Ashfield Castle. It has involved way more time, research and references than I was expecting! But I realised that I've never told you about Fijian houses. Now is the time to fix that, because my forthcoming Fiji Islands Mysteries Book 2 is set in a traditional inland village. Today, most Fijians prefer to build with weather-boards and corrugated iron, but a few villages, like pretty Navala below, take pride in continuing traditional construction methods.

Thatched houses of Navala village

Vale (va-lay) - dwelling

In pre-colonial times, house styles varied in different parts of Fiji, and still do to some extent today. Round, rectangular or square houses are all seen. Many high-pitched roofs are supported by a long ridge-post, others are conical. Materials also varied according to local availability, but vale were usually framed with round timber posts and tie-beams, the walls clad in layers of reeds. Thatched roofs often extended to the ground. Ridge poles and door posts could be carved tree fern trunks.


A central fireplace was sunk 30cm below the floor and curbed with hardwood. Larger houses had elevated storage racks at the sides and a sleeping platform at one end, often enclosed by gauze-like mosquito curtains of beaten masi (bark cloth). In a previous post, I included an image which shows this arrangement. Fijians were acknowledged masters of detailed decorative craft, used liberally in higher status dwellings. Reed walls, beams and posts were decorated with intricate bindings of sinnet (coconut fibre cord).

intricate polychrome sinnet bindings

Ironically, it is tourist resorts and major public buildings which are keeping these traditional skills alive these days.

Bure (boo-ray) - spirit house

19th century Fiji bure (temple)

As well as vale, each village had one bure, or temple, which only priests and chiefs would enter. Bure were built on a high stone base, with a soaring roof, as prominent as the village church is now. Here is Thomas Williams' drawing from his wonderful 1858 book, Fiji and the Fijians. Today the word bure is mostly used for meeting houses or detached rooms at resorts.

You can find more about Fiji on my website, in the Fiji Gallery and Fiji Resources page. As ever, I'd welcome your comments and questions about this post.

until next month,

Bernadette (B.M. Allsopp)

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