I recently had an interesting conversation with a youth about the tabua (tam-boo-wah) or whale’s tooth and its’ the sacred role that it plays here in Fiji. This conversation started when I noticed a tabua lying in my friend’s house, and very quickly reacted with, “There’s a whale’s tooth!”. And while I understood that these were presented to highly respected figures, or when a man asks the family for their daughter’s hand in marriage, I minimally understood the significance and the sensitivity that it holds in Fijian culture.
In Fiji, it is not uncommon for children to be raised by an aunty, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, or close family member. In the situation of this particular youth, she was raised by her granddad for 18 years of her life. Due to her desire to further her education, she was informed that she would soon have to leave her granddad and move across the island to live with her parents to attend university. As many can imagine, this can be a very challenging situation to manage for all parties involved, and some may ask:
“How would I ask for my daughter back?”
“What would be the best way to ask for my daughter back?”
“Would my daughter want to come back?”
And while everyone can conjure up different solutions to best navigate, the culturally appropriate way to handle a situation of this nature in Fiji is for the father of the daughter to present the tabua to the granddad. By presenting the tabua, the father is thanking the granddad for all that he has done for his daughter, while also asking for his daughter to come back home to live with him to attend further schooling. From there, the granddad can either accept the request by accepting the tabua, or deny the tabua and insist that the daughter continues to live with him. Luckily, in this situation, the granddad accepted the tabua (unwillingly) to support his granddaughter in pursuing further education.
However, all situations do not have a happy ending. As this same girl told me about a close friend of hers where the power of the tabua worked against her when a boy in her village presented her family with many tabuas to ask for her hand in marriage. While she was currently going on five years with her boyfriend at the time, her and her family could not refuse this offer from this boy who was merely a stranger. For when someone turns up with a tabua, it is very difficult to deny. As it is believed that one will either be cursed for denying the tabua, or will be forced to give the family back twice as many tabuas or goods than received to clean the slate.