19 Basic Fijian Words and Phrases That You’ll Actually Use

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So…you’re off to Fiji!  You’ve made a great choice: it’s a superbly beautiful part of the world. Perhaps you’re staying in one of the small authentic beach bures, or maybe you’ve gone for an opulent overwater villa. But wherever you end up, you’ll meet many, many Fijians, and that’s going to be a great experience, as they’re truly some of the nicest people on Earth. So: when you meet them, what should you say to them?

Now a lot of guides claim that using twenty or so essential words and phrases will help you avoid sounding and looking like a tourist. Trust us: this doesn’t ever work. The locals will have worked out you’re a tourist as soon as you turned the corner. But if you manage to learn and use just a few basic Fijian phrases, they’ll love you for making an effort.

The majority of the time, you’ll be fine speaking English: after all, it was Fiji’s only official language until the turn of the century. But if you want to ask a local for for some advice, you’ll get a big smile for starting out with “bula” (hello) as a way to break the ice.

However, before we give you our selection of 19 basic Fijian phrases, there are a few important pronunciation rules. Some of these are a little surprising (!), so it’s a good idea to know them in advance.

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How to pronounce the Fijian Alphabet

Vowels

Vowel sounds are very similar to those used in Spanish and other Latin-American languages. Here’s how to pronounce them:

  • The letter ‘a’ is pronounced “ah” as in father
  • The letter ‘e’ is pronounced “ey” as in phrase
  • The letter ‘i’ is pronounced “ee” as in beef
  • The letter ‘o’ is pronounced “oh” as in globe
  • The letter ‘u’ is pronounced “oo” as in zoom
  • The letters ‘ai’ are pronounced “it” as in fire

Special Consonants

These are a bit trickier, but they’re essential as they change the whole way some words are pronounced.

  • The letter ‘b’ has an invisible “m” before it, and is pronounced “mb” as in number
  • The letter ‘c’ is pronounced “th” as in this
  • The letter ‘d’ has an invisible “n” before it, and is pronounced “nd” as in land
  • The letter ‘g’ has an invisible “n” before it, and is pronounced “ng” as in singer
  • The letter ‘j’ is pronounced “ch” as in chill
  • The letter ‘q’ has an invisible “n” before it, and is also pronounced “ng” as in singer

19 basic Fijian words and phrases

Fijian family
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Towards the end of this guide, we’ve given some background on each of Fiji’s official languages: Fijian, English, and a version of Hindi. But for now, let’s get on with our list! The first five on the list are usually considered the most essential, so we’ve given you a bit of background on each.

1. Hello, Welcome — Bula (“mBoo-la”)

This is the most common greeting on Fiji and is usually delivered with a great deal of enthusiasm! Bula literally translates as “life,” so when someone greets you this way, they’re actually wishing you a happy and healthy life. Bula is the informal, shortened version: the formal phrase is ni sa bula vinaka (“Nee sa mBoo-la vee-na-ka” ), but you’ll get by with just the one-word version.

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Fijians, as you’ll very quickly find, are extremely friendly people. It’s completely normal for strangers to pass you on the street with a smile, a nod, and a “bula.” While this might seem strange to big city folk, it doesn’t take too much time to get used to!

2. Please — yalo vinaka (“ya-lo vin-ah-ka”)

There’s no literal translation for either ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ in Fijian, as politeness is practically built-in to the language. ‘Yalo’ translates to “heart”, “soul” or “spirit”, and the word ‘vinaka’  loosely means “good” or sometimes “better”. So when you say “yalo vinake”, you’re effectively saying the person has a good heart or a kind spirit.

‘Kerekere’ is another word for ‘please’, but it’s more of a request. It’s also the name of a Fijian custom in which a relative, or a close neighbor, can request something that they need and it must be given willingly, and with no favors owed. A sort of Fijian version of ‘pay it forward’.

3. Thank you — vinaka (“vin-ah-ka”)

As we’ve explained above, there’s no literal words for ‘thank you’. So vinaka is used once again, but this time it means “good”, as in “you are good for helping me”.  In common use, most locals abbreviate the word to just “naka.”  If you want to say a big thank you, you can add the word ‘vakalevu’ (literally “make great”) sovinaka vakalevu means “thank you very much.”

4. How are you? — vacava tiko? (“va-tha-va tee-koh”)

There’s no literal equivalent for ‘how are you?’ in Fijian, but vacava tiko does the same job (although the closest translation is “what do you sit?”) Other times, friends that pass each other in the street might use O sā lako i vei? which means “where are you going?” They’re not expecting a reply, it’s really only used as a greeting.

The formal version of ‘how are you?’ is the long phrase ‘O ni bulabula vinaka tiko?’  (“are you of healthy heart and spirit?”) We’re not expecting anyone to memorise it, but the second word is really fun to say! Go on, try it: “mBoo-la-mBoo-la”! By the way, if any local asks you “vacava tiko?”, a perfectly acceptable reply is just “tiko!” 

fijian in tribal makeup
A Fijian in full Tuvalu tribal warrior makeup | Image Credit: imagicity.com CC BY-SA 3.0

5. Goodbye — moce (“moh-thay”) and moce mada (“moh-thay ma-nDa”)

‘Moce’ literally means “sleep”, but it’s come to mean the last thing you say to someone as they leave. So this could be for someone leaving a bar, or for someone going to bed. Adding the word ‘mada’  (literally “for a”) doesn’t really change the meaning, but it’s a slightly more formal farewell. Between friends, it’s more common to use ‘Sota tale‘, which means ‘see you later’ (literally “meet again”)

6. Yes — io (“ee-oh”)

Combining this with number 4 gives io yalo vinaka, which means “yes, please.”

7.  No — sega (“seng-ah”)

Similarly, you can combine this with number 5 to make sega vinaka, which means “no, thank you.” Remember to pronounce the invisible ‘n’ in sega; otherwise you’ll just be saying the name of a 90s game console!

8. Good morning — ni sa yadra (“ni sa yan-dra”)

While saying “Bula!” whenever you meet anyone is perfectly acceptable, there are some special greetings that refer to certain parts of the day. Ni sa yadra is just for the morning, and can be shortened to just yadra, which is the word for “wake up”.

9 Good afternoon or evening — ni sa bula (“nee sah mBoola”)

This is a bit of a cheat, as literally translated it means “is of good”, which has nothing to do with anything!

10. Goodnight — ni sa moce (“nee sah moh-thay”)

This is slightly more formal than just using ‘moce’.

11. No Worries — sega na leqa (“seng-ah nah len-gah”)

The Fijian version of ‘hakuna matata’. The strange pronunciation rules for ‘g’ and ‘q’ means the phrsae is actually easier to say out loud than to read. Our prediction? You’ll hear this phrase a lot.

12. Eat — kana (“kah-nah”)

Like most Fijian words, this has more than one meaning. So although it’s techically a verb, kana also means “let’s eat.” It’s also the shortened term for “restaurant”, where the full version is vale ni kana (literally “house of food”).

Cassava cake
Cassava cake is one of Fiji’s favorite desserts | Image Credit: Elivelton Nogueira Veto from Pixabay

13. Food — kakana (“ka-kah-na”)

Not to be confused with the name of a small village in India (!), kakana is an all-encompassing word for food in general. If we add this to the previous word in our list, we get kana kakana, which means “let’s eat some food!”

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14. Drink — gunu (“gu-nu”)

Gunu means a physical drink you can hold in your hands, whereas the verb “to drink” is gunuva.

15. Beer — bia (“Bee-ah”)

Thankfully, this is quite close to the English word, which might prove a Godsend! In a bar or restaurant, to order another round of drinks try saying dua tale (“‘nDoo-ah Tal-eh”), which means “one more.” Confusingly, the word for one (dua) sounds lot like the Italian ‘due‘, which means “two”, but at least the word for beer is easy!

16. Beautiful — totoka (“toh-toh-kah”)

This is a unisex term, which can mean beautiful, handsome, or attractive. It’s exactly the right word to describe an attractive sunset, or an attractive person, but you can also use it as an exclamation, as in “that’s great!” For emphasis, you can say totoka sara , which means “very beautiful”. Correct use of totoka can occasionally lead to the next word in our list.

Fiji lady smiling
Photo by Sandra Stephens on Unsplash

17. I Love You — Au domoni iko (“aYo nDo-mo-nee ee-ko”)

We know of a (moderately drunk) English guy who walked up to a local girl at a bar in Viti Levu and said “I love you” in absolutely terrible Fijian. She thought it was hilarious, they got chatting (in perfect English) and ended up dating for the two months he was there. Sometimes ‘Hello’ and ‘I love you’ are all you need!

18. Fiji — Viti (“Vee-tee”)

Viti is simply the Fijian way of saying “Fiji”.The largest island in Fiji, which holds the capital city Suva, is called Viti Levu, which translates as “Great Island”.

19. “Na bula e vaka oqo – so na gauna draki vinaka, so na gauna draki ca.” (“Life is like this: Sometimes sun, sometimes rain.”)

This is one of Fiji’s most famous proverbs. No one expects you to learn this (phew!) but we’ve included it as a great example of the Fijian philosophy of life. If you’re unsure of how to paraphrase this: we can sum it up in two words: “sh!t happens!”

That’s the end of our list, but we think the 19 entries above (well, maybe not the last one) are the basic Fijian phrases you’ll need.

A Fijian and son
A Fijian father teaches his son how to blow the ceremonial conch shell | Image Credit: cultur668 from Pixabay

Which languages are spoken in Fiji?

There are three official languages spoken in Fiji. The least common is Fijian Hindi, spoken by roughly 35 percent of people. The most-spoken language award is shared by both English and Fijian, which are used equally as either a first or second language by almost two-thirds of the population.

Fijian (aka iTaukei, aka Vosa Vakaviti)


Fiji didn’t have a written language until the 1830s, when colonists from the London Missionary Society began working on an alphabet. They found that some of the sounds used in the Fijian language, classified as a Malayo-Polynesian language, had no written equivalents in the English alphabet. So they used the nearest-sounding letter, which is why visitors almost always get the pronunciation wrong! But the Fijians don’t mind: they genuinely love the fact that you’re trying — especially as most of them understand English perfectly!

Fijian is known officially as iTaukei , which roughly translates as “the Native.” (Fijians often join words together, and if the second word is a name or proper noun, then an uppercase letter is still used — even in the middle of the word.) Apart from the official name of iTaukei, Fijian is also referred to as Vosa Vakaviti, which translates as “Our Language”

English

English is the most commonly-used language across Fiji, chosen by government, education and trade. This is a holdover from when the British colonized Fiji in 1874 and who demanded that the locals adopt English as their mother tongue. English remained the only official language of Fiji until it declared independence from the British in 1997. Nowadays, the everyday language for most locals is an equal mix of English and Fijian.

Fijian Hindi

In 1879, British colonists in Fiji started importing slaves from India to work on their sugarcane farms, eventually creating a community of some 60,000 Indians. Although slavery ended around 1920, today’s Fijian-born descendants still speak the language of their Indian grandparents, as a nod to their native culture. Known as “Fijian Hindi,” it’s the third most common language in Fiji, spoken by roughly 37 percent of the island.

Photo by Bill Fairs on Unsplash

A Final Word

We hope you’ve found this guide interesting and useful (and before you travel, you should definitely check our other article about the most dangerous animals in Fiji). As we said at the start of this guide: knowing a few basic Fijian phrases won’t really help you ‘blend in’ with the locals, but it’s a great way to break the ice. The people of Fiji are friendly and welcoming, and knowing that you’ve taken the time to learn just a few of their words will be seen as extremely polite. And, as they saying goes: “being polite doesn’t cost anything.”

Vainui vinaka e nomu volau!
(“bon voyage!”)