One of Fiji's most beautiful traditional arts is masi or tapa cloth, fabric made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree. Women strip the bark, soak it in water, then scrape it with shells. Using wooden mallets, they pound it into thin sheets. Four layers of sheets are pressed together and dried in the sun to create a light fabric similar to felt. Using natural dyes, women stencil red, black and brown designs onto the cream-coloured surface.

Fijians are skilled potters. In a technique called coiling and paddling, potters build up the sides of a pot with long clay coils, then beat them smooth using a wooden paddle. Girls in villages are taught to weave baskets and mats using pandanus leaves, vine tendrils, banana stems, water weeds and coconut husks. Men use traditional woodcarving skills to produce objects such as the tanoa, the bowl used to prepare kava.

Fiji's history, myths and legends are kept alive in music and dance. A meke (action song) combines song, dance and theatre. Wearing traditional costumes made of leaves, grasses and masi, the performers re-enact heroic or tragic events of the past. Men perform a vigorous war dance while women perform the seasea, a dance with fans. Both entertain the audience with the humorous vakamalolo dance.

Oratory is highly valued, and many Fijians are expert storytellers and public speakers. A mataqali (spokesperson) speaks on behalf of the chief at formal events and is expected to be eloquent. Fijian choral singing is also famous, and churches encourage hymn-singing in both English and Fijian.

Indian music, dance and architecture are part of Fijian culture. Hindu festivals showcase traditional Indian dances, costumes, theatre and music. To help Fijian Indians preserve their heritage, cultural centres in Suva, Ba, Labasa and Nadi offer language classes and lectures in Indian arts.

Most Fijian authors write in English. Playwrights such as Jo Nacola (I Native No More) and Vilsoni Hereniko, short-story writers such as Subramani, Marjorie Crocombe and Raymond Pillai, and novelists such as Joseph Veramu (Moving Through the Streets) provide a range of perspectives on lifein Fiji.

   Did you know?
Hairdressing was once a traditional Fijian art form. Fijian men dyed their hair various colours and styled it into fantastic shapes. A man's hair expressed his power and social status. Chiefs' hairdressers would spend days creating special effects. The circumference of the final arrangement could reach two metres.