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The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Custom

The Yavu or Building Site

The Yavu or Building Site

The nucleus of every Fijian village has been at no very remote date a single family, inhabiting a single house. As Fijians from the parent stock multiplied, houses were built round the site of the house of the common ancestor. Each son when he married and settled down, chose for himself a site for his house, within the limits of the fortification. He page 358named it after his own fancy, and when imagination failed him, after the nearest natural object. Thus most Fijian houses are named after some native tree. In the course of years, or the vicissitudes of war, the village was removed, but when this was done, the new settlement was built as nearly as possible upon the exact plan of the old one. I have watched the process. When the site was decided upon the chief went with his people, and selected a site for his own house. In heathen times, the position of the Mbure, or temple, was first marked out, and the chief pitched his temporary shelter in a position that corresponded with the site of his house in the village he had abandoned. Then his nearest neighbours marked out the sites of their houses. Their neighbours followed, and so on until the new village corresponded exactly with the old, as far as the nature of the ground permitted. If the town increased in size, new ground from outside the moat was appropriated by the householders in want of a house, and the moat was dug so as to include it. These house sites descended by the ordinary law of inheritance to the eldest brother, or in default of a brother, to the eldest son. One man, especially if he were a representative of a decaying family, might own several. For years no house might have been built upon them, and yet, unless he formally conveyed them to another, the right of himself and his heirs was never disputed. The proprietary rights were most jealously guarded. Between each yavu there must be space for a path, and the eaves of your house must not project so as to drip upon a part of the path appertaining to your neighbour's yavu. A yavu might occasionally, though rarely, be given in dowry, but in such cases it reverted, as in the case of arable land, to the descendants of the original owner.