Balancing culture and survival: An urban-rural socioeconomic assessment of indigenous Fijian funerals in Fiji

Kimberly Burnett, Publications

Abstract: As a final act, families of the deceased strive to implement funeral rites that are befitting of their loved one. However, perceived obligatory adherence to an immutable culture, plus emulation, can compel families to carry out a costly funeral. Yet, no data exist on financing and expenditure of indigenous Fijian (iTaukei) funerals in Fiji, which can mask any concerns and delay necessary interventions. Focusing on cash only, information for 239 iTaukei funerals (urban=128 and village=111) between 2000 and 2020 across Fiji was collected using Google survey forms. This revealed average cash contributions by the “decedent’s family” and from “condolences” as US$3,104 and US$2,183, respectively. The total cash spent on funerals averaged US$4,979, which is equivalent to five months of Fiji’s annual average household income. Costs between funeral locations were not significantly different and were attributed to lengthy village funerals that were enabled by access to mortuary, shipping, or flight charter costs, plus financing of village funerals by relatives residing locally and internationally. Forty-five families (19% of funerals) contributed more than US$4,800 (FJ$10,000) in cash towards funeral costs, with 28 families (12%) securing loans ranging from US$240 to US$7,200. To balance a respectable funeral against household survival, families reduced costs by modifying and/or dispensing with select rituals, prepared ahead by saving, or participated in communal functions, which are reciprocated in the future. This research shows that although funerals may not yet be considered a social economic burden, early research can identify and address issues, thereby enhancing community resilience.

Vave, Ron, Kimberly M. Burnett, and Alan M. Friedlander. “Balancing culture and survival: an urban-rural socioeconomic assessment of indigenous Fijian funerals in Fiji.” World Development Sustainability (2023): 100063.