VEIQIA as it is traditionally known, was the custom commonly bestowed on young Fijian women coming of age. The process involves the traditional tattooing of young women celebrating and acknowledging the initial stages of a young girl undergoing physical changes before or while entering womanhood.
The piece reflects on the once forgotten ritualistic aspect that held utmost importance in the lives of Fijian women, focusing specifically on how proudly celebrated menstruation was for young women then, and how unnecessarily stigmatised it is in today’s society.
The Veiqia was symbolic, signifying strength, resilience, resourcefulness and creativity in the lives of these women. Today, the question that comes into play is ‘What is a woman’s rite of passage?’
Veiqia21 is a full length show that was choreographed by Ta’Arei Weeks. She is one of the youngest females to choreograph a full length piece in the Pacific and her work was premiered at the Women of the World Festival in Brisbane. She took with her 7 dancers to premiere this work, and here is a reflection of the piece written by Navi Fong.
“The show, while exhilarating, was also challenging for me to perform because I am a male.
It was difficult for me to find my safe space within the piece as a man among women making commentary on something concerned primarily with WOMEN (veiqia) within a woman’s festival!
I felt that I needed to justify my presence on stage.
And so the hour prior to show time was spent in deep reflection into how I was going to step out comfortably into this conversation.
It was in trusting the hours of work, sweat, thought, and love that led to the eventuation of VEIQIA21 by choreographer Ta’arei Weeks and all my fellow dancers – trusting the journey we all took to co-create something that resonates with us – that I found the courage to allow myself to be entirely present.
The audience received our entrance meke with cheers and applause. But much like the beach enthusiast met by the sudden and unexpected drop towards the edge of the shoreline, I don’t think that many were prepared for the sudden turn that the performance took. A silence fell in the theater as our girls peeled back their layers, broke stereotypes and expectations, and ushered their stolen selves into the space. They were incredible and I think it’s safe to say that the boys and I were so incredibly humbled and honored to have been there in support of this message: that although we’ve had to hunt for it, VEIQIA is of and from our history. That it is by virtue of its place IN OUR HISTORY, bound to that time. That it WAS important, but IS extinct (its original form anyway). That it served as an outward manifestation of an inward rite of passage – a longing to be of value – that many still struggle with today. And how the idea of “a rite of passage” or of being valued/accepted within a community is irrelevant to time. That although veiqia is not practiced culturally anymore, the struggle for acceptance (the rite of passage) by young pacific people within their communities has never been more prevalent.
The audience looked to be an interesting mix of ethnicities and ages. And I only hope that while we can only speak from our Fijian realities, they can all take something away from that conversation relevant to their truths.
Technically, the piece grew in dynamic once the lighting and sound was sorted. The power that light has to manipulate space and the bodies within it can never be understated. The tech people were so accommodating to all our needs and provided great tech support. Stage manager, having seen us rehearse the choreography without lighting, remarked that “the lights really did make a huge difference to the movement, it was powerful”. Lighting technician, Tim, mentioned that he “is a huge fan of dance, and what you guys did tonight was incredible!”
Congratulations dancers, you all did an AMAAAAAZZZINNG job with holding the piece together despite being unable to hear the music at times over the applauding audience. Only professionals with your experience level could have pulled that off with that level of finesse.
I received nothing but great feedback from the audience during our little meet & greet session after the show. There were a few that were bewildered by the boys ‘Wau’ section – I anticipated this though. It was kind of the elephant in the room. so was happy to talk and discuss this with them.
Finally, Ta’arei Weeks, congratulations lewa on this milestone achievement. I hope that we did you proud today Rei, and that you are happy with how things turned out. What a great start to your choreographic career!