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WELLINGTON - Fiji's decision on religious grounds not to perform the cibi, or war chant, before Saturday's rugby Test against Scotland in Edinburgh has polarised the deeply religious but rugby-mad nation.
A 70-year-old tradition ended at Murrayfield when Fiji decided not to perform the cibi at the urging of team coach and pastor Sam Domoni, who described it as a relic of Fiji's pre-Christian past.
Domoni told Fiji media players had voted in favour of a team management move to ban the war dance because they "fear God".
Letters columns in Fiji's major newspapers and Internet forums have been filled with reaction to the decision since Saturday and several former Fiji players have expressed disappointment that a long-standing part of Fiji's rugby history had been discarded.
Hooker George Farrell, who played for Fiji in 1964, said the cibi was performed with pride by all Fijian players.
"It is part of our rugby culture," he said.
Sale Sorovaki, who led Fiji to its last win over Scotland in 1998, said the cibi motivated players immediately before kickoff.
In its absence on Saturday, Fiji slumped to a 23-10 loss to Scotland and dropped from eighth to 10th in the world rankings.
A leading article yesterday in the Fiji Times newspaper called for the cibi to be reinstated.
"Every national rugby side since the introduction of the sport has performed this brief battle challenge prior to Test matches," the Times said. "This is part of our heritage as a nation, a rallying point similar to the national anthem and a matter of pride for all our people.
"The cibi has been performed in Argentina, Australia, England, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Samoa, South Africa, Tonga, the US and Wales. Indeed, true rugby fans at home and abroad rank this traditional battle cry as one of the most eagerly awaited moments in the sport."
The Fiji Times said religious objections to the cibi were misplaced.
"For the record, the cibi is a war challenge, not a prayer to some deity worshipped by the indigenous people," it said. - Sapa-AP