ETHNIC RELATIONS IN FIJI:
PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE AND THE RECENT SHIFT
IN THE ETHNIC BALANCE
by Stephanie Sienkiewicz
Extended Table of Contents
- Note on the Pronunciation of Fijian Words
- The Ethnic Relations Enigma
- The Reality of Ethnic Separation
- Outline of Chapters
- Chapter 2 - Cultural Identity in the Pacific
- Culture Is Not Static, In Fact it is Constructed
- Pacific Ethnic Identity Has Been Constructed in Opposition to Colonialism
- Pacific Island Identity Also Adheres to Colonial Notions About Pacific Island Culture
- Pacific Islanders May Be Unable to Escape Colonial Notions of Themselves
- Chapter 3 - Fijian History
- The Colonial Encounter
- Indian "Importation" to Fiji
- The Effect of British Colonial Policy on Ethnic Separation
- A Political History of Fijian Indian Interaction
- The History of Fiji's Land Issue
- Chapter 4 -
- The Stereotypes
- The Lazy Fijian, The Diligent Indian
- The "Cultural" Fijian and the "Uncultural" Indian
- Fijian Communal Responsibilities Prevent Them From Advancing Alongside Indians Who Have No Culture Hold Them Back
- Fijians Are Backward, Less Civilized than Indians
- Chapter 5 - Stereotypes Distort Reality
- Fijians Do Care about Money, But There Are Obstacles in Attaining Wealth
- Fijian "Culture" Can be Oppressive Instead of Something That Fijians Willingly Value
- Indians Respect and Care about Community and Family
- People Embrace Stereotypes, Although Untrue, Because They Lead to a Positive Sense of Self
- Chapter 6 - Underlying Models of Ethnic Relations
- Fijians Always View Interaction as Interaction Between Separate Communities
- Indian Culture Views Society as a Combination of Groups of People Rather than Individuals
- Chapter 7 - Changing Self-images: Throwing Off Colonial Legacies
- Fijians Now Conceptualize Themselves as Commercial Beings
- Fijians Can Look at Themselves Positively as a Result of Financially Controlling Their Land
- Indians Reject the Colonialist Notion of a Plural Society: Political Representation Should Not Be Based on Ethnicity
- Fijians Have Deviated From Communalist / Plural Society Notions
- Works Cited
Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers
I wish to extend deep thanks to the Fijian community in which I was immersed during my stay in Fiji. This support facilitated my research immensely by easing my interaction with informants. I also greatly appreciate the honesty with which the people whom I interviewed expressed themselves. Members of both the Fijian and the Indian communities clearly desired to share their culture with me. They wanted to translate the conditions of their lives so that I would understand what it was like to be a Fijian or an Indian in Fiji. I respect and admire this welcoming nature of both cultures. I thank the people of Fiji for inviting me into their homes, enjoying tea with me, and making me feel comfortable and accepted.
I also wish to extent a myriad of thanks to my thesis advisor Karen Brison. Her attention to my work and the respect which she showed myself and my research greatly fortified my personal motivation to accomplish the writing of this thesis. I thank her for the many revision suggestions she sent me, for her personal commitment to my thesis topic, for introducing me to possible informants while in Fiji, and for updating my knowledge of Fijian village affairs after I had left the country.
Lastly and simply, I am extremely grateful for my Fijian term abroad experience.
Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers
NOTE ON THE PRONUNCIATION OF FIJIAN WORDS
Fijian orthography generally follows an pattern that fits with an English speaker's intuitive understanding, but some distinctive devices have been used to render Fijian in a systematic way.
More conventional orthography:
"a" as in "father"
"e" as in "bed"
"i" as the "ee" in "beet"
"o" as in "hope" but with no diphthong
"u" as in "tube"
The unconventional features of Fijian orthography are as follows:
"b" refers to the sound "mb" as in "tomboy"
"d" refers to "nd" as in "find"
"c" is a voiced "th" as in "the"
"g" is the "ng" as in "singer"
"q" is the "ng" as in "finger"
Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers
This thesis explores ethnic relations in the Pacific island country of Fiji. The two dominant population groups in Fiji are the indigenous Fijians (who I will hereafter, following local practice, refer to as Fijians) and Indo-Fijians (who I will, again following local practice, refer to as Indians). Each makes up roughly 50 percent of the population of Fiji; a few other ethnic minorities also comprise a small percentage of the total population. The ancestors of the Fijians inhabited the islands at the time of Western contact. Indians in Fiji are the descendants of indentured servants brought by the British from India, beginning in 1879. During the course of a term abroad in Fiji, I studied the interaction between the Fijian and Indian ethnic groups. I was instantly intrigued by the apparent contradiction found within this relationship. Firstly, the two communities have little social contact with each other and also each group vocalizes hostile stereotypes about the opposing ethnic group. Indians told me that Fijians sat around all day and were backward compared to Indians. Fijians said that Indians were rude and money-hungry. Secondly, however, there has been minimal ethnic violence in Fiji, despite the existence of these hostilities. This peaceful coexistence is, in fact, a source of pride for both Fijians and Indians. This thesis will explain how these ethnic stereotypes actually perpetrate Fiji's ethnic harmony but also how the situation which allowed for this balance is currently changing. This affects ethnic interaction. This thesis will, then, describe the current transition in Fiji and how the harmonious balance is shifting.
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The Ethnic Relations Enigma
A personal fascination with ethnic relations and hostility between social groups, combined with an interest in Indian culture, led me to examine interaction between indigenous Fijians and Indians in Fiji. I arrived in Fiji in September, 1999. At once, I noticed the distinct separation between the two ethnic groups. Most people one meets in Fiji are easily identifiable as either Fijian or Indian (unless he/she is a member of one of the Chinese or European minority populations). There are also many cultural distinctions. I noticed that Fijians and Indians live apart from one another in almost all cases. Only rarely during my stay in Fiji, usually in the larger towns of the country, did I ever see Indians living amongst Fijians or Fijians living in Indian communities. There is much interaction between the ethnic groups for business purposes. Instances of social interaction, however, are not common, especially within the older and middle-aged generations. I witnessed only three instances of purely social interaction between Fijians and Indo-Fijians while in Fiji from September 6, 1999 until November 28,1999. Moreover, interviews with both Fijians and Indians indicated that interaction between the communities could be quite hostile. For example, a young Fijian woman evoked a time of intense ethnic hostility in her childhood.
I remember when I was young, we would say to the Indians, "Go back to your own land. This is not your land. Go back to India. Why did you come here? Look at your people starving over there and you are here and want to act as a hot shot!" And then the Indians would reply back, "Oh, you just mind your own business. We are from here. Our grandfathers came here." We would say, "Your grandfather is Fijian or Indian? My grandfather is the boss of this and the boss of that."
Furthermore, Indians told me that Fijians are lazy and ignorant, and hence forever doomed to poverty, despite the many favors they have received from both the colonial and national governments. Fijians said that Indians worship money, that they care so much about it they will murder their own relatives to gain access to it. Additionally, the two ethnic groups remain so culturally separate that people from one ethnic group do not seem to know much about the opposing ethnic group's cultural practices or belief systems. That there are dominant stereotypes about each culture demonstrates this lack of mutual knowledge.
Yet the most intriguing aspect of the ethnic situation in Fiji is that, while this potent separation exists, and many of the stereotypes held by one group about the other are hostile, there has been non-violent coexistence between the groups since the first Indian immigrants arrived. In many other areas of the world where ethnic groups intersect, there is violent tension, aggression and war. There has been no serious ethnic violence in Fiji, however. The closest thing to ethnic violence Fiji has experienced was a military coup in 1987. A Fijian nationalist, Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, organized a military coup in opposition to a ruling government party involving a coalition between Fijians and Indians. This was a non-violent coup however; no one was injured and no one posed a violent opposition to it. And recently, in July 1999, an Indian Prime Minister was elected with no ethnic violence.
Through exploring ethnic relations and ethnic stereotypes in Fiji, I came to the conclusion that the mystery of peaceful coexistence between Fijians and Indians in Fiji might best be described as a balance. The ethnic groups consciously remain separate from each other. Both cultures acknowledge the separation and accept it as a normal course of relations between differing communities. Both draw on a model which assumes that a nation is composed of separate ethnic groups rather than collection of autonomous individuals. This model has roots in both Fijian and Indian culture and also in British colonialism. The British initiated this model which happened to fit well with the Fijian and Indian cultural outlooks. In colonial times, British deemed themselves the governing body, considered Fijians as best occupied with preserving their native culture, and decided the Indians would provide labor for the colony. This model has remained a part of Fijian society and the Fijian and Indian communities, subsequently, feel that they each have their own role in the country as a whole. A national balance is achieved as each community fulfills its role.
Beliefs about which roles the different communities play also fuel stereotypes about the two ethnic groups. British colonialism initiated the stereotypes about Fijians and Indians. One surprising aspect of these stereotypes is that the two cultures not only believe these about each other but they also believe them about themselves. A short overview of the stereotypes, which achieve the balance, are that Fijians live a predominately subsistent life while maintaining their valuable culture and Indians work hard, own businesses, and save money, lacking culture. These stereotypes are not necessarily true, however, as my research will show. But, Fijians and Indians have continued to believe in them because, they, in some way, create a positive sense of ethnic identity for each community. Fijians see themselves as a people who place a higher value on human relations than on money and can, therefore, consider themselves morally superior to Indians. Indians think of themselves as more civilized than Fijians, and cite their work ethic and economic dominance in the country as evidence. Since Fijians and Indians accept these stereotypical roles and accept the separation between the communities as appropriate, the country has remained peaceful, in balance.
These stereotypes worked well in a situation wherein Fijian land was leased out to Indian tenants for long periods of time. When the indenture system ceased in 1920, cane fields were divided up and Indians were allowed to lease Fijian-owned land, on 99-year leases, becoming tenant farmers. This arrangement benefited Fijians, who received lease money, and Indians, who attained access to land. The lease arrangement has, therefore, given rise to, and been supported by, stereotypes which portray Fijians as both too lazy and too enmeshed in their communal lives to be effective cane farmers. This is a case where stereotypes support a balance between the two groups by giving each a positive self-image. Indians see themselves as hard-working and enterprising. Fijians see themselves as people with a culture too valuable to be exchanged for material wealth. However, lease payments are low in comparison to the amount of money which cane farmers earn from the land. In fact, many of the wealthiest Fijian villagers are people who farm land which they lease from other Fijians.
Many land leases between Fijians and Indians have run out in recent years, though, and they continue to run out presently. Fijians are now questioning whether they should renew their Indian tenants' leases or reclaim that land. And, many Fijians have decided that they do not want to renew the leases but instead want to farm their land. This contradicts the stereotype that Fijians are lazy. The shifting land situation, therefore, is calling the ideas which reinforce the ethnic balance into question. The stereotypes which one community holds about the other and which the communities surprisingly hold about themselves are now being rejected by some Fijians and Indo-Fijians.
While discussion about this topic effectively locates the stereotypes that Indians and Fijians hold about one another and themselves, it also illustrates that these stereotypes distort reality. People often believe things about the other and their own ethnic group which are untrue. The land lease issue has called these notions of the opposing cultures into question and Fijians and Indo-Fijians have had to reexamine their ideas of community interaction and about the nature of each ethnic group. This is also, then, a diversion from colonial-imposed stereotypes and the plural society notion. If the stereotypes, which have maintained a balance between the two ethnic groups for so long, are changing or falling out of existence, then the balance may be in danger. Thus the land lease issue and the subsequent shift in viewpoints have the potential to break down ethnic stereotypes in Fiji, throwing off the balance which has kept both sides content in the roles they have taken on in their country.
My analysis of this issue also led me to a literature on ethnicity in the Pacific suggesting that ethnic identity across the Pacific is largely shaped by a colonial legacy. Many groups' views of their own culture have been largely shaped by the ideas of colonialists who have since departed. In this way, many scholars have suggested, Pacific minds are still "colonized" (Keesing 1989) even when the material apparatus of colonialism is gone. In thinking about Fiji, I realized, as I have suggested above, that the impact of colonial ideologies was obvious. However, I eventually came to the conclusion that Fijians and Indians accepted these colonial stereotypes only because they were psychologically and materially advantageous in their current circumstances. Fijians seemed quite capable of coming to new views of their culture and situation in the changing situation created by the expiration of land leases. This thesis, then, also explores the impact of a colonial legacy on ethnic identity.
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The Reality of Ethnic Separation
It is necessary to describe the extent of the separation between the Fijian and Indian communities to orient the reader to the present situation in Fiji. One of the aspects of culture which distinguishes the ethnic groups is religion. Most Fijians are Methodist, Catholic or belong to some other Christian sect. Most Indians are Hindu; one-fifth of the Indian population is Muslim and a very small, but growing, percentage is Christian. Religion was the most commonly given answer, from my informants, as to what separates Fijians from Indians.
Another frequent explanation is the living arrangement of the ethnic groups. Traditionally and typically, Fijians live in villages excluding Indians. And Indians live in nuclear families, in isolated houses along the roads. There are some, but few, settlements, where Indian families live in a village type atmosphere and Fijian and Indian families live together, as when all employees of a particular company have their housing in clusters.
Clothing style is another commonly spoken of difference between Fijian and Indian culture. Fijian village regulations prohibit hats or any type of head apparel as the head is symbolic of all that is highly respected in Fijian culture. Indians do not observe similar regulations. Fijians also require women to wear long skirts while in the village as a matter of respect. The traditional Fijian woman's costume is called a sulu-jaba (this resembles a dress over a long skirt.) A traditional Indian (Hindu) woman's costume is called a saree (a long piece of material draped around the body over a blouse and petticoat) or a salwar kameez (this resembles a dress over pants with a long scarf worn around the neck and shoulders). While men of each ethnic group now wear similar clothes (except for Indian minorities such as Muslims or Sikhs), Indian and Fijian women continue to wear their traditional styles and there is very little crossing-over between the groups. Food too is a difference but most informants note the usual crossing over of foods from one group to the other.
Informants noted that there certainly is ethnic separation in Fiji. Individual informants gave varying reasons for this separation though. The following excerpt of an interview with a Fijian cane farmer shows that he believes the separation to be intentional, on the part of the Indian community, although he realizes that the situation changes depending upon location.
And even some are friendly just like we are staying together in a village. They have better relations. If there is any problem at home, anyone passed away, a wedding or something, they can come and join the family gathering. Us, they never do that
They keep separate from us
We mostly, us Fijians, if you help me, if you come to me, or you just always visit me when you are staying on my land, then we are close relations. But those Indians from our side, we can't stay close to them. They never come visit us
Because some of them, we can't stay together. They can't come close to us.
Another informant also noted the separation.
[The Indians] live separately
They are much different, the Indians and the Fijians. Because of our traditions, you see the way they are living
Mostly, they don't want to come [interact with us], because we are a different kind of people
No, we can't [live together]. I don't know [why]. Since I was born, it's been like this
But we can't [live together]. We are different.
The ethnic separation is noticeable, even to one who doesn't look for it, while staying in Fiji. It is clear that citizens conceive of the communities as separate in their minds. An Indian taxi driver and, on another occasion, a Fijian woman commented to me that there are "plenty Indians" in a town called Ba. I have also heard Fijians comment that there are many Indians in one location, such as a bank. The Lautoka Post Office categorizes incoming mail to be directed to "Fijians (Villages), Indians or Europeans."
Only once during my homestay experience did I find an Indian guest in the house. An excerpt from my fieldnotes explains the situation.
An Indian man showed up at the door of my house this evening. He was invited inside and my family told me he wanted to drink "grog" [kava, a beverage always consumed at Fijian social events]. They were laughing because my the three-year-old granddaughter of my host family ran out of the room when she saw him. They said that she was scared of him. The man brought two bags of kava, or "grog" to drink with the family
My host mother mixed the grog. She used a large plastic bowl rather than the customary wooden bowl I've seen used at every other grog-drinking occasion. My host father stayed seated in his chair in the sitting room rather than sitting on the floor. The man stayed and watched rugby on television with my family and the other villagers that came over.
It was apparent that my homestay family did not treat the man in the same manner as they treat Fijian guests who visit their home. When a Fijian comes to drink grog, a central symbol in Fijian culture, the television is turned off and people sit in a circle on mats on the floor, conversing or talanoa (telling stories). It was also evident that my family experienced some discomfort because of their unfamiliarity with a visit from an Indian. The Indian man was also not a typical member of the Indian community.
Observing businesses in the towns also shows ethnic separation. Most are owned and operated by Indo-Fijian citizens. There are some Fijian employees, but the majority are Indian. Only very rarely did I ride in a taxi or bus that was driven by a Fijian driver. It seems most commercial enterprises are run by Indians and that this is the forum in which most Fijian-Indian interaction takes place.
There are both Fijian schools and Indian schools in Fiji. While the students and teachers in each kind of school may be Fijian or Indian, the ethnic majority in each corresponds to the ethnic affiliation of the school. It is less frequent to find Indian students in Fijian schools than to find Fijian students in Indian schools, however. In fact, there were two separate education movements. Indo-Fijians are often credited with catalyzing the education system in general in Fiji. And in reaction to the Indian dominance of the education field, Fijians developed their own curriculum, largely emphasizing traditional Fijian custom and culture.
I asked Fijian and Indian informants the last time they spoke to a member of the other culture for purely social reasons. One Indian man told me he attended a Fijian festival last month. Another Indian man told me he could not remember the last time he talked to a Fijian for a non-business related purpose. A Fijian man I interviewed said that he had talked to an Indian man just that morning about farming methods since he had met him on the road. One Fijian woman I asked at first could not remember, but then pinpointed a time three years before the interview when she worked with an Indian man and they ate lunch together. All informants required some time to think about this question. They could easily tell me the last business interaction they had, however. This illustrates the infrequency of social interaction among Fijians and Indians. The two ethnic groups remain culturally separate, merging for business and other such functional purposes.
I interviewed a student of the Lautoka Teacher's College who described to me a Cross-Cultural Workshop which is mandatory for all students of the college. Fijians learn about Indian culture and Indians learn about Fijian culture. Members of each ethnic group must learn, at an advanced stage of education, about the other culture. This shows that most people do not in fact know much about the other ethnic group's way of living since future teachers must learn this at college. The college wants its graduates to be able to try to understand their students whether in an Indian or Fijian school, as Fijians do teach in Indian schools and Indians teach in Fijian schools.
The weekly program is called the "Cross-Cultural Program." The students wear each other's traditional clothes. Indo-Fijians will wear sulu-jamba. And the Indian students give the Fijian students their salwar kameez or sarees to wear. They also practice dancing. Fijian and Indian students combine to do a dance which should have Fijian and Indian styles included. Fijians wear Indian costumes and Indians will wear Fijian costumes for the dancing. During the middle of the Fijian dance, the performance will move into the Indian dance piece. They also have themes for the "Cross-Cultural Program." These include "Unity in Diversity," "Togetherness," and "Traditional and Modern Culture." Through dance, they demonstrate some of Fiji's history. They choreograph how missionaries came to Fiji. They portray how the Indians came to Fiji, then independence, and then modern day. My informant said, "It is compulsory to take that class; it is a compulsory subject. We learn each other's culture, each other's custom, language."
There are assessments in the class in which people's knowledge of the other culture is tested. Fijians must say a Hindu prayer and the Indians have to say a Fijian prayer, for example. Another exam subject is conversation. Fijians must talk to the Indian students in Hindi and the Indians students must reply in Fijian. Or the lecturer can ask them, in English, how to say a certain verb. The Indian students have to give the correct verb in Fijian and Fijians have to give the Hindi verb. My informant said, "Because normally we don't know which school we'll go [teach at]. Especially for the Indians, if they go to a Fijian school, they have to understand some of the Fijian way of life." The "Cross-Cultural Program" implies that members of each ethnic group have little knowledge of the other's culture prior to this program. And since only a very small proportion of the national population attends any college, few people have access to this resource. The majority of the population then, unless they learn from frequent social interaction which also seems only to occur with a small number of people, remains not only separate from, but unknowledgeable of, the opposing ethnic group's culture.
A final issue about the separation of the ethnic groups in reality and in the mindsets of citizens of Fiji is the term Indo-Fijian. I do not use the term Indo-Fijian throughout this paper because that is not the common language term used by Fijians and Indians in Fiji. Certain individuals, mass media figures, or politicians use the term Indo-Fijian but the population at large uses the term Indian. I have stuck to common language terms which both Fijians and Indians use to refer to the other ethnic group and their own ethnic group. The word Indo-Fijian raises issues for both communities. Fijians are often reluctant to call Indians, Indo-Fijians, since they say that only indigenous Fijians should be termed Fijians. This sometimes corresponds to the harsh, but infrequent, Fijian notion that Indians should "return" to India, although they were born in Fiji. After the 1987 coup, certain newspapers printed this suggestion in their headlines. A Fijian informant also told me that some Indian citizens reject the term Indo-Fijian for themselves. They consider their culture to be Indian rather than Fijian in any way, and believe they should be called Indian and indigenous Fijians should be referred to as Fijian. I never heard an Indian refer to him/herself as an Indo-Fijian. I heard the term used only one time during my stay, by a Fijian woman who teaches in an Indian school. This rejection of any reference to Fijian culture in relation to the Indian community reinforces the idea that the two cultures are and should be distinctly separate. The majority of citizens view the country as a place where individuals primarily belong to their own ethnic group and secondarily are citizens of Fiji. And, people consider these communities to be the point of interaction with each other.
Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers
I lived with a Fijian family in a koro (village) while in Fiji. Since my interest in the topic of ethnic relations existed before my arrival in the country, I paid close attention to Indian-Fijian relations throughout my entire stay. This included observing general aspects of the relationship, such as where Indians live in regard to Fijians, or in which locations or occupations I saw either predominately Fijians or Indo-Fijians. I also observed interaction between individuals of the different ethnic groups whenever I could.
I observed various Fijian ceremonies and functions as an occupant of a Fijian village. My research in the village was through participant-observation; I became a member of the community and tried to determine how my fellow villagers viewed the world, while I maintained an outsider's analytical perspective. It is important to view rituals and celebrations when one studies a particular culture as these reveal key concepts of that culture. Ceremonies highlight who and what are important to a people; rituals reflect the desired order of a society. I observed one Indian holiday and also an Indian prayer session with an Indian family I befriended. Just as I participated in Fijian practices, so it was important for me to take part in Indian rites and to consequently learn about Indian culture in Fiji.
In addition to my observations, I performed interviews with several people. I interviewed both Fijians and Indians. I chose to interview certain Fijian sugar cane farmers or those with another connection to the land lease issue since I thought this topic, as a major point of difference and argument between the two communities, had the potential to ignite ethnic hostilities. I also interviewed Fijians whose individual lives intersected the Indian community for some reason other than the land lease issue. I did this because I wanted to learn people's views who were not unusually emotional about the Indian community at the time, as many Fijians who wanted to reclaim and farm their land were. And I interviewed some Fijians, in the village in which I stayed, who had no particular connection to Indian culture. I realized, though, that even if Fijians have "no particular connection to Indian culture," they are still connected by virtue of the close proximity in which the two communities live.
From the Indian community, I interviewed one farmer who leases land from Fijians. My original intent was to interview only Indian farmers that were immersed in the land lease issue. With the advent of Indian dispersal due to discontinued land leases, I believed that these people would be very vocal with their stereotypes about Fijians. I altered my plan however, because living in a Fijian village meant that I had more contact with Fijians than with Indians. I came to the conclusion that this contact influenced the nearby Indian farmers' reactions to my interview questions; they feared offending me as a "temporary Fijian." And perhaps they also feared that I would report their insults to the Fijians in the village and thus jeopardize their lease renewals. It was for this reason that I broadened my interviewee pool. I began to interview Indians who I felt might give me honest answers, either because they knew me or because they knew one of the professors supervising the term abroad. I then interviewed two shop owners who are frequently in contact with Fijians both through their business and because of the physical location of their home. I also interviewed Indians who have no particular connection to the Fijian community but who nonetheless come into contact with Fijians through their employment or schooling. I attempted to keep the interview pool composed of informants that could represent varying degrees of interaction among the communities, and from each of the two cultures. My intent was to see if stereotypical beliefs applied to all situations of interaction and if people had varying degrees of belief in the stereotypes. I soon found that the delicate discussion of the ethnic situation in Fiji by Indian farmers was actually a trend throughout the Indo-Fijian population. I would not have realized this, however, had I not expanded my search for informants.
With all informants, I asked questions regarding their personal interaction with members of the opposing ethnic group. I asked also for them to describe Fijians, describe Indians, and describe the differences between the two groups. With the informants that I had chosen to describe the land lease issue, I asked about their specific affiliation with the issue. I asked also their personal opinions about it, if they thought the leases should be renewed, if they believed Indians should be allowed to own land, and so on. The interviews I held were informal discussion sessions. I did not adhere to the same set of questions for each similarly chosen informant. I did ask many of the same questions of different people but always let informants guide the interviews so as to create an atmosphere of casual comfort. This setting was essential since I was asking about a subject that people are often uncomfortable talking about. It is also beneficial to allow informants to guide an interview because the subject matter that they choose is significant; they will speak about things that they view as important. My research also relies heavily upon anecdotes and the use of examples that emerged in interviews. This comfortable setting allowed for the telling of such things. Rigid question and answer sessions or a questionnaire would not have provided such information.
An important point which needs mention is that this thesis is primarily about Fijian concepts of ethnic identity. I have included some material on Indians to illuminate the processes involved in the formation of Fijian ethnic identity. I did initially attempt to ascertain a two-sided view, but found that the time frame in which I researched was not suitable for both perspectives. I also faced greater barriers talking to Indians since I had been established, in their minds, as someone on the Fijian side: I lived in a Fijian village and the informants often knew the Fijians with which I lived. Additionally, most literature on the formation of ethnic identity in the Pacific deals with indigenous cultures. There was not as rich information about Indian identity as there was about Fijian identity.
Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers
Outline of Chapters
Chapter Two draws from literature about the formation of ethnic identity in the Pacific and the formation of identity under the influence of colonialism. It describes how Pacific Islanders have formed a communal self-image in opposition to and in accordance with colonial notions. And Fijians accept these notions because they, in some way, give them a positive self-image. Scholars have argued, though, that this type of identity formation can make it impossible for people to conceptualize themselves in any other way than that which was imposed upon them, and that which they adopted in opposition to that dominance. However, my research has shown that Fijians are capable of viewing themselves differently. With the changing land situation, and potential change in material circumstances, they can break away from colonialist-imposed views.
Chapter Three of this paper outlines Fiji's history as it relates to ethnic identity. I have briefly described the colonial encounter and the policies implemented by the British in Fiji. The second section describes the importation of Indians, the indenture system and its extermination. I have also discussed how British colonialists enforced a model of ethnic separation in Fiji; scholars have termed this the plural society phenomenon. This influenced Fijian-Indian interaction after independence and I have described the post-colonial political history of Fiji and the separation of ethnic communities which it reflects. Lastly, this chapter includes a history of the land situation in Fiji and how that situation is presently changing.
Chapter Four describes the various stereotypes which Fijians and Indians hold about themselves and about each other. There is agreement between the communities of the stereotypes about both groups. The ethnic groups still hold them about themselves even though they are often negative. This chapter also details how the present stereotypes in Fiji mimic those which the British colonialists imposed upon them and are derived from the colonialist model of ethnic separation.
Chapter Five explores how these stereotypes which people believe are, in fact, often untrue to reality. There are alternative explanations to some current situations in Fiji which are popularly explained according to the stereotypes but few people think in those terms. The stereotypes are untrue, but people believe them because they provide them with a positive sense of self and because they work well in a given situation. This acceptance has affected the long balance of ethnic interaction in Fiji.
Chapter Six notes that the stereotypes which Fijians and Indians hold create for each community different roles, or "niches," within the country. They accept that one ethnic group takes on a certain national role and that the other has a different occupation. This model of ethnic separation was introduced by British colonialists but coincides with both Fijians and Indian views about interaction. Each culture views the individual person as embedded in a network of social ties. Interaction between individuals, therefore, is always interaction between points of larger communities. This mode of thought has allowed the acceptance of stereotypes and the balance of ethnic relations.
Chapter Seven describes how Fijians are actually changing the way they view themselves and both Fijians and Indians have begun to deviate from the model of ethnic separation, the plural society. The potential reclamation of Fijian land from Indian tenants has made Fijians aware of an opportunity to attain material wealth. This provides an alternative method of achieving a positive self-image. Some Fijians have begun, then, to admit a desire for wealth, which contradicts the past reluctance to do so. Colonial notions are also being thrown off as Fijians and Indians have started to view Fiji as a multicultural country wherein people deal with each other as individuals rather than solely as members of larger impenetrable groups. Fijians and Indians are capable of rejecting colonial notions of themselves and reconstructing a multicultural society.
Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers
Fiji has experienced a history of peaceful coexistence between the Fijian and Indian communities despite their relative lack of social interaction and usual harsh feelings toward one another. The stereotypes, introduced by British colonialists, which the two communities hold about each other, but also about themselves, have actually allowed for a balance of ethnic relations where each community happily accepts a different role in the country. However, the imminent expiration of land leases may change this balance. My research has shown that Fijians and Indians have begun rejecting colonial notions of the plural society and the stereotypes which achieve it.
The next chapter will discuss the formation of ethnic identity in the Pacific. It will explain how Pacific Islanders reconstruct their culture in opposition to and in accordance with the rhetoric of dominant colonial powers. Scholars have argued that Islanders cannot escape these colonialist notions of themselves. Yet, my research will suggest that Fijians and Indians are throwing off these ideas because the situation under which they were formed is changing.
On to Chapter 2...
Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers