Anthropology Terms Abroad








ETHNIC RELATIONS IN FIJI:
PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE AND THE RECENT SHIFT
IN THE ETHNIC BALANCE
by Stephanie Sienkiewicz

Back to Introduction | Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers | On to Chapter 3

Chapter 2
Cultural Identity in the Pacific

Chapter 2
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
Conclusion


This chapter examines the literature on the formation of ethnic identity in the Pacific. This literature emphasizes that people's ideas about their own culture and "tradition" are influenced as much by present concerns as by past practice. Scholars further emphasize that people's sense of cultural identity continually changes as their situation changes. I will outline these perspectives since they were confirmed by my own findings that both Fijians and Indians have accepted views of their own culture which make them feel good in present circumstances and that these views may be changing as circumstances change. Scholars have also emphasized the impact of colonial ideology on ethnic identity in the contemporary Pacific. Pacific islanders have formed their sense of self directly, by emphasizing those cultural aspects which differentiate themselves from Europeans, and indirectly, by accepting or "buying into" colonial notions about the "natives." And, Pacific islanders often become locked into their sense of self as derived from colonial encounters. This can prevent the people of these Pacific cultures from having a reflexive view of their own problems once they achieve national independence.

My research in Fiji has verified that British colonialism made a lasting impression upon Fijian and Indian ethnic identity. Also, Fijian and Indian cultural beliefs, alike, have been constructed in opposition to each other. But, in both cases, the influence of British colonial rhetoric is even more obvious. Fijians and Indians notice the differences in their cultures that were emphasized by the British and do not dwell on other potential differences which did not catch the attention of the British.

I examine the literature on the impact of colonialism on island identity at some length because in subsequent chapters I will argue that Fijians are less captive to colonial ideology than is first apparent. As later chapters will show, Fijians and Indians do not simply accept colonial notions of themselves because they are unable to conceptualize themselves in any other way. They have upheld these stereotypes because they create a positive self identity during the situation in which Fijians had limited options for improving their material circumstances since their land was leased out on long-term leases and opportunities for wage labor were limited. But, the citizens of Fiji are not cemented into these self perceptions. Although scholars have argued that Pacific islanders cannot escape a colonial model for viewing their own culture, and that this adherence prevents them from reflecting on their problems and initiating change, my research has shown that Fijians are able to shift their model of self identity if they have cause to do so.

Top of Page | Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers





Culture Is Not Static, In Fact it is Constructed



Many analyses of Pacific Island cultural identity stress that these identities are influenced as much by current concerns and relations as by inherited cultural practices. This literature starts by pointing out that while people all over the world think that "traditional" practices are ones passed down through the generations, in fact, "tradition" changes all the time as people define their identity to pursue goals in a contemporary world. When analyzing cultural practices and traditions it is essential to realize that culture is not a fixed object. Instead of the static representation which most people hold culture to be, it is actually constantly reinvented within communities.

Culture is not like a rock, which ostensibly can pass through many hands and remain unchanged, but is rather like a story that is tailored and embellished in the process of transmission… False cultures — static and passively transmitted — are produced by tourist industries, by nationalists and by scholars… The [true] process of cultural transmission… is dynamic, creative — and real. [Linnekin 1990: 161]

Lawson pointed out that early anthropologists made a crucial mistake in understanding other cultures of the world. In their system of "salvage anthropology," they believed that the "primitive" cultures they encountered had become "stuck" in the past, that these cultures had not changed since early human times, and that their culture was static. Lawson noted that the practice of equating the customary and the traditional with the changeless…

… had a profound impact on the way in which earlier schools of anthropology mistakenly viewed their subject societies, and identified tradition with 'fixism'… So-called traditional societies were not necessarily 'prisoners of the past' and obviously had their own dynamics of change. [1996: 16]

Tradition, as something assumed to come from the distant past, is considered in the same way as "primitive" cultures were treated in early anthropology. Tradition is frequently assumed to be timeless by its bearers and viewers. Believers in the timelessness of tradition subsequently view it as natural as well because it is thought to have existed forever and, therefore, before anything which presently exists. It is a mistake, however, to view anything "traditional" as natural, just as it is incorrect to believe in a static nature of culture. Yet tradition and nature are frequently equated.

For it is implicit in the ideological rendering of tradition that established institutions are seen, not as a potentially alterable set of human constructions, but as a set of natural forms which command the automatic and uncritical allegiance of those who are implicated in them. [Lawson 1996: 17]

Fijians and Indians do seem to incorporate this model of naturalness within their cultures. For instance, Fijians consider the chiefly system and its hierarchy to be the "natural order" of things. Indians consider it natural to worship one's parents like gods, although other cultures do not partake in this act.

But, like culture, "tradition is the contemporary interpretation of the past" (Linnekin 1990: 152). Culture and tradition are not static, therefore. Tradition does not consist of a body of practice and belief passed down unaltered from one generation to the next. Instead, traditions are constructed by the people in the present. This means that people emphasize aspects of culture passed down through generations which serve some particular purpose in their present circumstances. It also means that people can come to see, as part of their tradition, practices that are not in fact historically very old. Nicholas Thomas said that,

In the histories of rural Europe, the British Empire, contemporary Quebec, and the insular Pacific and in many fourth world and minority movements, "inventions," "reinventions," or "objectifications" of tradition, culture, and community are now being identified and explored. [1992a: 213]

Culture and the ethnic identities contained within any culture are constantly shifting according to the bearers of tradition and according to present circumstances.

While some Pacific scholars… [have] often equated invention with inauthenticity, it is now emphasized that created identities are not somehow contrived and insincere, that culture is instead inevitably "tailored and embellished in the process of transmission" (Linnekin 1990: 161). [Thomas 1992a: 213]

Linnekin defended the notion that culture "is symbolically constructed or 'invented'" (1992: 249). Culture is not only symbolically produced; it is "'constructed' in the present" rather than the past (Linnekin 1992: 251). The reported past has always been in danger of misrepresenting reality, however. History has never been told without an agenda. And one person/community's past is invariably different from some other's. For example,

In Pacific communities on the eve of European invasion, there were multiple "realities" — for commoners and for chiefs, for men and for women, for young and for old, for free persons and for captives or slaves, for victors and for vanquished. Genealogies, cosmologies, rituals were themselves contested spheres. The "authentic" past was never a simple, unambiguous reality. [Keesing 1989: 25]

Keesing simplified his statement: "The past… is contested ground" (1989: 24). Tradition, then, like other portrayals of the past, is repeatedly reinvented in accordance with contemporary issues. "Tradition is a selective representation of the past, fashioned in the present, responsive to contemporary priorities and agendas, and politically instrumental" (Linnekin 1992: 251).

As stated above, the previously dominant notion of culture was that it was unchanging as it passed through generations, and "a passively inherited legacy" (Linnekin 1992: 249). The understanding of culture and tradition as socially constructed models, however, makes them "contemporary human product[s]" (Linnekin 1992: 249). "Cultural invention allows for creativity and innovation" and is therefore a more probable explanation of cultural transmission (Linnekin 1992: 253). This shaping of the past in the present may be conscious or unconscious, direct or indirect. Linnekin wrote,

Symbolic 'construction' may be largely unconscious and is an ongoing activity in all human societies. 'Invention' emphasizes creativity and implies a degree of conscious reflection about culture; thus scholars tend to use 'invention' particularly when describing nationalist and colonial representations of specifiable and relatively recent origin. [1992: 251]

Lawson has written that only when a society is conscious of their culture, a mentality which may result from colonial encounters, are members of that society able to manipulate tradition and culture,

[To be] critically aware, not only that something is a tradition but that it is subject to change… may result in acceptance, rejection, or compromise, but at the very least it is thought about consciously… it is at this point… that it becomes possible to reify, objectify, invent, or consciously construct tradition, to appeal to tradition, and to use the concept of tradition as a political legitimator. It is at this point, then, that a doctrine of 'traditionalism' can emerge and take on an explicitly ideological character that lends itself readily to instrumental manipulation. Rather than ameliorating or expunging the taboos of tradition, it can not only reinforce them, but can also create new ones. [1996: 16-17]

In short, once members of a society are conscious of their own culture, they may then directly fashion and mold their representations of the past to communicate aspects of their culture which they wish to emphasize; they can choose their own "tradition." And the ethnic identities which result from culture likewise reflect contemporary issues. "Like culture, cultural identity must be understood as creative, dynamic, and processual" (Linnekin 1990: 152).

People form ideas about their culture with an agenda. Pacific scholars have noted that local elites often construct culture to justify their own place in society, for instance.

The creation of mythical customs has been encouraged and even demanded by institutions of the post-colonial state that empower and legitimize "paramount chiefs" or other "traditional" leaders: contemporary Melanesia is now filled with "paramount chiefs" in areas that in precolonial times had no systems of chiefly authority or hereditary rank. [Keesing 1989: 21]

Elites valorize cultural symbols and "tradition" to gain support; they depict themselves as the epitome of tradition. Keesing has also written that, "The symbolic material of cultures — rules imputed to ancestors, rituals, myths — serves ideological ends, reinforcing the power of some, the subordination of others" (1989: 36).

The presence of some "other" heightens cultural consciousness. Societies define themselves as inclusive of some and exclusive of others. As culture and tradition are constructed, therefore, communities focus upon what differentiates them from that "other." Thomas has supported the cultural invention model and has written that a community cannot exist unless there is an opposing community which the former can form an identity in contrast to.

I insist that self-representation never takes place in isolation and that it is frequently oppositional or reactive: the idea of a community cannot exist in the absence of some externality or difference, and identities and traditions are often not simply different from but constituted in opposition to others. [1992a: 213]

Colonial contact made Pacific Island societies more aware of their traditions since the Western societies involved in the contact employed differing cultures and unique traditions. With a heightened mindfulness of one's own culture, Pacific Islanders both consciously and unconsciously shaped their traditions and cultural symbolism in reaction to colonial presence. They directly constructed their culture in opposition to Western influence, emphasizing cultural aspects which most deviated from Western culture. They also indirectly assumed attitudes toward their own culture that coincided with European views about Pacific Island culture.

Literature about the formation of ethnic identity in the Pacific has been less fruitful in its explanation as to why people construct culture in the present than in its argument that people do in fact construct culture. That culture is continually being reinvented is a valuable insight. Now that this point has been established, though, we must further investigate exactly why people construct culture as they do. This study will help contribute to this question by explaining how Fijians and Indians have adopted cultural practices which oppose or mimic colonial influence.

Top of Page | Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers





Pacific Ethnic Identity Has Been Constructed in Opposition to Colonialism

Across the Pacific, it is evident not only that ideas about tradition are constructed in light of present concerns but also that a legacy of colonialism has had a strong impact on present constructions of culture. Colonialism redefined political boundaries in the Pacific. European powers grouped peoples together who had previously thought of themselves in opposition to each other. These communities had thought of each other as that "externality or difference" of which Thomas wrote (1992a: 213). But colonial powers revised the divisions of Pacific Islanders along Western and political, rather than indigenous and cultural, lines. "The colonial expansion of states in the Pacific imposed new administrative definitions on native peoples and in turn provoked shifts in self-perception" (Linnekin and Poyer 1990: 11). Keesing stated, "What in precolonial times were politically fragmented and culturally and linguistically diverse communities, divided by warfare and raiding, became administrative units of the colonial state" (1989: 26).

As a result of these new divisions and consequent combinations, Britain (or some other colonial power in other parts of the Pacific) became the "other." Political entities which had viewed themselves in opposition to one another then found themselves joined as united entities. And,

Not surprisingly, the rhetoric of unity and solidarity, for such previously nonexistent entities that have acquired reality, is often framed in terms of common cultural identity. Colonies carved out by imperialist powers in the course of their Pacific rivalries have now become nation states, proclaiming national identities. [Keesing 1989: 26]

Ethnic groups which had never before considered themselves in one category created a common identity; this was a national identity in opposition to the colonial government and its Western values. "Indigenous groups… [began to] assert their own cultural identities in opposition to the life-style of the dominant colonial society" (Linnekin 1990: 149).

When indigenous societies define themselves in opposition to the present colonial power, they focus upon aspects of their culture which are as dissimilar to Western cultural symbols as possible. Keesing noted,

Representations of [Islanders'] own cultures have been shaped by colonial domination and the perception of Western culture through a less direct reactive process, a dialectic in which elements of indigenous culture are selected and valorized (at the levels of both ideology and practice) as counters to or commentaries on the intrusive and dominant colonial culture. [1989: 23]

Also,

The practices that have become the focus of community life may reflect a historical selective process in which what is cast as indigenous is contrasted with what is foreign — thus distancing village communities from the culture of domination. [Keesing 1989: 28]

Thomas also wrote about such opposition,

Abstracted notions about practices can be invented on the basis of daily life and colonial interaction… and come to be represented — by indigenous people-… as "customs" in the strong sense, without it being recognized that their existence as such derives from the oppositional dynamics of the colonial encounter. [1992b: 65]

The emphasis on certain aspects of culture more than others leads to a change or reinvention of Pacific culture. "Prolonged and profound [colonial] contact tends to generate a neotraditional culture that is organized primarily in novel and oppositional terms" (Thomas 1992a: 216). The chosen emphasized cultural symbols "draw on the cultural past but acquire new meaning and become emotionally weighty in the present" (Linnekin 1990: 159). One may argue that the emphasis of some cultural features and ignoring of others may falsely represent the true past of the society. Yet, as has previously been noted, cultures have continually reconstructed the past in the present. There is, therefore, no truth with which to compare the present cultural identity of a community. And,

Perhaps it does not matter whether the pasts being recreated and invoked are mythical or "real," in the sense of representing closely what actual people did in actual times and places. Political symbols radically condense and simplify "reality," and are to some extent devoid of content: that is how and why they work. [Keesing 1989: 19]

The specific cultural icons which have become symbolic of indigenous life in the Pacific have become so because they represent that which colonialists or Westerners do not have in their culture. These are the things which have been of significance in encounters between Islanders and colonial powers.

There is no abstract sense in which certain features of a society or culture are important and will therefore be prominent in objectifications of that society or culture; rather, the process of choosing emblematic activities, dispositions or material artifacts is indissociable from a history of encounters and from what is at issue in those particular encounters. [Thomas 1992a: 213-214]

Yaqona (called kava in English, a plant in the pepper family whose roots are ground and mixed with water to create a drink) in Fiji, for example, was traditionally drank only by high chiefs. But because it was something very unlike Western practices, it became popular and widespread for both ceremonies and more casual social settings (though still accompanied by ritual). High chiefs still drink yaqona, but it is also a part of every Fijian ceremony, even in ceremonies of the non-chiefly class. Fijians also drink it socially, for no specific occasion.

Land in Fiji has also become central to Fijian ethnic identity and is another example of this oppositional process. As the following quote suggests, land has become central to Pacific identity because it has been an object over which colonialists and native residents have struggled.

The symbolic themes Pacific Islanders use to assert their unity and identity have also been shaped by struggles against domination, as is most clearly manifest in the pervasive elevation of "land" as a political symbol. While I do not doubt that in precolonial times many Pacific peoples had a deep identification with and reverence for their land, this identification has become radically transformed in the course of political struggle and histories of conquest and land alienation. In Fiji… land has become a powerful symbol of identity and a site of contestation. An ideology of attachment to and spiritual significance of the land could achieve such prominence only in a historical context of invasion and colonization. [Keesing 1989: 29]

As described in the following chapter, Fijians believe that people cannot be separated from their land. Land is centrally symbolic because colonialists told Fijians they should care about their land. Fijians controlled most of it, then, but Europeans and Indians wanted to claim it. It, therefore, became a sought after commodity and a source of pride for Fijians because they possessed it.

The retention of an unreal ideal of native land tenure is now a basic component of the creation and maintenance of Fijian identity as set against that of Fiji Indians, other Pacific Islanders and the people of other nations… The inalienable control of land had become an icon of ethnic distinctiveness. It is what Fijians have and other ethnic groups do not. [Lawson 1996: 50]

As Fijians were aware of their dominance in the land situation, they gradually, though unconsciously, increased its importance in overall Fijian culture.

Another custom which has become central to Fijian culture, though it was not originally in such a position, is kerekere. Kerekere means "to request" (Ravuvu 1983: 119). It has been described as a kind of begging among kin that keeps those who are making more money from becoming wealthier than the rest of the village (Thomas 1992a: 222). Others, however, have viewed the custom not like begging but as an economic system,

Kerekere was not like begging at all, but amounted to a mechanism permitting the soliciting of goods, services, resources, use rights, and so on; more significantly,… kerekere [is] "the prevailing form of economic transaction among kinsmen as individuals" — kerekere expressed an "essential kinship ethic: and at the same time worked to produce material equality, donors gaining in prestige what they lost in goods or labor" (Sahlins 1962: 203). [Thomas 1992a: 222]

Fijians now claim kerekere to be one of the distinguishing features of Fijian culture. They describe this as borrowing from other villagers or other Fijians without the expectation of reciprocity. According to Thomas, however, the custom changed and intensified in response to colonialism. He wrote,

There is no evidence of this "famous custom" in nineteenth century Fijian society before about the 1860s. The Fijians certainly exchanged resources and services with one another. Unlike the later literature, however, the extensive, ethnographically rich sources of the early period rarely mention kerekere. Kerekere only became significant during the investigations into the Fijian customary order that were conducted over the first decades of colonial rule. [1992a: 222]

And since "the properties of the gift economy are simply conceptual and ideological inversions of those of the capitalist economy" it is apparent that kerekere was reinvented with the advent of colonialist encounters (Thomas 1992b: 66). Kerekere distanced Fijian culture from Western culture.

The idea of "tradition" in general is a cultural phenomenon which has acquired increased importance due to colonial contact. "Fijian 'tradition' is asserted as the essential component of an authentic Fijian identity which is often expressed strongly in opposition to Western… norms and values" (Lawson 1996: 11). Tradition "is taken generally to denote continuity with the past" (Lawson 1996: 25). Because "tradition" represents pre-colonial times, Pacific Island cultures have clung to notions of the past as they define their cultural identity. "A representation of the past was thus juxtaposed with an appeal for national solidarity" (Linnekin 1990: 159).

The widespread Pacific phenomenon of kastom is the term used to describe how the past is used as a cultural symbol in the present. Kastom defines indigenous Islanders in contradistinction to Westerners and other foreigners. Linnekin quoted Keesing on kastom, "Kastom canonically denotes ancestrally enjoined rules for life… Genealogies, lands, and shrines, all closely associated with ancestors, are kastom" (Linnekin 1990: 162). Linnekin also quoted Lindstrom to explain that something kastomized is "legitimized by reference to the past" (Linnekin 1990: 159). Some cultural symbols have not emerged from the past yet are kastomized and therefore stand for "tradition" versus modern Western values. "Colson noted… that in colonial Africa anthropologists had found 'traditional' rules 'being invented on the spot to legitimate a course of action desired by the very realistic manipulators of the local scene' (Colson 1975: 75)" (Lawson 1996: 21). Colonial societies have incorporated "tradition" into their ethnic identities since it appeals to a pre-colonial time and therefore opposes colonial powers.

Traditionalism is not to be confused with a "simple" or "natural" upkeep of a given tradition. Rather, it denotes an ideological mode and stance oriented against the new symbols [of colonialism]; it espouses certain parts of the old traditional order and upholds them against "new" trends. [Lawson 1996: 21]

The presence of some "other" heightens a community's awareness of its culture as an defined entity. Colonialists came to represent this "other" in many cultures of the world. Pacific Islanders, therefore, have reinvented their cultures in opposition to Western values and culture. Objects and actions which have become highly symbolic and central to the various Pacific island cultures are most likely to be those which differentiate such cultures from the Western world.

Top of Page | Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers





Pacific Island Identity Also Adheres to Colonial Notions About Pacific Island Culture

While Pacific Islanders often see themselves as rejecting colonial influences, scholars have argued that contemporary notions of tradition have actually been shaped by a hegemonic Western ideology. In fact, Lawson and Keesing both suggest that current island views of their past as one involving pristine harmony with nature is a direct product of European images of "primitive" societies. "Tradition," to Pacific Islanders, evidences a moral authority over Westerners. This is because,

"Tradition" has become a value-laden term, carrying with it a positive connotation of what is good… in specific opposition to that which is "Western"… Moreover, it establishes a kind of moral high ground from which Western [society] can be attacked. [Lawson 1996: 26]

Societies have used "tradition" and kastomized cultural symbols in order to oppose colonial domination. However, Pacific islanders have come to equate "tradition" with what is good and valuable because colonial powers asserted that tradition should be valuable to the indigenous population.

Europeans viewed pre-contact societies as harmonious and naïve since they, the colonialists, viewed themselves as the bearers of civilization and hence complexity. Lawson wrote,

The prevailing notion that what is genuinely (or authentically) traditional or customary is that which is unpolluted by Western influences is common not only among… outsiders but,… among many Pacific Islanders as well. This view attributes a certain pristine quality to traditional life… This has given rise to the clichéd view of the South Pacific region as one that, at least historically, exuded unusual stability and peace. Although European in origin, the overall picture is congenial to many Islanders themselves. [Lawson 1996: 26]

Pacific Islanders place great importance on their "tradition" largely because colonial powers told them that it was a precious thing worthy of preservation. Lawson wrote,

The context in which [the invention of tradition] took place is especially interesting, for the success of many of these appeals to tradition was apparently due largely to the resonance they struck with the British style of conservative thought that pervaded the colonial service. [1996: 21]

The British believed in a system of "gradualism." This meant that they accepted the legitimacy of the existence of other cultures.

An appeal to tradition against impinging authority, of course, is effective only if those in authority are prepared to recognize the validity of other ways of life. It was a highly effective device in British colonies which were administered by officials who came from a long tradition of common law, a respect for inherited position, and dominated by a Burkean belief in gradualism. [Lawson 1996: 21]

Many aspects of Pacific Island culture, in fact, are now focused upon by indigenous islanders because colonial policy and attitudes convinced them such things were worthy of emphasis. The following chapter will show how the Fijian community has accepted the role that the British created for them. Fijians have also accepted a view of themselves which accords with the colonialist descriptions. This is because "the dominated reproduce the conceptual and institutional structures of their domination, even in struggling against it" (Keesing 1989: 25).

During my research, Fijians repeatedly described their own culture in the same terms as British officers of the colonial government did many years before. A later chapter will note the various stereotypes that Fijians and Indians hold about Fijians; the reader will note a likeness between British notions of indigenous Fijians and Fijian notions about themselves. The British felt that Fijian culture should be preserved and that such preservation should be the employment of every Fijian; they should retain their communal, village-oriented ways of life. Presently, Fijians view themselves as highly cultural people who are often restricted by the extent of their communal obligations but who are morally superior for taking care of their families and sharing whatever they have. Also, Indians view themselves as suitable for labor just as colonialists considered them in the labor "niche" of the colony.

It is further evident that Fijians have inadvertently embraced colonial notions about their own culture since the Fijian elite who gained power after independence were trained in Western institutions and adopted colonial practices and policies. Keesing pointed out that,

Counterhegemonic discourse pervasively incorporates the structures, categories, and premises of hegemonic discourse. In part this is because those who are dominated internalize the premises and categories of the dominant; in part, because the discourse of the domination creates the objective, institutional realities within which struggles must be fought; and in part, because it defines the semiology through which claims to power must be expressed. [1989: 23]

Across Melanesia, leaders have urged Pacific Islanders to embrace tradition. But although the leaders want their people to act "Melanesian" rather than Western, the reasons which the leaders give to do this are explicitly those which colonialists employed, saying the natives should retain their culture lest it die out.

The major proponent of the "Melanesian Way," for example, has decried the estrangement and alienation produced by the intrusion of Western values and has urged as a remedy the establishment of "a philosophical base, founded upon our ancient virtues" without which Melanesians "stand to perish as a people of unique quality, character and dynamism" (Narakobi 1983: 9,13). [Lawson 1996: 20]

Lawson noted that indigenous elites throughout the world have manipulated "tradition," turning it into a political issue. They have appealed to the masses to protect and worship tradition, while claiming themselves to be the pinnacle of traditional society. This system thus promotes their own authority. Yet, these promoters do not live "traditional" lives themselves.

Moreover, although indigenous elites in the South Pacific very often exhort the ordinary people to observe traditional practices, their own lifestyle is far from "traditional". Instead, many of these elites are themselves thoroughly Westernized, particularly with respect to education, living standards, and the ability to pursue commercial interests. [Lawson 1996: 12]

Ravuvu, a native of Fiji, commented on the same phenomenon as he found it in his own society,

It is interesting to note that those Fijian leaders who emphasize the maintenance of the Fijian village way of life are in fact those who have been and continue to be most exposed to outside influences. They are thus the most successful in grappling with the ways of the Western cultures which, since first contact, have defined the shape and trend of the development process which continues to be experienced in Fiji today. [1987: 959]

Fijian officials preach communalism and the traditional way of life, but it is they who lead the most Westernized lives. "Members of the Westernized elite are likely to be separated by gulfs of life experience and education from village communities where they have never lived" (Keesing 1989: 31). Ravuvu wrote, "In our present socio-economic and political contexts, our leaders get it both ways, whereas the led get it only one way" (1987: 964).

Pacific Islanders have, therefore, reinvented their cultures in adherence to colonial stereotypes about them. Some of the most basic tenets of Pacific and Fijian identity mimic colonial perceptions. Although cultures are and have been constructed in opposition to invasive dominant forces, they are also formed, in part, in compliance with the viewpoints of the dominant power.

Top of Page | Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers





Pacific Islanders May Be Unable to Escape Colonial Notions of Themselves

Since Pacific communities have constructed or reinvented their cultures in opposition to colonial influences, one can understand that these cultures might be unable to see themselves in any other way. Many anthropologists believe, for example, that Pacific islanders have become "stuck" in the Western images of themselves, that this is problematic for them, and that they are unable, therefore, to realize or to reflexively view their problems. Keesing called this, "Western domination, of minds as well as societies" (1989: 20).

Western notions continue to affect Pacific identity and politics according to Ravuvu. He voiced his belief that Fijians cannot escape from the colonial notions which they have adopted,

Even though we have achieved political independence,… those educational, political, economic and religious institutions of Western origin are well established and continue to exert a strong influence on the lives of the Fijians today as they will in the future. Although the white colonists have long gone from the islands, their souls or ghosts remain behind and, like the spirits of our ancestors, continue to haunt us and control our lives. Thus we have a notional independence rather than a real one. We remain bonded. [1987: 959]

Scholars suggest that Pacific peoples do not realize how deeply colonial hegemony has influenced their self identity. Keesing wrote that "self-reflexivity is a continuing challenge for scholars working in the Pacific. Both the political implications and epistemology of our projects and representations are deeply problematic" (1989: 37). He advised that,

A more radical Pacific discourse would also be more deeply self-reflexive about the hegemonic force of Western education, of Christianity,… [and] of Western pastoral myths as appropriations of Otherness. [1989: 37]

Scholars, because they think that this has not happened and cannot possibly happen, in fact, urge Pacific peoples to consciously analyze their self identity and to realize how it has been influenced by Western values and colonialist discourse. Keesing wrote that, "such ideologies become self-delusory if they are not interspersed with visions of "real" pasts that cast into relief not simply their idealized virtues, but their cracks of contradictions" (1989: 37).

In an article about his own Samoan identity, Meleisea rejected the notion that Pacific nations should follow Western models. He explained that Pacific Island identities remain deeply involved in colonial thought and are, therefore, blinded to the idea of an autonomous cultural identity which is not determined in opposition to colonialism,

It is time for us to get past pre-formulated solutions and a mentality that would blame everything on to imperialism and the colonial inheritance. It is so much easier to blame the world system for all of our problems. It is more difficult to look carefully at what we had once and have now. It is more painful to face and carefully compare our very limited choices. It is harder to look critically at the way in which we ourselves have made choices prior to, during, and since the colonial period. It is harder still to ask why we made these choices and ask whether we might still have other options. This should be the real focus of Pacific Studies. [1987: 973]

A danger of being "stuck" in this colonial framework is that local elites, while not living "traditional" lives themselves, can oppress the larger society with their appeals to "traditionalism" and the "natural order." Lawson noted the hazards of tradition as a political ideology,

Tradition exhorts its participants to an attitude of reverence and duty towards the practices and values that have been transmitted from the past. Where the imperatives of a body of tradition enjoin those who 'belong' to it to follow its dictates, the idea of tradition can acquire a status akin to that of a body of law. And where this acts to provide normative support for established political authority, tradition emerges as a vital adjunct to political conservatism. For it is implicit in the ideological rendering of tradition that established institutions are seen, not as a potentially alterable set of human constructions, but as a set of natural forms which command the automatic and uncritical allegiance of those who are implicated in them. [1996: 17]

Tradition is seen as law by those who are not in power and as legitimization by those in power. Fijian politicians have urged the people to keep their culture alive and to remain in villages, while the politicians themselves live in the towns with more access to Western goods and education. Fijians have, as a result of this political appeal to tradition, considered culture and development incompatible, and feel they must choose between the two. One would believe that Pacific Islanders are locked into a way of viewing their culture which was imposed on them by colonial powers since scholars have attempted to awaken them to such a realization. My research provides evidence of this remaining colonial hold on Pacific ideology.

Top of Page | Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers





Conclusion

This chapter has described how, in all societies, culture and ethnic identity are continually constructed and reinvented. Colonial presence heightens a society's awareness of its own "culture" as an entity which can be shaped. Pacific Island culture has, therefore, visibly changed as a result of colonization and contact with colonial powers. Pacific ethnicity has been reformulated both in opposition to Western culture, and indirectly in accordance with, colonial ideas about Pacific culture. And, many scholars maintain that colonized peoples have become stuck in the roles that the dominant powers created for them.

Although everything that I have described in this chapter applies to Fiji, it is not true that Fijians and Indians just accept the roles that the colonial powers slotted them into because they cannot think of any other way to conceptualize their ethnic identity. This paper will demonstrate that this is not the inevitable consequence of colonialism. Fijians have accepted the colonial notions about themselves because these gave them a positive sense of identity within the particular historical situation where colonial policy made it difficult for them to prosper economically. My research will suggest that both Fijians and Indians are capable of rejecting the stereotypes that the British initiated, however. Specifically, there is evidence that the changing land situation in Fiji will motivate Fijians to throw off these stereotypes.




On to Chapter 3...




Top of Page | Sienkiewicz Table of Contents | Student Papers


[Anthropology Home] [Contents] [Fiji Term Home]

http://minerva.union.edu/fiji99/sienkiewicz/ssind2.htm -- Revised: April 15, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Union College
Designed by Stephen C. Leavitt: leavitts@union.edu