ETHNIC RELATIONS IN FIJI:
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PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE AND THE RECENT SHIFT
IN THE ETHNIC BALANCE
by Stephanie Sienkiewicz
Changing Self-images: Throwing Off Colonial Legacies
- Chapter 7
- 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
Previous chapters have described how colonial policy in Fiji created a model of ethnic separation, and how Fijians and Indians have each accepted this as the template for their current interaction with each other. British officials carved out a "cultural" niche for Fijians, a labor "niche" for Indians and an administrative "niche" for themselves. These specific roles accorded with British stereotypes about Fijians and Indians. As a result of the colonial period, Fijians and Indians eventually adopted these notions themselves. Fijians began to see themselves as highly "cultural" people, who were restricted by such culture, and who cared only about community rather than economic issues. Indians began to see themselves as individualistic, hard-working people who care immensely about wealth. And, as the previous chapter has described, both groups accepted the idea that it is proper for society to be divided along ethnic lines and also that it is fine for each ethnic community to perform a different function for the well-being of the nation.
Such a model of ethnic relations has effected a balance between the Fijian and Indian communities. While there is hostility between them, the balance has kept the tension non-violent. Both Fijians and Indians have been happy with the model because each of the roles creates a positive self-image for its respective ethnic community. As pervious chapters have described, however, Fijians and Indians are not simply stuck in the colonialist images of themselves, but have chosen to accept these roles because they make them feel good about themselves. The plural society model and its stereotypes worked well in a time in which Fijians owned most of the land, which was leased out to Indian tenants for decades at a time. But, with the presently changing land situation, this balance may be disturbed, as Fijians are choosing to conceptualize themselves in new ways. The issue of land leases is the most fervently discussed topic in contemporary Fijian politics. People's reactions to the changing land situation indicate that the ethnic balance, which has been achieved as a result of colonialist plural society notions, is breaking down. Both Fijians and Indians wish to take on, or are taking on, roles which do not conform to their given ethnic roles, and which do not accord to the British model of community relations.
This chapter will demonstrate that some Fijians are now throwing off the colonialist notions. Because Fijians now have the opportunity to reclaim their land and to, therefore, farm and make money, they no longer need to hold onto their old self-perceptions. Thus, while most of the people I talked to voiced the old stereotypes, those who were most closely involved in the land issue and other issues involving moving away from their traditional ethnic roles, were questioning these old stereotypes. The stereotypes have allowed Fijians to think of themselves as people who do not care about making money because they had more important human relationships to tend to. But now, the possibility of economic prosperity has the potential to create such a positive image. Fijians are, therefore, changing the way they view themselves. Similarly, my research has shown that Indians are changing their stereotypes, recognizing that Fijians may not just be lazy but do have economic plans; many believe, for example, that Fijians have ulterior motives which are keeping them from automatically reclaiming their land.
Indians are also rejecting the plural society idea and colonialist notions that the two ethnic groups have to remain socially and industrially separated. Some Fijians also echoed the notion that Fijian and Indian communities should not remain separate, as they have in the past. The citizens of Fiji, therefore, are throwing off the ideas about themselves, about the opposing ethnic group, and about the pertinence of a model of communal/ethnic separation. They are moving away from colonial notions about Fijian and Indian cultural characteristics and also from the colonial model of a plural society.
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Fijians Now Conceptualize Themselves as Commercial Beings
As a result of the expiration of many land leases, Fijians have voiced aspirations to farm their Native land. Many who wish to reclaim land feel they could make as much money as the Indian tenants who lease from them. The land lease issue, therefore, calls into question the stereotype that Fijians are content to live in villages, preserving their "culture" and leasing out the land to the Indians to work upon and profit from. Realistically, Fijians have begun to express a desire to make money, rather than a disregard for wealth.
As described in Chapter Three, the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTA), of 1966, made the minimum land lease period 20 years with an automatic extension of 10 years; the contracts taken out before the ALTA were automatically extended at the tenants request. These are the leases that are currently expiring in Fiji. Fijians are, therefore, now deciding if they should renew their leases to the, in most cases, Indian tenants on their land, or if they should not renew and keep this land for their own use. In my interviews with Fijians, I asked if their mataqali was going to renew its leases to Indian tenants and if the interviewee personally thought that the leases should be renewed.
Fijians predominantly express a desire to make money when they say that they want their land back to make as much money as the Indians who farm it, and also when they request advance money as payment to renew land leases. A Fijian cane farmer described his reasons for wanting his mataqali's land back from the current Indian tenants. His comments reflect his wish to benefit from this land, and the crops it produces, as the Indians who now farm the land have been. According to the common stereotypes in Fiji, this man would not normally express this; Fijians generally claim that they do not care about money. While he did say this during other points in the interview, he demonstrated his aspiration for wealth in this instance.
The reason we aren't renewing the leases is because we want to farm our own land. They are getting good money from it. We want that money. The [land board] came and explained it to us
The income from the land is different from the lease they are paying. [The Indian farmers' earnings are] maybe $50,000 every six months. The mataqali only gets the lease money
They make lots of money farming on our land. And they are paying something which is less to us.
Another Fijian man said that Fijians, in general, desire wealth. When I asked this cane farmer if he thought that Fijian mataqali should be allowed to sell their land, he told me they should not. He explained that, if this was possible, Fijians would no longer own any land because they would all sell it for the quick money.
If the law allows [us] to sell that land, by now I think there would be no land left for the Fijian people. They would all have sold it to the Indian people or to those people that could buy land. Fijians would sell the land because they want money. Instead of land they want money, quick money.
This same Fijian man indicated his belief that Fijians do really care about money when I asked him if he thought that the Fijians who reclaim their land would farm it. He said, "That's what they think. They just want their land to make money."
An officer from the Ministry of Fijian Affairs explained to me the mentality behind Fijian refusal to renew leases and the tensions which may develop between Indian tenants and Fijian landowners. This situation illustrates the idea that Fijians do want to make money like the Indian tenants they see on their land. This man described the relationship between Fijians and Indians,
From the social aspect, we are o.k. From the economic, that's where the problem comes in. Because when they lease the land, they want to develop that land, to get their source of living. So how do they do that? They farm the land. And they get all this [money]. From there, their standard of living goes up, because of that. We [Fijians] look from here and we see [an Indian neighbor] developing, and so we will be thinking, "How did he develop? It was from my land." That's an example. So from there, you start building something: "That's my land!" Some people are thinking like that. They want to take their land back since [the people that are leasing from them] are finding good things from that. You know, they have ill feelings inside. "Why should I renew?"
This man also explained that the money one makes from cane farming greatly exceeds that which the mataqali receives for lease payments. Fijians want their land back because they do want to attain wealth.
It is also evident that Fijians do care about making money since mataqali sometimes demand payment to renew the leases. Fijian mataqali members ask for a lump sum payment in exchange for renewing the leases; this is aside from, and prior to, the actual lease payment. (material deleted for privacy...) The previously mentioned officer of the Ministry of Fijian Affairs explicated this system of up-front payment demand. He called it "unofficial demand." He used a nearby Indian school to show how the system works. The people from the school committee would come to the nearby village, wherein lives the mataqali from which they lease the land, to negotiate.
They check the lease document and go to the [head of the mataqali], to the owner of the land. So when they come in, these [mataqali members] say, "O.k., Once the lease is renewed, people will be training there and getting big jobs and all this and that. Why don't you give us $10,000?"
The officer said that there had been an article in the newspaper the previous week in which one mataqali, in another part of the country, prevented a school from operating because that school did not meet the mataqali's "unofficial demand." When I inquired about the legality of this matter, he said,
Well, they are the owners. It is their land. You must pay them before they sign an extension. And some, they are just reluctant to pay. They want to ship the school somewhere else. O.k. It's all well and good. But the relationship is such; it's bad. They can't reconcile. So it's all these things going up.
This demand for advance payment to renew leases can also be accomplished legally through the Native Land Trust Board. Fijians call this "selling the land." The person who makes the payment thereafter receives the right to release the land, though the rent is still paid to the Fijian mataqali. The officer from the Ministry of Fijian Affairs also described another situation in which "unofficial demand" could be made. This is the instance of poor landlord-tenant relations.
You see, some land owners, they have leases and people develop their land. And some landowners, they go on top of their lease, and they develop some sort of relationship. And they want something and go for money or anything, from the tenants. That is where the relationship goes bad. When the good will stops or when they want something continuously and the tenant refuses something, that's where the problem starts, "These people are bad now." Some when their lease expires, they do the road block. You see them in the papers at the schools and all this. They put the road block up and say, "This lease expires so-and-so month or year." They've been putting up unofficial demand. [And], some demand they've been putting to renew the leases is not met.
The extreme measures to which some Fijians have gone to receive payments clearly shows the jealousy Fijians have toward their tenants who are making more money farming than the Fijians make from the lease money.
The following radio broadcast also demonstrates that Fijians are concerned with financial and industrial matters, contrary to the stereotype that they are too "cultural" to care about money. The officer of the Ministry of Fijian Affairs also referred to this incident in our interview. Radio New Zealand International reported, on June 10, 1999, that two high Fijian chiefs declared they would not renew their leases following expiration.
Two influential high chiefs in Fiji's western cane belt say they will not renew any expiring agricultural leases for almost 1,000 tenant farmers. The Fiji Times says the Tui Ba, Adi Senimili Cagilaba, and the Tui Navitilevu, Ratu Tevita Bolobolo, have denied that their motives are political
Adi Senimili says the total area that would revert to her would be 2,000 ha, which would be put to the use of her people. She says the only way they would consider renewing leases would be if the lease money is increased. Ratu Tevita says his 300 ha of land is needed so traditional owners can become cane farmers themselves. [Radio New Zealand International 1999]
Indians in Fiji have also noticed that Fijians want to economically prosper. I interviewed an Indian restaurant owner who leases the land on which his restaurant is located. When describing this leasing situation he said, "After 50 years, I have to vacate this place. They'll take this place. Otherwise they want money. 'Give me $45,000 or $50,000.' Then they'll give the lease again. If no money, they won't give." This man's son told me, "When it expires, it's, 'Give me $20,000 or $30,000.' Then they'll renew the lease and then you have to pay the rent."
Fijians do, therefore, care about wealth. They wish to attain economic prosperity just as Indians do. Fijians have begun expressing that they care about money. But, the Fijians I interviewed also claimed that they did not care about wealth in other parts of the interviews. This shows that while their views are changing, they are reluctant to deviate from their past conceptions. Self-images are shifting as Fijians have begun to confidently assert themselves in the commercial and financial realms.
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Fijians Can Look at Themselves Positively as a Result of Financially Controlling Their Land
Fijian assertion into the economic and industrial realm gives them control over their land. It is this control which creates a positive self-image for Fijians. The sense of dominance replaces the detachment from money-matters which had been a primary source of Fijian pride since colonial times. Fijians are beginning to feel achievement, therefore, as a result of their possession of, and regulation over, their own native land. A Fijian farmer told me, "The only hope for us is our land, us Fijians."
Three Fijian farmers that I interviewed had each already devised how Fijians could profit after reclaiming their land. I told the officer from the Ministry of Fijian Affairs, that some people think that Fijians will just leave the land vacant and Indians would prosper more from it. He said,
Well, that's an assumption. But actually if they want to utilize their land, we have all the agencies in the government. We can help them. That's what most of the landowners are crying for now. Give them back the land and give them the available resources they need, the technical expertise, the technology, if they wish
That's what they want, easy access to loans, to buy tractors.
Another Fijian man very enthusiastically explained the course of action he and his mataqali members could take to profit. He had clearly thought the procedure out and was looking forward to farming his land, his "grandfathers' land." Land is a strong source of Fijian unity. He told me that Indians should have the right to lease land, but only if there is enough after all of the Fijians receive land to farm. His statement indicates, though, that land empowers Fijians because they decide if they want to lease it out or not. "Right now, the Indians have more of the better land. When the lease runs out, we'll see. I've seen when the lease runs out, they leave their cane and stop harvesting
We just want the land back." This Fijian man also took great pride in removing the Indian tenants from his mataqali's land. He said that the Indian tenants on his land keep running back to try to convince he and his mataqali to allow them to stay.
They keep on running back. They know, on the day we gave the notice in September, two of them fainted when we said, "This is your last year. Uproot all your crops. If you want to take your buildings, take them wherever the government is going to resettle you." But the only thing that we want is our land back. And two of them fainted! [laughing] We had to dump a bucket of water on them. Two of them!
Another aspect of the land system which shows that Fijians take pride in their land, and wish to control it further, to increase their positive sense of self, is that they are calling for Fijian ownership of Crown land rather than governmental ownership as it now exists. I asked one Fijian informant if the government owns Crown Schedule A and B land. He said,
Well, that is what the government is trying to do now. The Fijian people say, "No, that land belongs to the Fijian people, to the mataqali or the yavusa"
We say that land belongs to us. But we don't want to return it to the government.
Also, Fijian lack of control over their tenants angers them so that they do not renew the leases, according to one Fijian man. This is because land control gives Fijians a positive self-image. This man explained that the Indians who sublease land to their relatives are technically allowed to do so but that this is inconsiderate and this makes the landowners angry, causing them to discontinue the lease. He said,
There is some problem because [Fijians] lease the land and then [Indians] sublease the land. Like you lease the land from me and then again you sublease it to your brother. People have no sympathy. And now you see John, Harry, etc. on your land. They are going to strain our land. So when they come and we ask, they say, "Oh, I've got my lease here." [And, then] it is up to the landowner, "Okay, we will see when we are finished with the lease."
Lack of control over the land situation upsets Fijians because it is their dominance over the land which has come to create a positive sense of self for them.
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Indians Reject the Colonialist Notion of a Plural Society: Political Representation Should Not Be Based on Ethnicity
Although some Fijians look at this time of lease expiration as the time to reclaim Fiji for the Fijians because they believe that Indians have gained too much control over Fijian land, the Indian community does not recognize danger in this issue. The consensus of the Indians I interviewed is that political candidates have used the land lease issue in order to get the populace behind them. Indian interviewees repeatedly told me that relations between the Fijian and Indian populations were optimal. One Indian man told me that, aside from politics, Fijians and Indians are "just like brothers and sisters. No differences, nothing." A young woman said that, "There is not much significance in the different cultures. We are told the same thing usually, but in different forms." Indians often said that it is only the politicians who create ethnic hostility and divide the people.
Another Indian man told me, when I asked about the current ethnic situation in Fiji, "Whenever an election comes, whenever politics comes, they always say that view. That is their way of surviving, that this is their land
Otherwise, there are no problems. In fact, there isn't any problem. It is just politics." Another Indian man said, "This is the only problem that has come now, the land. There is too much politics. Politics are the problem. Otherwise, there is no problem, no problem at all."
The first man also described the sum of money which the Fijian government has promised to give all relocated tenant farmers to start new businesses or to move to other land, While he called the policy of removing Indian tenants unfair, he blamed politics rather than the Fijian people. This demonstrates a reluctance to view society as the conglomeration of two separate ethnic groups. He has rejected the colonial notion of communalism.
It happens this way in a country; people need the support of their government. So things will be o.k.. The sugar industry is the backbone of Fiji. If that goes our bread and butter, everything, is gone
So Indians have been on the land for 30 or 40 years and the Fijians think that everything should revert back to them. It's not fair. So the government has to find a place for them. We are working 24 hours per day for practically nothing, boys, workers on the farm. So it is very hard work. The government said the minimum they will give is $28,000. So this is all politics.
With another Indian man, I discussed how former Prime Minister Rabuka wanted to turn all Crown land into Native land, controlled by Fijians. This Indian man, however, considered the event as reflective of the politician's views rather than of those of the whole Fijian community. He said, "But that is the government's problem, a Native land problem. But we [Fijians and Indians] stay together, talk together, everything."
The election of an Indian Prime Minister is a sign of the downfall of communalism in Fiji. The Indians I interviewed did not seem surprised by this outcome, however, since they do not attest to any ethnic problem in Fiji. "Because of politics, there is too much politics in Fiji now. Rabuka lost the government. And now there is an Indian Prime Minister. That's a big high post, and they just make it politics." One man's statement demonstrates his belief that ethnicity should not play a decisive role in government,
Anybody can become Prime Minister now. You can become Prime Minister, because of the constitution. We want any government to run our country smoothly, without a lot of corruption, to run the government properly. Anyone can do it, Fijian, Indian, European, Chinese.
When I asked this man if he believed that Fijians were unhappy with an Indian Prime Minister, he said,
If we are fighting in an election and I lose, then I will always be against you. Because of politics. But in Fiji, we have no problems with Fijians and Indians. No problem, you can see for yourself. Nothing happens, no problem at all. Only the media makes problems. Otherwise, we have nothing between Fijian and Indian, no problem at all.
The Indian view about why Fijians voted for an Indian Prime Minister reveals that a communal view of Fiji is declining in the Indian population. These interviewees told me that Fijians who voted for the current Prime Minister did so to try something new, because he was the best candidate or because they liked his policies. Fijians voted for an Indian Prime Minister because "they want to have some benefit. 'Let's see how this new government is going to run.' If a good thing doesn't come from there, someone else is going to take it."
Citizens of Fiji do not and should not consider ethnicity when determining government, according to Indian informants. That Indians are changing the way they view the country, and throwing off the old colonial notion of a plural society, shows that they have an interest in the new situation in Fiji. With a recently-elected, and Fiji's first, Indian Prime Minister, Indians accept the multicultural model of society rather than the old communal view because they do not want to project the idea that having an Indian Prime Minister represents political dominance of the Indian community. They want to demonstrate a view that the Prime Minister, regardless of ethnicity, represents the entire populace of a nation so that Fijians do not react with a Taukei Movement. Indians would not want Fijians to become highly politicized as an ethnic group just as the land leases expire. Fijians would then terminate Indian leases, resulting in a clearly unfavorable predicament for Indians.
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Fijians Have Deviated From Communalist / Plural Society Notions
While Indians have accepted multiracialism and multiculturalism as a model of ethnic relations to a greater degree, Fijians have also begun to reject the colonialist-imposed notions of a plural society in which ethnic groups should remain separate and perform separate functions in the nation. This deviation is most marked as Fijians empathize with evicted Indian farmers, with the election of an Indian Prime Minister, within the thought of the younger generation, and with the increasing popularity of intermarriage between Fijians and Indians.
A young Fijian cane farmer explained his empathy for evicted Indian farmers, though it was his mataqali which required such movement. He recognized how difficult it will be for these farmers to move to a completely new location.
Some of them have been on that land for a long time. I feel sorry for them. They'll be leaving their land. That is their home now
They are removing the Indians from where they were leasing before. When you remove them from one kind of farming to another, that will be very hard for them. Because most of their lives, they have been planting sugar cane. Root crops are very hard for them. They have houses where they live now, so they have to remove that. Most villages in Nadi and Lautoka, most of the land has been taken back from the Indians. The government has taken them to another part of the island and resettled them there. So now the government is compensating them. One family, $30,000. It is not much.
One Fijian man expressed a desire for the leases to be renewed to Indian tenants. He argued this for practical reasons, "Oh, I think that they should be renewed because when we stop it, who is going to farm that land.? They stay there, we stay here. So it is better for us to renew that lease for those people so we can wait for the lease money." He empathized with their plight as well, "Most of these farmers, they want to stay on the land because they are farmers, they have been born farmers. They want to stay on the land instead of going to Suva and Lautoka, to the big towns and cities. They have been brought up on that type of life." He said that they should, therefore, be allowed to stay. Lastly, this man argued on the basis of humanity.
It is my view that if the Indian tenants want to continue, there is no problem with that. Continue. Because everybody wants to live. Everybody has a stomach and wants to get food for their family. Even we that stay here for years, and we still live. We plant our cassava and things like that. And Indian tenants too, it is very hard for them to live in that place and then go and find a new place. So, as human beings, we must look at both sides. Indians will go out, move out, most of them will be living in a very bad position. But we Fijian, we go there or stay here, still we can live. Because we just have to plant our cassava, fish, anything like that.
His view that Fijians and Indians have the same rights and should be treated equally demonstrates the downfall of communalist thought in the Fijian community. Fijians are empathizing with Indian citizens, a situation which would be impossible unless Fijians had begun to conceive of a multiracial / multicultural society rather than a plural society.
The election of an Indian Prime Minister also evidences a deviation from communalist thought. Constitutional changes made in 1997 allowed for the election of a non-indigenous Fijian Prime Minister. The fact than an Indian Prime Minister was elected in 1999 demonstrates that Fijians no longer necessarily believe that they can only be represented by another Fijian. Many Fijians, therefore, have started to conceive of Fiji as a multicultural nation rather than as nation in which two separate ethnic communities interact on the basis of their separation. One Fijians woman's comments about the Prime Minister indicate this since she makes no reference to his ethnicity at all. "We'll see how he works out. Rabuka was with us for five years. We'll see how this one keeps his promises." Similarly, a Fijian man told me that Chaudhry was elected because is able to do the job.
Another Fijian man told me that most Fijians want a Fijian Prime Minister but that Fijians must have voted for Chaudhry for him to be elected. He stated simply, "More people voted for this party and this party won. So an Indian is the Prime Minister." He told me that most of the Fijian leaders were corrupt and thought that people were influenced by campaigning to choose the Labor party that is now in power. People thought that it was good for this Prime Minister to be in government because he said he was going to solve the land lease problem. This informant's ideas about the election show that he didn't think of the Fijian and Indian community as two autonomous groups but as one mixed society.
They might have been influenced by campaigning, what they tell people they are going to do. So many promises are going to come. So people might have heard that and they changed their views. Never mind that it's an Indian Prime Minister. We just want to get a better life.
When I asked him if he thought that the Prime Minister of Fiji should be Fijian he responded,
Oh, it doesn't matter, as long as he looks after the people, to serve the people, Indian or Fijian or part Indian or part Fijian. A Fijian was there from the time of independence until last year. There was not much change in Fiji during that time. The leaders have gotten power only for themselves. That is what most of us think. Even some of the scholarships, most of the scholarships have been given to their children. And the poor people have to struggle for the education of their children. Anybody can be the Prime Minister if he serves the people.
Some of the Fijians I interviewed told me that many Fijians pretend to want only a Fijian Prime Minister but have actually voted for the Indian candidate. "That is what most people now say, that they don't want an Indian Prime Minister. That is their choice, and now they want to change again;" the same people who say there should be a Fijian Prime Minister are the ones who in fact voted for Chaudhry. But, "the people have had their say so that's it. That's how it is, democratic." Both the election and acceptance of an Indian Prime Minster indicate that Fijians have started embracing the idea that Fijians and Indians make up one mixed community. They are shunning the colonial notion that the two ethnic groups need to remain divided.
The younger generation, along with those who are more educated, have certainly accepted a multiculural society to a greater extent than the older generations. Many in this younger, and generally more educated, generation express a lack of understanding and frustration with the communalist approach to ethnicity in Fiji. One young Fijian woman explained to me that relations between Fijians and Indians have improved immensely. She said,
Before, Indians had some negative attitudes towards us and we had some negative attitudes about them. They pictured us as uncivilized people because of the way we treated them, we bullied them. That is why they considered us uncivilized. And the Indians, they had that negative feeling in them and they also had fear. Because Fijians would threaten Indians. And, the Indians, their belief in tradition, according to their religion, they would treat Fijian people and children as dirty. They have more sanitation and hygiene. It is their religion that they have to clean their house every day so that their house will be blessed by their god Shiva
That was the past attitude and behavior. And the Fijians, we normally teased the Indians, calling them all sorts of names just because of their culture, their living. We called them kara wai pani. That means after they use the toilet, they don't use the toilet paper but they use the water. It's part of their religion, so that they will be clean
And also their attitudes to behavior, the Indians, they treated us as people who didn't have good manners. Running around the compound, shouting, screaming, especially young children. They didn't want the children to mingle with the Fijians because they thought that it was bad. And, that was the background of the relationship.
She explained that there are still many Indians who "don't understand. They don't want to accept our culture, they just want to respect their own culture."
But the younger generation has intermingled much more than the older generation, in large part because of education. "As far as I know, Fijians and Indians now can be exchanging and socializing
We are understanding each other. There is an understanding among each other's culture." In reference to school, this Fijian youth said,
The Indians in my school are very understanding, they are very open. And we understand their life too. And they want us to stay with them. Like you see us sitting together, sharing the same food. And during dinner, the Indians don't want to eat their curry and rice. We exchange. And their parents, you see the surprise in their look at how we get along. It's because we are in the same institution, sharing the same dorm and the same bathroom.
She talked about her time in secondary school, before college, as a time of dual assimilation as well.
And the relationship in my high school, it was all Indian students. We got along well. Indians, they tend to, they want to be with us. They love our way of life. We are carefree. It's the younger generation. It is because their culture is restricting them. So they find time to socialize in school
We tend to like each other. So we exchange things, like food. They love to eat our food and we love to eat their food. We exchange languages. They love to speak our language and we love to speak their language too. It's all in school and also in families and communities. Some certain people, some certain Indians, very typical Indians, they still have that negative attitude toward Fijians
[But] we are very close to [the Indian students]. And the Indians come over to our place and we go over to their place. We are very close to them.
Another factor which influences how close and socially intermixed Fijians and Indians will be is location. An informant said, for instance, "Most of the Indians that are staying here, the western and northern side, they are more like Fijians. They hang out with the Fijians. They are very friendly. And they are immersed in Fijian culture. They invite us over." A Fijian woman explained her surprise in visiting a relative who lived in close proximity to Indians and, therefore, socialized with them often. She explained that she went to her aunt's home. They went for a walk, to visit her aunt's friend, who was an Indian woman.
As soon as she saw us, "Oh come here Baini [slang for Indian], sit down, sit down." So she brought us tea and cookies and we ate, we had our afternoon tea there. And after that she prepared dinner, while we were still chatting with her mother-in-law, and it was really nice. I was very amazed, really surprised. I said, "Does she come over to your place?" And she said, "Yes, she comes over to my place." She drinks grog and she goes there. She said, "All the Indians here are my friends. As soon as they see me anywhere, they invite me over." So yes, because she lives in a settlement. And that settlement, they are all sugar cane farmers. Fijian people and Indians in that settlement. If you are living among those Fijians and Indians that live together in one settlement, then they share things. They'll treat you as an Indian and you'll treat them as Fijians.
A young Fijian woman who trained at a teacher's college noted that the Fijian and Indian children in her classrooms do not ethnically tease each other as much as she and other children did when she was in primary school. "Time is changing
It's because they are socializing more, visiting each other
Mixing up. Picking up each other's cultures. The relationship has gone from harsh to mild, from rough to calm." And, "Children nowadays are eager to learn other cultures." I asked this woman about her personal transition from teasing and rejecting Indian children to accepting them as her friends.
I was in class two, primary school, when I teased them. Because we hear things about them, bad things. So that's why we tease them. "My mother told me not to mix with Indians." That's where the temper comes in. It's just human development. When you grow up, you realize they're good and accept them.
The younger generations, and those Fijians and Indians who live within the same community, have greater opportunities to learn about the other ethnic group. This knowledge leads to a heightened acceptance of the other as well. These people, then, have really rejected the notion of a plural society and scorn those who still hold onto such a model.
Lastly, it is apparent that communal ideas are breaking down because of the recent increase in intermarriages. I asked a Fijian man if he thought that relations between Fijians and Indians will change. His evidence for change was intermarriage. "Yeah, it will change. Now we are having intermarriages. Some of them are coming to live in the villages, some Indians are coming to live
One of my aunties is married to an Indian." A Fijian woman who has been married to an Indian man for 35 years related the following,
It's no longer like before, you know, Fijians go their own way. Before if there was some occasion held in the village, Indians were not allowed to come. We didn't say that we didn't allow them. They could come and sit down but they wouldn't come. Maybe they knew that they were not welcome. But not now. Something happened
When I first met my husband, that time was very strict. Fijian girls were not allowed to talk to Indian people. But that was in the 1960s. 1963. In that time, it was very strict. In the 1950s, it was very strict. No mixing. Maybe there was one or two, I don't know. Then you wouldn't see an Indian boy and a Fijian girl together. But not now
Now, in the village, those Indian people living near the village, they come down to the village. They wear their own clothes, they know they are Indian people. But they do wear Fijian clothes, some of them wear the Fijian sulu [dress] and top. But before, no. Back in 1950, Indians whenever they went to school, covered their head. They can't show their body. 1960 and 1970, things are changing until now.
A Fijian woman told me of an Indian woman she knows who is married to a Fijian man. She said that this woman likes hanging around with Fijians. "She shows no biases toward Fijians. So she's a good example because she comes from a very understanding family." This woman said that, "overall, there is an increasing number of intermarriages."
Intermarriage can be difficult for those involved because of the strain between two cultures, as the Fijian woman, married to an Indian man, described. It exemplifies an increase in multicultural thought however; many Fijians and Indians no longer consider only members of their own ethnic group to be marriageable partners. When the Fijian woman just described first married her husband, her family did not like him, nor did his family appreciate her.
Now they are ok, they accept him. And his family didn't like me, they wanted him to get married to an Indian girl. My family said that I'm married to a low down people. Because none of my family members were married to an Indian before, I was the first one
You can understand if you want to get married to somebody and your family doesn't like the boy, they are going to say things to make you not like the boy. Nothing can be done. We got married. We are living in Lautoka. Sometimes when his family comes they showed me that there was some gap there which we couldn't cover. Sometimes when my family came to see me and some of his family also came, I could see the difference. My family would say, "When are they going? How long are they going to stay?" His family would say to my husband, "What are they doing here? You are bringing Fijian people in your house!" They didn't realize that I was there. I am there for my family and he is there for his family. And when we came to know each other, when we got along together, then everything was okay. But then still, some of his family or even some of my family, they still show that they don't like him. My mother-in-law used to come and stay with us for three/four weeks or more. Sometimes, she said things I didn't like. She seemed to pick on me all the time. She liked her other daughter-in-law, an Indian girl, better than me
Otherwise, everything is ok. We go to my sister-in-law's house. We eat, we sleep. We talk. We always talk on the phone, whatever she wants she asks me. And my children, they go to my husband's side and to my family.
This woman sees her role in an intercultural marriage as a point of contact between the two communities, the two cultures. She said,
If I am home and his family comes, I accept them. Then, if my family comes, I accept them. I am in the middle, Indian people this side and Fijian people this side. I bring them together. Because what we eat, they eat. I don't cook separate for Indian and Fijian people. Indian people, they don't eat beef. And I make sure that I won't cook the wrong thing for them. They sit there together, they talk.
And though she says people always wonder why she married an Indian man, "'Who's her husband. Oh it's an Indian man. Oh!' The question is there all the time, Why?," she finds her marriage fulfilling. And she explained that her Fijian family and his Indian family are becoming comfortable with their marriage. "So things are going on and it is getting better and better and better. They are getting used to it. They all come to my house. It's no difference. Or maybe I chose the right man."
This woman's marriage experience has taught her much about Indian culture of which she was ignorant prior to marriage. Her experience is symbolic of the recent intermixing of Fijian and Indian culture in Fiji.
I didn't know anything [about Indian culture before marriage.] See, my mother-in-law died. My husband is the second in the family. And the elder brother, his wife already died. And they said we have to go get the body from the hospital. This was new to me. And they said, "You have to come." And I said, "No, I am not going." And they said, "No, you have to come." Because I am married to her second son, and my sister-in-law is already gone, I am the head woman in the family. I had to go. They can't touch the body until I touch her first. Then they are going to bathe her and dress her, but I have to touch her first
And another thing I learned, how many nights and how many days they can't use fire. And we have to make something. All the families gather. They have to have prayer. And believe in taking the food out and leaving it there and they say, "She's going to come back and eat." I said [laughing], "No, I don't think so. I don't believe that." That's their belief. And before they start doing the cooking, I was lying down sleeping. My sister-in-law came and woke me up, "You need to light the fire." I said, "What!? Why do you disturb me?" She said, "We can't do the cooking unless you light the fire." So that's something I learned
And when they are getting ready to eat, they all sit down. And they were waiting for me. They said, "You have to eat."
And the daughter, they don't count the daughter to my husband's family. Once she gets married and goes to her husband, that is her family.
This woman's experience demonstrates that Fijians and Indians do not necessarily think of Fiji as a country made of two separate, non-interactive ethnic groups. People are capable of viewing the society as a mixture of various cultures and are increasingly accepting people of those other cultures into their own communities.
Fijians' gradual rejection of the notion of a plural society demonstrates their interest in the new circumstances in Fiji. With the changing land situation, Fijians have gained the opportunity, often for the first time in their generation, to farm their land and make money. Fijians are relaxing their emphasis on ethnic separation, and separate occupational roles for each of the ethnic groups, so that Fijians who want to economically advance may do so without scorn from their fellow community members or a lot of pressure to share wealth among the community. The new land lease situation has allowed Fijians to deviate from old colonial notions.
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The circumstances under which the ethnic balance in Fiji was achieved have changed. The model of ethnic separation and the ethnic stereotypes are shifting accordingly. The past model of communalism worked well in a situation in which Fijian land was leased out to Indian tenants for long periods of time. Fijians retained a positive self-image as they led their "cultural" lives and swore off wealth in exchange for more valuable community ties. Indians were comfortable with the idea of themselves as economically prosperous individuals, although they were regarded as lacking culture. Presently, however, the expiration of land leases has allowed Fijians the opportunity to reclaim their land and adopt an image of themselves as economically prosperous as well. Since this new situation can potentially give Fijians a positive sense of self, which they previously attained from their "cultural" image, they no longer need to hold onto that stereotype. Fijians and Indians have been realizing that Fijians do in fact care about money and are able to attain it.
In addition to the shifting of stereotypes, the notion of a plural society has also been affected. The Indian and the Fijian communities have each shown that, conceptually, Fiji is becoming a multicultural society. In the colonialist-induced, plural society, Fijian and Indian culture was distinctly separate and members of each community interacted on the basis of that separation. People did not think of interaction in individualistic terms; each meeting was one between representatives of larger communities. But, the rejection of the plural society works well for both the Fijian and Indian communities in the new situation in Fiji. The election of an Indian Prime Minister has caused Indians to promote the idea of a multicultural nation to avoid Fijian ethnic campaigning. Fijian access to land has led Fijians to slacken their notions of ethnic separation; individual Fijians may escape their "proper" roles, then, and economically prosper. The balance of Fijian and Indian ethnic separation in Fiji is changing therefore. These communities are presently throwing off colonial notions of themselves and reinventing a multicultural society.
On to Conclusion...
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