The Unfinished Business: Fiji’s Colonial Legacy

    The Unfinished Business: Fiji’s Colonial Legacy

    After almost 50 years of independence, Fiji remains a fragile State politically because of the deep-seated racial division between the two major races, the indigenous Fijians and the Fijian Indians. There is a general recognition that it continues to cost the nation enormously, politically, socially, and above all, economically. There has been some recent initiative by the Rabuka Coalition Government about establishing a process on reconciliation between two races through a @Truth and Reconciliation Commission”. Is that the best way forward for Fiji or is there a better Pacific Way of bringing about reconciliation?

    Recent Attempts at Reconciliation

    The Bainimarama Initiative

    After the first Fijian coups of 1987, it was not until 2007 that there was a serious attempt made to rebuild Fiji as “One Nation and One People”. The Bainimarama Government of 2014 entrenched  a common name in the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji, calling all  citizens of Fiji, a Fijian, regardless of racial origin, taking away racial identification of citizenry. In spite of its entrenchment in the Constitution, this action appeared to have limited political and social traction, particularly among the indigenous Fijian community, perhaps because these changes were imposed rather than done gradually through consultation.

    The Rabuka Initiative

    At the last two General Elections, Major General (Rtd.)  Sitiveni Rabuka drew his support mainly from the indigenous Fijian community. He did not get the traction he wanted among Fijian Indian voters, although he had apologised numerous times on the atrocities of his 1987 coups, directed against the Fijian Indian community. He failed to secure their trust.

    In Government, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka has flagged that his Government would be establishing a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” during the present term of his Government. The details for such a Commission remain pending.

    The RFMF Initiative

    The Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF) has taken a recent lead and has embarked on a “Process of Reconciliation and Restoration”. The Commander of RFMF, Major General Kalouniwai said that “there is a need for us [RFMF] to rebuild trust back into society. That is a huge challenge for us because of our past”.

    Ratu Viliame Seruvakula

    Ratu Viliame Seruvakula, the recently appointed Chair of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) said in a recent interview that the Chiefs should remain apolitical and carry out the work they should be doing - to help unite Fiji as a multiracial and multicultural society. He further said the division within the Fijian society has been caused by politicians.

    Burebasaqa Paramount Chief, Ro Teimumu Vuikaba Kepa

    The Fijian Confederation of Burebasaqa, Paramount Chief, Na Gone Marama Bale Na Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa told the Fijian media in 2017 that, “Governments come and go in four years, eight years, sixteen years. What people want is stability. They, the Vanua can give a sense of identity to the other races we live with. While the mandate of the GCC is to look out for the well-being of the indigenous, we must not forget other communities who live among us”. She called the descendants of the Girmitiyas (the indentured Indian labourers brought to Fiji) in her Confederacy as  “Luvedra na Ratu” (the children of the Chiefs).

    The Fijian Indians

    Although there has been heavy migration of Fijian Indians out of Fiji, they still make around 30% of Fiji’s population. A core always will remain in Fiji. The Fijian Indians have no other home. They are not Indians. They have evolved over generations into one of the many distinct Pacific Islander peoples.

    Complementarities of the Two Major Races

    Both of Fiji’s major communities must fully realise, as alerted by Ratu Viliame Seruvakula in his afore-mentioned media interview, that they need one another to build a one nation. This has not been fully appreciated at the political levels, perhaps more so by the indigenous political elites.

    The Unfinished Business Left by the British Colonisers

    Fiji citizens generally must all realise that the lack of trust and the suspicion between the two major races are left over business by the British, from their policy of separate development of the two major races, for their own advantage. This is not a creation of either race.

    Where To for the Unfinished Business?

    Apart from the Bainimarama experiment there has been no other serious attempt to examine what are  the problems that keep the two major races apart. Rabuka’s apologies and call for reconciliation do not seem to have received as yet much traction.

    Ratu Viliame has thrown the challenge to the Fijian elders to finish the “unfinished business”. He does not believe that reconciliation is a matter for politicians. He believes it must come from the heart of the indigenous community.

    “Luvedra na Ratu” Inititiative

    Ratu Viliame has rightfully thrown the challenge of reconciliation to the Chiefs of Fiji. In this respect, there had been some positive movement initiated Ro Temumu Kepa where she declared at a ceremony on 5 May 2017 in Nabudrau, Noco in Rewa that the descendants of the Girmitiyas in the Vanua of Noco as “Luvedra na Ratu” (the children of the Chiefs). Therein may lie a true and lasting solution for the Chiefs to consider and advance. In following the spirit of Ratu Viliame’s call, Fiji’s Chiefly leaders might consider establishing a formal instrument of “Reconciliation” between the GCC and the descendants of the Girmitiyas based on the principle of Luvedra na Ratu. This could be an alternative to the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The formal instrument would be a collaborative institution, whereas the TRC could be divisive, confronting and perhaps political. This would be a more Pacific Way of reconciliation.

    (Ambassador Robin Nair OF is an Adjunct Professor, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia. He is an appointed Member of the Fiji National University Council. He is a former Fijian and an Australian Diplomat. The views and opinion in this article are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of the The Cairns Institute)

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