Friday, August 12, 2011

Bainimarama's Forcible Attempt at Unifying Races Through the "Fijian" Name

12 August 2011

The unilateral decision by the unelected and illegal regime to designate the name "Fijian" to refer to all Fiji citizens or nationals, instead of Fiji Islanders, will never be acceptable to Fijians or natives of Fiji. 

Since the 19th century, natives of Fiji have been referred to as Fijians and the whole world have also come to adopt it, though accepting confusion over ethnicity and nationality from time to time. Governments in Fiji since colonial days, to after independence in 1970, have also applied the term accordingly. Therefore, through common and widespread usage over time, and historically, "Fijians" have come to principally refer to Fiji nationals who are indigenous to Fiji. Even now other races in Fiji would casually in conversation and everyday life, regard and apply this to be the case. Only in government and official circles would the forced usage apply.

In NZ, this reference remains the case in relation to the categorisation of ethnicity data collected through official channels such as the census and through government agencies. In fact "Fijians" refer specifically to ethnic Fijians, who are included in the "Pacific" category, while Fiji nationals of Indian extraction are classified as "Asians" on the basis of ethnicity. Indofijians are therefore not included in the Fijian and Pacific data collected during the Census on the basis of ethnicity.

Despite this ethnicity-based classification, there has been attempts in NZ to include Indofijians into the Fijian and Pacific category, especially over coverage of government services. When serving on the NZ Arts Council some years ago, names of Indofijians were put up as "Fijian" nominees but were turned down owing to the ethnic mismatch. Similarly in 1999, former Fiji President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, raised the same question over the non-inclusion of Indofijians in things Pacific in NZ, when he addressed a conference called Pacific Vision in Auckland. While previously a staff at a NZ government department, I had to draft replies to ministerial correspondence from Indofijians questioning why the department had not included them in its work given they are also from the Pacific. In most cases it was pointed out that provision of government services was not based on ethnicity but on need. As well, when that department was first established, it was, according to its first Minister, Richard Prebble, not envisaged that Indofijians would be a target group on the basis of need. It was therefore left to politicians to make the necessary decision to extend coverage to Indofijians, who today come under the aegis of the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs, a service of the much larger Department of Internal Affairs.

It must be made clear therefore since data is collected on the basis of "ethnicity" Not "nationality/place of origin" Indofijians will  remain excluded. On the same token, where data is collected on the basis of nationality or place of origin as with Immigration, Indofijians are included in the "Fijian" category. Fijian in this case refers to place of origin or nationality of migrants.

Following the adoption by the illegal Fiji regime of its equally illegitimate People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress, a change was made in June 2010 to the name of Fiji's citizens whatever their ethnicity, to be called "Fijians". This enforced change was again reminded today in Fiji as the military warned the Methodist Church to tow the line during its 3 day annual conference. Former military band boy now spokesperson, Neumi Leweni, said  that:

 "The church is reminded that all citizens of this country are now known as Fijians which is an indication of our determination to unite every race and ethnic groups in Fiji."

Previously, the word "Fijian" does not denote a nationality, and refers exclusively to indigenous Fijians while citizens of Fiji are referred to as "Fiji Islanders". The change affects the English name of indigenous Fijians changing it from "Fijians" to "itaukei", the Fijian word for indigenous Fijians. Former Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase stated at the time that the name "Fijian" belonged exclusively to indigenous Fijians, and that he would oppose any change in legislation enabling non-indigenous Fijians to use it.

Those opposing the "itaukei" name for native Fijians referred to its dark connotations associated with pre-christian and nationalistic past and practices. 

I would argue the point that the term also rings hollow now given that:
  • its meaning only comes from a reference to something such as ownership of land (itaukei ni vanua, itaukei ni qele etc..) when these are now under threat from the  current illegal regime. Itaukei has become a hollow name replacement for Fijians as a direct result of the repressive policies of the Bainimarama regime directed at the culture, natural resources and human rights of Fijians and their traditional institutions.
  • Viti as Fijians called Fiji, is not the official name of the country. Itaukei therefore would only make sense when referred to the Fijian name "Viti" not Fiji. It is a "mix and match" approach that has become the hallmark of the illegal regime's attempt to forcibly unify two different races with different value system, religious beliefs and world view. In Fijian: "e dua mai loli ka dua mai loa" ka sa na tini ga ki na ...

  • It will never work. The return to democratic rule together with the 1997 Constitution, will result in the retention of previous practice. Then sanity can be regained and diversity celebrated instead of being dragged forcibly together to satisfy Bainimarama's bloated apetite for nation wrecking.
A personal story around the use of "Fijian" by those overseas confusing ethnicity and nationality.

Two months ago I was contacted by a language translation firm in New York to undertake work for them. The contract involved translating and transcribing conversation in a police car involving a "Fijian". I agreed to the work understanding "Fijian" meant indigenous Fijian until I found out on opening the electronic audio file it was in fact an Indofijian speaking Hindi. Given my ethnic background and lack of knowledge in this area, I then advised the firm of this mismatch and withdrew from the contract. At first they were not impressed but later accepted my explanation on the difference between nationality and ethnicity around the name "Fijian" and that language being an integral element of a race or ethnic group. They then indicated they in fact had inhouse expertise for the work given it was hindustani (hindi) involved!

Fellow golfers who, like me, follow Fiji's Vijay Singh, will also hear on TV how American commentators refer to him interchangeably as "Fijian" or "Fiji Islander". One thing is for sure, they are referring to him as a Fiji national.


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