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Beyond a culture of silence


The apparent absence of debate, particularly among the Taukei, is attributed by commentators to ‘a culture of silence’. Open, vigorous public discourse is not yet a feature of Taukei or Fijian society at large. It has been explained in terms of a cultural milieu in which authority and communal structures coalesce to muffle expression. While media controls and self-censorship have not helped, it is the epistemology, ways of thinking, of the Taukei that invites closer scrutiny.

‘Silence’ does not necessarily mean consent. It is the lack of oral and written expression about issues passing for acquiescence. From the colonial era to the present, Taukei took refuge in silence until the political climate improved. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, blog sites etc.) represent a contemporary variation, allowing disaffected Taukei to express opinions anonymously.  An assertive few, on opposing sides of the divide, eschew such inhibitions in that virtual world. Safe haven notwithstanding, it is outside the wider public domain. Sanctuary afforded by ‘silence’ comes at a price: uncontested interpretations of issues and events become historical truth and received wisdom.

Reluctance persists among Taukei to ventilate issues of interest openly whether the traditional system, sustaining Taukei culture, the Taukei language, qoliqoli, the protection of land or the status of indigenous people post-December 2006. It is compounded by several factors. Blood and kinship ties remain significant. Personalities matter more than issues. Opinions are an extension of the person and difficult to separate. And the ubiquity of connections renders security in numbers of larger societies meaningless.

Consequently, leaders take offence easily because there is no distance between them and their audience. The ‘personal’ element permeates and colours all relationships: traditional, political, economic, social and religious. Social interaction is complicated by the relative frequency with which people meet at weddings, funeral gatherings, other ‘oga’ (traditional/social obligations) and settings. The implications for free-flowing discourse are obvious: reluctance to disagree for fear of offending.

Communal thinking is interwoven with this ‘connectedness’. The group is preeminent and the individual secondary. The latter is a component of the whole. His/her utility lies in the credibility and weight lent to the consensus. It is sometimes self-evident, but more often a combination of interventions from key persons or groups and circumstances. There is little leeway for the self-validation essential for the flow of ideas.  Seniority determines one’s right of audience and “who can and cannot speak”. Empowerment constitutes work in progress particularly for women and youth.

Advocating a public position necessitates taking a stand. It is not as simple as Nike’s ‘Just do it’ slogan. Consequences arise: it obliges others to react. This may be unsettling if they prefer not to be involved. Individuals or groups are identified with a position, limiting their room for manoeuvre with possible repercussions. In June 1977, as naïve law students, my good friend Graham Leung and I wrote to the Fiji Times criticising then Governor-General Ratu Sir George Cakobau’s decision not to invite Mr S. M. Koya to form government. The National Federation Party had won a plurality in the May election. My fleeting temerity was swiftly aborted by the opprobrium my politician mother endured.

Dissembling is a valued cultural trait: maintenance of relationships and social cohesion is the highest good. Consensus is valued and dissent discouraged. Where it arises or is anticipated, the preceding discussion and ensuing outcome are framed in general terms. It allows those present to project a ‘consensus’, interpreting proceedings to their benefit. Individuals usually reserve judgment during this process to gauge the tide of debate. Throughout this exercise, details are glossed over and face is saved. Either way, it does not allow for closely argued exchanges characteristic of intellectuals and academia.

There is also a sense that indigenous identity is a Taukei prerogative. While not a view I share, the assumption is only Taukei can appreciate the essence of indigeneity. Disinclination to participate in public fora is the result.  Interestingly, the extent to which Taukei are committed to “a common and equal citizenry” of the present dispensation is intriguing. Ambivalence in acknowledging this country belongs to all Fijians continues. Fuelled by a perception that shared identity has been unmatched by reciprocal gestures, for example as in recognising the autochthonous and unique character of the Taukei language. A simple illustration: Taukei wince at references to the Taukei rather than Fijian language, bespeaking inferiority.  Furthermore, use of the phrase “iTaukei” in English displays egregious unfamiliarity with the Taukei language itself (legislative fiat aside – The ‘i Taukei’ reference is mandated by Fijian Affairs (Amendment) Decree No 31 of 2010).  ‘I’ partially serves as the article as in ‘Na i Taukei’ (the Taukei) or ‘Na i Vola Tabu’ (the Holy Bible). The phrase ‘the iTaukei’ in English (lit. ‘the the Taukei’) sounds repetitive, awkward and pretentious to Taukei ears, especially when uttered by non-Taukei.

These minor irritants nevertheless demonstrate how the ‘culture’ curtails more honest dialogue. Taukei keep these feelings to themselves, stoking victimhood. Shared, it serves to heighten awareness and sensitivity among Fijians although that process may be confronting. Those observations about use of ‘i Taukei’ exemplify the spectacle of unchallenged perspectives morphing into accepted orthodoxy. Wadan Narsey has expressed concern about this trait in analysing possible causes for the ‘hibernation’ (Narsey’s description) of ‘Fijian’ (i.e. Taukei) intellectuals.

The manner in which Taukei relate to authority bears on this discourse. The hierarchy of the traditional system, although modified, continues to apply between leaders and led today. Forthright, direct comment yields to endorsing the prevailing orthodoxy. It safeguards the position of followers in terms of anticipated largesse, guising their actual opinions. Taukei are accustomed to dealing with their rulers in this way as a means of self-preservation. The extensive protestations of support for the government, some of which is doubtless genuine, may be understood in that light.

At the same time, some perspective is useful. While the culture has tended to reinforce the status quo by limiting challenges to authority, individuals capable of strong leadership have been able to buck the system to attract a following. Navosavakadua, Apolosi R Nawai, Ratu Emosi of Daku, Sairusi Nabogibogi and Ravuama Vunivalu formerly, Butadroka, Ratu Osea Gavidi, Bavadra, Rabuka, George Speight and Bainimarama more recently have lain claims to prominence.

Their populist appeal and charisma, the promise of a better future and a pointed rebuke to the ‘establishment’ for supposed failings partly account for their success (though varied).

Levelling of both the Taukei community and wider society, particularly since independence, reflects an irreversible trend: those from more representative backgrounds dominating leadership. That dynamic will have a liberalising effect over time. A vision of the future surfaced during debate in 2006 over the Qoliqoli Bill which sought to extend property rights to Taukei fishing rights. It was protracted, vigorous even fierce but open and peaceful. Such scenarios are attainable but an enabling environment is a prerequisite.

The other relevant consideration is that informed and sustained debate requires familiarity with issues, intellectual inquiry and reflection. For Taukei, earning a living, raising a family, undertaking tertiary studies and involvement with ‘oga’ consume their time, energies and resources. It is one reason Taukei are often absent from activities such as service clubs. ‘Service’ as they conceive it is material and financial support provided to immediate and extended family; or bearing the educational and boarding expense of close kin in straitened situations. Taken with obligations to the vanua and the lotu, there is a cost: capacities for conceptualising and articulation thereof are appreciably diminished.

Additionally, the phenomenon of reading not being popular among the Taukei and wider population is worrisome. It is more than a means for acquiring credentials. Exposure to ideas, development of rational thought and nurturing of imagination engendered by this process is critical. Reading moulds the shape, quality and frequency of debate. It stimulates the ability to formulate, synthesise and articulate ideas clearly and logically.

Despite that lack, the situation is changing gradually. Regulation is being eased accompanied by empowerment initiatives for women, youth, people with disabilities, rural populations and other marginalised groups. Rising standards of education and exposure especially in the form of foreign work experience, the present dispensation, the pervasive presence of the media, in addition to accessibility to information technology have all had an impact. The resulting paradox: a more permissive social environment facilitating increasingly diverse opinion.

There remains a need to provide more open, honest debate within Taukei and wider Fijian society, so citizens are able to participate effectively in the issues of the day. It is critical for our development as a nation and as part of the global village. For this to happen, understanding this psyche of ‘silence’ makes possible remedial measures through socialisation, educational initiatives, empowerment, community and civil society support and other means. While ensuring the emerging landscape is focused and engaging rather than visceral; promoting balance with respect but not hostage to sectarian sensibilities. Journeying beyond a culture of silence to where meaningful dialogue and debate become commonplace.

  • Joni Madraiwiwi is a traditional leader, lawyer and a former Vice President of Fiji (2005-6).

    This article appeared in the March 2014 printed edition of Repúblika on pages 26 and 27.



42 thoughts on “Beyond a culture of silence

  1. I am impressed how many words Joni needs to describe a very simple fact: Taukies are an uneducated bunch of fearful arse kissers, unwilling or unable to read and learn. What matters to them is to please their rulers, no matter how bad for fear of consequence. The rest is a desire for unearned income and ova

  2. where was the native Fijians ” culture of silence” when they were bused in to protest on the streets to destabilise the Bavadra Government in 1987?
    if my memory serves me correctly they were loud and boisterous and aggressive and threatening.
    their cultural inhibitions flew out the window then? why the silence now?
    that calls for an explanation, doesn’t it?

  3. It is a well known fact that the natives are really damned scarred of guns – lamusona levu.. So they will march up and down, dance to the tune of their chiefs destabilising the nation, in 1987 and again in 2000 as long as they have the support of guns/army on their side.

    What goes around comes around is a favourite tune now for the natives.

    The culture of silence is there because they all are fukin scared of the army and have got inside a crabs hole……

  4. what about all the educated native Fijians who have thrown in their support for the rape of democracy to profit personally from it.
    they have had no cultural qualms in supporting Fijian fascism?

  5. One of Fiji’s Paramount Chief, Na Gone Marama Bale, Na Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa, IS A BIGGEST BITCH ON THE ISLAND.



    3 men in custody for alleged rape and robbery of tourist

    Three men who allegedly raped a tourist in Rakiraki last week appeared in the Tavua Magistrates Court today.

    Jale Fatiaki, Pita Natekuru and Ilaitia Nalawa charged with rape, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery have been remanded in custody.

    The three are between 21 and 32 years of age.

    It is also alleged that the three robbed the couple who were in their room around 11pm last Monday.

    The matter has been transferred to the Lautoka High Court where it will be called on the 1st of April.

  7. culture is not static. social change has altered the traditional cultural dynamics .today’s native Fijians have had the benefit of western education and are connected with the rest of the world through television news coverage. Fijians must know right from wrong. And, they must have the courage to speak out against that which is wrong. there is no hiding behind a “culture of silence”.

  8. what a piece of writing by JM. I don’t think FB can make head or tail out of this piece of writing! Even ASK wouldn’t know what JM has written. These are the types of people FB has gotten rid of instead of using them or at least asking them for advice.

  9. The military govt has removed nearly all colonial hangovers that relegated itaukei natives to make colonial leaders jobs easier . Now the reformation and as rt voreqe said the revolution is complete.

    most itaukeis are now experiencing freedom and power of choices.

    lease money going into real landowner pockets – no more to slected chiefs .

    the only thing left for military to do was to give itaukeis their qoliqoli. this is going to be a drawback for rt voreqe in coming election.

    Vinaka rt joni for your piece – you are one of few good chief still around .

  10. Summed up it’s simply saying that the i’Taukei have been held back by their culture. Let’s not forget it has been their choice to follow these ways and that choice must be respected.

  11. Khayium is the real problem in Fiji.Once he goes everything should be fine. Wake up i TAUKEI.

  12. Read this on Fijileaks last year! Ratu Joni writes: “In June 1977, as naïve law students, my good friend Graham Leung and I wrote to the Fiji Times criticising then Governor-General Ratu Sir George Cakobau’s decision not to invite Mr S. M. Koya to form government. ”

    It looks like these two have not changed:

    Bainimarama-Madraiwiwi-Leung nexus: Troika met in secret around grog bowl as Fiji waited for coup

    Special guest contributor

    In the months before the 2006 treasonous coup Commodore Frank Bainimarama went thrice to “a grog session” at Suva lawyer Graham Leung’s house to “meet and chat” with the former Vice-President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.

    On those three occasions Bainimarama raved and ranted about the alleged corruption in the Laisenia Qarase multi-party government. The future coupist openly discussed with Madraiwiwi his dislike of the SDL and why the party and Qarase should be kicked out of power.

    According to military officers who accompanied Bainimarama to Leung’s home, the future dictator returned to the barracks convinced that he now had support for his planned treasonous coup.

    We may recall that the former Fiji Law Society president Leung was the Judge Advocate of the court martial panel that had tried the 20 soldiers convicted of mutiny in relation to the Speight coup of 2000. The Suva lawyer had been commissioned as an Army officer, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

    Before Leung’s appointment a row had broken out between Bainimarama and the Minister for Defence Josefa Vosanibola over the payment fees of $130,000 to Leung, with Bainimarama arguing that the payment to Leung was being made from the Army budget (still to be audited) and that the Ministry of Home Affairs had no say in the payment.

    I: Grog Session:

    When I asked Leung if he and Madraiwiwi had hosted Bainimarama before the coup to “grog sessions” at his home, Leung replied that he had no recollection of this, and asked for more details. I obliged with specifics but to date Leung has not replied to me.

    Madraiwiwi, on the other hand, since his departure from Government House, has declined to answer any questions from me, especially highly revealing Wikileaks cables from former US ambassador Larry Dinger to Washington.

    Madraiwiwi was in constant contact with Dinger and shared his innermost thoughts and plan of actions with Dinger.

    We might recall Madraiwiwi infamously sharing a VIP seat with Bainimarama during the Army versus Police (Sukuna Bowl) rugby match on 1 December 2006 at the Post Fiji stadium, with Qarase issuing a defiant message from an undisclosed location of “no surrender” to Bainimarama’s deadline to resign and hand him power.

    2: PM Qarase: “I’ll not resign”

    Qarase said if he gave in and resigned as Prime Minister, he would be failing in his oath to uphold the rule of law and his duty to the electors. “There is absolutely no way I will resign from my position because it is not in accordance with the Constitution,” he said. Qarase said there were three ways he could be removed from the position legally: through a vote of no confidence in the House of Representatives; dissolution of Parliament in accordance with the Constitution; a voluntary resignation.

    Standing upright in public: Madraiwiwi (right) with Dinger and Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes
    The rest is history. In a stage-managed high-profile eviction, Madraiwiwi was bundled out of Government House after the 5 December 2006, with Dinger informing Washington under the heading ‘Time to move on’: “Madraiwiwi said he holds no anger or resentment.

    In fact, he is relieved, though he is experiencing weariness and sadness. It is time to move forward, and he will begin work at the Howard’s law firm on Monday. (Madraiwiwi’s closest friend, Graham Leung, is managing partner there.)”.

    3: Dinger follows Madrawiwi as Vice President

    It seems Dinger took an interest in Madraiwiwi’s career in early February 2006, writing to Washington under the heading ‘President Iloilo now seeks a second term – ramification’

    4: Chaudhry and RFMF accused of scuppering new President hopeful

    In his cable to Washington, Dinger wrote: “A few days ago, Fiji President Iloilo announced that he is prepared to take a second term, to begin in March. This was rather a surprise, since rumor had it that the 85-year-old, who is in poor physical health, aspired to retire to his village. Acting President Madraiwiwi has informed us that Iloilo does not expect to serve another entire 5-year term, but he thinks he can add stability during a troubled time for Fiji, including for the coming elections.

    Bainimarama, who has had President Iloilo’s support at crucial times, is very pleased by the news. CEO Kotobalavu gave us a clear impression the PM [Laisenia Qarase] is much less enthusiastic. Kotobalavu blamed the RFMF and [Mahendra] Chaudhry for encouraging Iloilo to stay on, a decision which “is not really good for the country.”

    Fiji’s President is selected by the Great Council of Chiefs, and some have speculated PM Qarase was angling behind the scenes for a “conservative,” maybe current Fiji High Commissioner to Malaysia Adi Samanumu Cakobau. Adi Samanunu is anathema to Bainimarama, who is convinced she was a major instigator of the 2000 coup.

    Interestingly, Kotobalavu told us that if Iloilo receives a second term (and under Fijian chiefly custom it would be very rude for the GCC to deny him that request once made), Vice President Madraiwiwi would automatically serve out the term as President if Iloilo were to resign.

    5: Bainimarama wanted 2006 election postponed until census

    In the same cable Dinger disclosed that Bainimarama wanted the 2006 election postponed for he feared that Qarase might irredeemably rig it. He told Washington: “Fiji’s general election may take place as early as late April. Political parties are gearing up. Opposition leader Chaudhry seems satisfied that complaints about electoral-registration are being resolved. Elections Commissioner Leung is confident a free and fair election can take place.

    However, Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) Commander Bainimarama is convinced the coming elections are already irretrievably rigged. He told us he intends to ensure the elections are postponed, preferably by Fiji’s civilian leadership.

    We comment that both Bainimarama and the opposition Labor Party seem to take a relativistic view of “rule of law” when it comes to removing the current Qarase Government. If elections are imminent, Bainimarama will have to decide rapidly how to proceed.

    He knows full well the negative consequences of ordering an illegal act, including on relations with the U.S. Bainimarama wants a legal way out and will push for a civilian solution. If that doesn’t happen to his satisfaction, tensions such as flamed in January may well recur.”

    6: Bainimarama wanted new Interim Government before election

    While key political players were looking forward to the 2006 election, Bainimarama was convinced, however, that the election had already been rigged by Qarase and his SDL Party. Bainimarama told Dinger, as relayed by Dinger to Washington:

    “RFMF Commander Bainimarama is convinced, however, that the coming election has already been irredeemably rigged by PM Qarase and his SDL Party. As evidence, Bainimarama noted to us that Fiji’s last census was in 1996, and the mandatory, ten-yearly one for 2006 has been delayed. Leung (then Election Commissioner) told us the delay is because “the system” was not adequately prepared to conduct a census in time for the coming 2006 election.

    Bainimarama, on the other hand, reported that his brother, who runs the statistics office, has been ready and willing to proceed on the census (which would take at least 6 months) but has been stymied. Bainimarama believes that, absent a proper census, there is no way electoral boundaries can be properly set and it is impossible to judge whether all eligible voters have been registered. Leung, who is admired by both Government and opposition leaders for his integrity and who is a close friend of Acting President Madraiwiwi, believes a fair election can be run despite the lack of current census figures.

    When we noted to Bainimarama that Fiji law requires an election to take place before November, making a census at this point almost impossible, he responded that something will have to be done. He made clear his view that Fiji cannot weather an election which wrongly places the current Qarase Government in office for another 5 years.

    When we reiterated USG views of the importance of the rule of law and civilian control, Bainimarama responded that he does not necessarily have to be the one who forces an electoral postponement. He suggested that an interim government could be installed, pending proper preparation of elections.

    7: Bainimarama, Chaudhry and rule of law: relativist approach

    Dinger concluded: “One of the mystifying aspects of Commander Bainimarama is his strong advocacy of the rule of law when it comes to prosecuting those who instigated the 2000 coups, but his apparent willingness to contemplate RFMF illegal action to remove the current government if it fails to meet his expectations.

    He does not at all appear to crave a military government though. He has suggested the intended outcome, if necessary, would be to install an interim civilian government pending new elections.

    Leadership of the opposition FLP seems to have a similarly relativist approach. The FLP President, Mrs. Koroi, openly admitted to Fiji TV during the civil-military crisis in January that she would find it acceptable for the RFMF to remove the Qarase government and replace it with the pre-2000 Chaudhry government, to restore the previous status quo. Chaudhry publicly backed away from Mrs. Koroi’s statement at the time; but privately he seemed to imply to the Ambassador and Krawitz that it might be justifiable for the RFMF to remove the Qarase government and install an interim replacement, pending fair elections. ”

    As for Madraiwiwi, he continued to exhibit weakness in dealing with Bainimarama, putting off the “inevitable” for a short while. Dinger continued to relay to Washington Madriwiwi’s dithering role leading up to the 2006 coup.

    What was discussed around the “grog bowl”?

    For Madraiwiwi’s role as Vice-President during the crisis see Victor Lal’s “Nailatikau-must-take-bainimarama-by-the-horns”.

    Editor’s Note: Both Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi and Graham Leung declined to make any comments on an advanced copy of this report that Fijileaks sent to them.

  13. Bravo Victor!

    This is what we need – not a garbled moralistic rant from Madraiwiwi! – pissing in the air with his ramblings.

    God help Fiji! And just look at Chaudhry, now in bed with UFDF, most probably to avoid spending old age at Naboro Hotel

  14. My dear friend joni sourdough turgidity is borne out of ignorance, why?

    Well I believe the obsequiousness of my fellow natives is one that can be easily remedied that is to say the total removal of the colonial chiefly hierarchal system and ungodly religious organisation that by their own admissions are impious.

    Give the people back their freedom.

  15. We read in the Fiji Times editorial (20/3) that, “The head of the Fiji Police Force has once again reiterated that he will not condone or entertain any officers who abuse their power while executing their duties”.
    And the FT editorial tells us “Policemen and women are expected to understand the law, and uphold the rule of law in Fiji … The people of Fiji expect that of them”.
    That’s do true.
    Is this also true for the Fiji Military Force, the other arm of the disciplined force of the country – to uphold the rule of law in Fiji?
    Has the Fiji military been doing that in keeping with its professional role under the Constitution – the supreme law of the land?
    I would contend this is a much more important issue confronting the people of Fiji.

  16. Well it looks like Bainimarama is right all along …Fijians are less interested in the economic imperatives that plagues development the world throughout and more interested in ‘freedom from their chiefs. If thats what the common theme in all the above comments.

  17. As long as critics of our leaders have to use words such as “opprobrium, acquiescence, coalesce, autochthonous, orthodoxy, etc” there is no danger for Khaiyum and his friends from the RFMF. Just another example of an intellectual wise arse who wants to look smart rather than a leader who can convince the people that change is necessary. This article will do nothing to challenge our rule, our wealth or our arrogance,

  18. Joni was VP and lamu to get rid of Bai,,,,,,so piss off with your useless ramblings and go do a PhD as you have no practical use for us the Kai Viti

  19. Nagatalevu,Bro the lease money that is shared equally, amounts to extra $2.50 to the landowners pockets,in some cases $0.50,because some Mataqali have 100 to 200 members.why cant bai increase the lease money by making sure that renters pay more,some leases are 55cents an acre per week,this has been going on since sukunas days why cant be reviewed

  20. the elite, educated fijian intellectuals have indeed mostly gone into hibernation rather than challenging the regime’s rule. joni madraiwiwi is one of them. this article is attempt to rationalise his own silence in the face of a dictatorship imposed on the people of fiji. it is said when the going gets tough the tough (leader) gets going. joni is no tough leader. he has always been soft. too soft.

  21. Allow me to share with my Fijian friends how they might be able to journey beyond the culture of silence which apparently envelops them according to Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.
    I have been guided by this saying by a second century writer :

    If an offence should come out of truth
    it is better that the offence comes out
    than that the truth be suppressed.

    It helps keep the compass pointing in the right direction as I journey through life.

  22. I am not sure why influence of Christian teachings and values is not mentioned here but I see this is a major moral compass for itaukei and it in fact one the sources/origins of this culture of silence. The Jesus persona. Teachings like the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-11). Its even in the way we play rugby. You visit a Fiji/Islander team changing room before a major game and a another country’s changing room to see the different style of preparation.

  23. To the honourable Joni Madraiwiwi, fancy words will not break the shackle of ignorance and silence that many Fijians face. You are preaching to the converted! What you need is a twitter account, get on Facebook, and connect to those where silence is not golden!

  24. I thought the lease has increased from 6% of UCV to 10% ?

    Where members are more then 200 or 100 then instead of receiving 2.50 or 5 dollars , put money in a pool for some investment or project to earn extra. Don’t use it on OGA or unproductive activity !

    Premium land can be rated at 20% UCV ?

    The govt must have a pool of money to be administered by our new local bank HF C to loan out at low interest rate but change security and contribution to their asset of unleased and reserve land.

    If loaners run away from paying loan HFC will administer the land to recover the debt.

    Some practical way of helping the grassroots to rise up in monetary terms.

  25. Nagatalevu ,the gov didnt care,no gov ever cared for the itaukei jand owners,thats why NO itaukei landowners is a millionaire and NO chief is a millonaire either,the lease owners are the millionaire,CLOSE THE NLTB and NLC

  26. “” NO itaukei landowners is a millionaire “”

    That’s because millionaires use their brains to make money and not wait for it to fall out of trees.

  27. anon, It’s the system bro, the Colonisers and sukuna made it that way through the NLTB and NLC

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