Home » Uncategorized » I am not convinced that Bainimarama is a social radical.

I am not convinced that Bainimarama is a social radical.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Response to “Kerosene and Water”, Fiji’s Racisms

There are many discussions on the issues of race, ethnicity, and nationalism in Fiji. Many politicians, activists, and scholars are concerned about the cultural differences and social relations between the two demographically numerous ‘ethnic groups’ -the iTaukei and the Indo-Fijians. This is especially so because of the series of coup d’états (1987, 2000, 2006) which have occurred since Fiji’s independence in 1970. We are now observing more discussions on these issues as the nation-state prepares for elections in September, 2014. Indeed, my own work is caught up into the discourse by seeking to (re)present perspectives and experiences from ‘Part Indian-Fijians’. The below is actually a response to an article (click here for article) by one of Fiji’s brilliant and ardent scholar Wadan Narsey: On MIDA’s Hate Speech Announcement:

“Kerosene and Water”

I uphold the positives of their “hate speech” statement. Whereas I am sure Ashwin Raj is conscious of the fact that claiming ‘hate speech’ tends to politicize issues more, it sends a clear message to the media and politicians to be careful about their words and (re)presentations. As I had indicated in a previous discussion, I am surprised that the kerosene metaphor is becoming so popular to describe the cultural relations between ‘Indians’ and the iTaukei. On Friday, I had spoken to an iTaukei (native) taxi driver, asking for his opinions on the term Fijian being used for everyone. He then said: “Kerosene and water don’t mix”. “It’s an old person saying” he said. He expressed discontent for Bainimarama and says Bainimarama will lose. If he does not lose, he said, there will be another coup. I just listened… At the time, I did not know that there had been a controversy over this metaphor. I realized this until later after I had seen a number of discussions about this issue on Facebook and the news.

The words deemed hate speech are translated by MIDA as follows: “From the past experiences, this group of people, known in Tebara as theVasu(referring to Indo-Fijians) will try to pacify you, and assuage you just to have their aspirations met. These people do not want you to lead them. They only want a constitution and other investment initiatives done. Let me warn you that the upcoming elections will be a tough one. Because even though we have lived together for a long time, we can’t mix water with kerosene.” This is an important issue, if language and discourses, as I believe it is, are what shapes our perspectives on issues. Our notions and stereotypes of the Indian and Fijian are shaped by our interactive use of these forms of phrases and also by the hegemonic representations popularized by politicians, activists, and the media. See in this light, the taxi’s driver common sense phrase is not simply ‘common sense’ thinking. It is informed by ideological underpinnings. Remember the statement “Fiji for Fijians” in 1987.

On the issue of indignity: As a person who has been critical of colonial projects after studying history, I am also now critical of the indigenous movements. The post-colonial perspective tends to say that what was before colonialism was better. There is nostalgia to reclaim rights and culture. However, these claims to ‘roots’ are also claims to ‘routes’. Missing in this discussion is the need to reflect upon the ‘articulators’ of cultural identity. We need to question the power relationship and interests that are involved in the indigenous movements (as well as among any political party in Fiji/Belize).Moreover, many scholars of indigenous philosophy have become too functionalist, -theoretically supporting the status quo. In Fiji, they say Fijians are born to do this or that; and that to know your place in society is the way things should be. This is a very essentialist form of identity which promotes the status quo. In order words, one’s behavior should follow some inner core or cultural identity that one presumably inherits. For example, Nabobo-Baba in her book Knowing and learning: An indigenous Fijian approach (2006) gives us descriptions of those iTaukei who have the right to speak about issues (as they are born into particular clans); about how important traditional knowledge is for the wellbeing of the native; of not challenging elders; of respecting the chief’s authority; and of the vitality of understanding one’s place in society. Such forms of treatises promote a romanticist views of ‘indignity’ limiting the practices of inequality within the social order; dis-acknowledging the expressions of resistance by the ‘under-class’, and thus in a sense supporting the status quo.I take note you cited the UN’s Declaration on Indigenousness, I would say that discussions of power and inequality within indigenous populations and movements are also absent from that discourse. There is a need to re-examine the supposed universality of that declaration in face of Fiji’s context or the Muslim Rohingya of Myanmar.

On the issue of Indo-Fijian racism: You said that internal racism is more pervasive among Indo-Fijians. We really cannot gauge the degree of internal racisms. Also, as I am sure you would agree, overt racism is a much greater a concern and problem than covert racism. Now, do not get me wrong, I am not convinced that Bainimarama is a social radical. I actually think his claim of “We are all Fijians” is a cultural/ideological argument for his hegemony (along with his guns [military]). We are dealing here with “ideologies without guarantees” (Stuart Hall, 1985). This is to say that while there is a moral vision or rhetoric to end racism, there is no necessary correspondence that this is a good practice, or will be interpreted as a good practice, or that it translates into better social relations among citizens (which we hope it would). You are also very right that realities of these groups i.e. “Indian” and “Fijian” are much more complex and heterogeneous than we tend to take them. There are many subtle social boundaries among persons within these ‘two groups’ by: religion, color, class, language, and location, among others. Just as scholars have interrogated the ethno-nationalist ideology of past politicians; we must also interrogate Bainimarama’s rhetoric of ending racism as an ideology to win power. This is where your writings and activities have been quite positive and commendable.

Posted byRolando Cocomat10:28 PM

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6 thoughts on “I am not convinced that Bainimarama is a social radical.

  1. Ronaldo this is not facts and it seems you trying to look at the past and compromising to national security for today.What best for you to see is the positives and what it has brought about to our people.If the army is willing to defend the constitution than I believe no one will be able to surpass or destroy it,I feel there will be landslide victory by Frank come September because of how most people have changed their mindset and a appreciating the course we are taking

  2. Below are scared words from a distinguished man who at the time prognosticated the evil which has permeated the indigenes of Fiji.

    “Let us not ignore the fact that there is another community settled here in our midst. I refer to the Indians. They have increased more rapidly than we. They have become producers on our soil. They are continuously striving to better themselves. Although they are a different race, yet we are each a unit in the Republic of Fiji. They have shouldered many burdens that have helped Fiji onward. We have derived much money from them by way of rents. A large proportion of our prosperity is derived from their labour.”

    Now let’s take a serious look and contrast Timoci Vesikula discourse, right from the offset he sets the tone of distrust coupled with an element of envy or even hate as oppose to Ratu Sukuna.

    “From the past experiences, this group of people, known in Tebara as the Vasu (referring to Indo-Fijians) will try to pacify you, and assuage you just to have their aspirations met. These people do not want you to lead them. They only want a constitution and other investment initiatives done. Let me warn you that the upcoming elections will be a tough one. Because even though we have lived together for a long time, we can’t mix water with kerosene.”

    His metaphor is one of laughter, yes kerosene and water can be mixed and quite successfully, for example all one needs is a native woman and Indian man to copulate and voila you’d have an indo-Fijian.

  3. everyone in fiji is now equal and all that because Bainimarama has said so.
    but we know from George Orwell that in the Animal Farm some are always more equal.
    guess who are more equal in fiji !!

  4. and like the Indian the indo-Fijian will be treated as a social leper in multiracial Fiji Bainimarama’s all equal rhetoric notwithstanding.
    that is the reality in fiji
    which the privileged Indian elite tend to deny

  5. The above post by Rolando Concon seems to suggest, to me at least, a deep disappointment couched in nicey-academic lingo that: Bainimarama has NOT turned out to be the “social radical” his key advisors had fervently hoped he would be.

    Instead their failed little social experiment at the expense of all Fijians, has put the country in a multi-billion dollar national debt and taken the nation BACK to square one in terms of race relations.

    While they have gone on to maximise their personal fortunes on the back of guns.

    Just how in the world did these “pretend-social radicals” (what a nice substitute for the “thieving treasonous”) hope to achieve their ‘functionalist Utopia’?

    Through some meaningful national dialogue/debate voluntarily undertaken by the people of Fiji – while they simultaneously curtail critical human rights and civil liberties esp. of dissenters? For instance: engaging in lawfare and political witch-hunt vis-a-vis draconian decrees that today are still being churned out at will.

    At taxpayers’ expense.

    So how can the poster attempt to justify a ‘critique of scholars of indigenous philosophy’, esp. in the hollow silence of the last 8 years, AND worse, on the back of only one cited indigenous writer? Does one swallow make a summer?

    To demand a constructive national dialogue under tyrannical conditions in this day and age is delusional…and akin to having CJ Gates “conveniently” renege on his earlier and correct 2001 court ruling on the validity of the 1997 Constitution.

    Er, not a very good try for the “get-rich-quick schemers” who falsely believe Fiji owes them both personal fame and fortune. Mai Yaso? :D

    One more thing: throwing in the plight of Muslim Rohingyas of Myanmar (one of the most persecuted people in the world) into a proposed debate on the UN DRIP (Declaration on Indigenous Peoples) in Fiji, is very mischievous.. since the muslim rohingyas of Myanmar were muslim migrants from Bangladesh who had moved to Myanmar during British colonial rule, and have been DENIED citizenship rights in Myanmar ever since. What a huge contrast (and insult!) with the fate of girmitiya and blackbirding indentured labourers who voluntarily chose to remain in Fiji, and whose descendants have flourished in ways that their ancestors could only have dreamt of!

    Let’s NOT TRY to rewrite history, shall we?

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