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Introduction to relations in multicultural Fiji: the dynamics of articulations, transformations and positionings.

Socio-political life in the post-colonial state that is the Fiji Islands has often been imaged in the media--indeed, in light of the recent political crises, ever more pointedly so--as marked by tensions and divisions between (and within) the ethnic groups living there. Yet it is possible to see tensions and divisions as processes and politics of (partial) dis-connections and (new) connections, provided, that is, the focus is put systematically on relations. Thus the contributions to this volume, which build on a long series of prior studies of Fiji by the social sciences, address a broad spectrum of relations, turning the spotlight especially on the cultural modalities that are instrumental in shaping these. Relations between ethnic groups do not flow from a '"natural" order of things' (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992:59f.). Rather they are to be seen, as is also the case with other kinds of relations--for instance, between the members of a society, between people and their resources (material and immaterial), cultural traditions or global discourses--as the product of a historically constituted 'cultural order of things'.

We therefore operate on the assumption that social actors in Fiji do not just passively accept extant relations, but that, guided by their interests, they actively work on these thereby pursuing cultural and political strategies. (1) Correspondingly, we place our emphasis on how people, as cultural actors, thematicise, reflect on and utilise relations. We argue that transformations, positionings and articulations, in respect of how relations are handled, have a two-fold relevance: on one side, actors (individual and collective) move within relations that are already transformed, positioned and articulated; on the other, actors themselves actively articulate, transform and position these relations in order to shape their identity and place in Fiji. Yet in neither case can any fixed order of precedence be noted in these transformations, positionings and articulations. Rather these processes stand in a wechselwirkung (dialectic) of mutually interlocking dynamisms. If, then, in these introductory words we approach the topic of this volume via articulations leading us to transformations and positionings, this is only one of several accessways we could have chosen.


The most important relations to detain us in this volume are, first, relations between past and present; second, relations between people and land; third, relations between people. Based on recent anthropological research, the authors of these essays analyse how aspects of these relations are culturally articulated among the two largest groups living in Fiji, the autochthonous Fijians (2) and the Fiji Indians, (3) as well as among one of the country's ethnic minorities, the Fiji Banabans.

Many of the preconditions for the ethnic positionings and politico-economic power relations in contemporary Fiji were created during the era of British colonial rule (cf. e.g. Jolly 1992a; Kaplan 1988, 2004; Kelly 1988; Kelly and Kaplan 2001; Norton 1993:746-747, 2002; Rutz 1995). After the islands became a British colony in 1874, the agents of the colonial power proceeded according to the maxim of civilising the Fijians, while preserving, as best they could, many of the traditional structures of the local people. In this connection, three historical matters were of particular importance. The British colonial administration, with its system of indirect rule, harnessed the hierarchical structures of Fijian society to colonial interests, thus legitimising the authority and power of a Fijian elite which until now dominates the country and its political institutions. In order to protect Fijians generally from expropriation and impoverishment, a large part of the country was listed as inalienable, communal property, so that until recently some 83% of the land was in the hands of local descent groups (see France 1969; Lal 1992:28-33,97-102,224-227; Ward 1995). (4) One of the stipulations of the protectionist policies the colonists practised was that Fijian labour was not to be exploited; therefore, the British between 1879 and 1916 imported Indian indentured labourers to work in the sugar cane plantations. Although the descendants of these migrant workers from the Subcontinent, who by 1946 had become one of the largest ethnic groups in Fiji, (5) have contributed in no small way to building up the country, they have been repeatedly denied their due participation in the exercise of political power--first by the colonial administration and later by its Fijian counterpart.

Relations between ethnic Fijians (we will call them Fijians for short) and Fiji Indians (or, Indo-Fijians) are predicated on oppositional identity constructions, these having been constituted and consolidated by colonial discourses and practices harking back to British times (see Kaplan 1988, 2004; Kelly and Kaplan 1999). Thus, the Fijian population came to identify with a code of morals and conduct stressing communality, collective ownership of land, the authority of the chiefs, and being part of the Christian fold. (6) This Fijian self-image has found itself up against an ethos of individualism vested in a heterogeneously constituted group of Indo-Fijians, who uphold their own religious traditions and seem the very personification of capitalist striving. During the colonial era, the Fijians sought by aligning themselves closely with the British to ensure that the demographic, economic and political dynamism of the Indo-Fijians did not undercut the traditional foundations of their own lifestyle and paramountcy. The colonial power, in turn, supported the Fijians in their power claims, British favouritism being linked to a policy of discrediting the emancipatory and anti-colonial forces presumed to be at work among the Indo-Fijians. Finally, in the constitution-building process, the British gave independence to Fiji at the price of enshrining into law privileged political status for the Fijians, particularly their chiefs (see Kelly and Kaplan 2001:150; also Lal 1992:195-213; cf. Norton 2002). (7)

This ethnically based power hierarchy (under the hegemonic control of chiefs from the eastern regions of Fiji) first had its foundations rocked when the coalition between the National Federation Party (a primarily Indo-Fijian party) and the relatively young Fiji Labour party won the election of 1987 and named the Labour party leader Dr. Timoci Bavadra, a nonchiefly Fijian from western Viti Levu as the new prime minister. But this democratically elected government was deposed a few weeks later by two military coups carded out by the Fijian Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. Claiming his hand was forced because the Indo-Fijian-dominated coalition government was threatening the political interests of the Fijians, he restored to power the principals of the former Alliance party government led by Ratu Mara (Kaplan 1993:35,47-48; Lal 1992:258-315; cf. Norton 2000:84-85,109). Although the political crisis of 1987 pointed up also socio-economic divisions (8) and political rivalries within Fijian society, it was the tensions in inter-ethnic relations that were emphasised in popular debate at the time. In particular, hostile statements and other excesses by militant Fijian ethno-nationalists against the Indo-Fijian segment of the population deepened the rift between the two principal ethnic groups. It is therefore hardly surprising, as the implications of these events sank in, that a considerable number of Indo-Fijians decided to turn their backs on the country, to get out while the going was good (see Lal 2000:283).

Under the constitution of 1990, amended to shore up power in the hands of Fijians, the former coup leader, Rabuka, rose to become prime minister several years later in the first democratic election of the post-coup era. Under local and international pressure, he consented to another constitutional reform, one seeking to do greater justice to Fiji's multi-ethnic realities (Norton 2000:89-91; cf. Lal 2001). Soon after the amended constitution of 1997 took effect, in the elections of 1999 the Fiji Labour Party won an absolute majority; it then formed, with Fijian-dominated parties, a coalition government and named its Indo-Fijian chairman, Mahendra Chaudhry, to take over as prime minister. A civilian coup in May 2000, led by the businessman George Speight and orchestrated to great media effect, with governmental ministers being held hostage in Parliament House in Suva, Fiji's capital, brought this coalition government to a violent end. Although the coup leaders employed rhetoric emphasising ethnic conflict between autochthonous Fijians and Indo-Fijians, what chiefly marked the months of political crisis that followed were colliding interests in how Fijians related to each other; at the same time, Indo-Fijians were exposed to massive animosity and often came under attack--on a scale far exceeding, in terms of violence and destruction, anything seen at the time of the earlier coup in 1987 (see Lal 2000; Kaplan 2004; Kelly and Kaplan 2001:chapter 6; the contributions in Lal and Pretes 2001; Robertson and Sutherland 2001; Trnka 2002). (9) Free parliamentary elections brought forward to August 2001 finally gave the country yet another Fijian-dominated government, this time under the Fijian prime minister Laisenia Qarase. The Great Council of Chiefs--originally set up by the colonial British authorities and long one of the country's most influential political institutions--publicly apologised in mid-May 2004 to all Indo-Fijians for the wrongs perpetrated during the coups 1987 and 2000. (10)

Antithetical identity constructions, unequal power-sharing, ethnic confrontation, but also instances of co-operation between Fijians and Indo-Fijians, have, beyond all doubt, shaped Fiji's political history ever since colonial times. And yet, in this connection three important points should not be overlooked. First, despite the fact that Fijians officially make up about 54% of the population and together with the Indo-Fijians, who make up about 38% (their numbers considerably reduced by the waves of emigration touched off by the coups, see Trnka this volume) comprise the two largest ethnic groups, our picture of the ethnic composition of the island state would be incomplete were we to omit the remaining 8% or so of the population. (11) Here we find a conglomerate of different ethnicities, consisting of groups of Pacific islanders--in particular Rotumans (Howard and Rensel 1997), Tongans, Samoans (Tuimaleali'ifano 1990), Solomon Islanders and Ni-Vanuatu (Halapua 2001), I-Kiribati, Banabans (Silverman 1971) and Tuvaluans (Teaiwa 1997)--and Chinese (Ng Kumlin Ali 2002) and Europeans. Second, the boundaries between all these ethnic groups are often fluid, as a result of which an indeterminate number of individuals are enabled, depending on their genealogies and/or social relations, to identify with several groupings and to position themselves accordingly. Jacqueline Leckie (2002:124-126) has collected several such cases of changing identifications and, e.g. in connection with voter identifications under the 1990 constitution, pointed out that ethnic identities are negotiable. The third point, which was pre-figured in our historical overview, concerns the fact that social formations and political positionings do indeed transcend ethnic boundaries. Particularly growing class differences often cut across the ethnic groups in Fiji, resulting in new political constellations and power dispensations that bear little resemblance to ethnic proportionality (Kaplan 2004; Lal 2000; Lawson 1996:chapter 2; Leckie 2002).

By describing in the title of this volume Fiji as multicultural, we point to the de facto multiplicity of cultures so characteristic of today's Fiji. Given the turbulent post-colonial history of this Pacific state, the cogency of referring to it in such terms was long far from obvious. Rather, in the run-up to recognising Fiji as a multicultural nation, calls for multiculturalism attracted intense debate (see Lal 2001; Robertson 1998). This requires a word of explanation, given recent tendencies to co-opt multiculturalism for widely diverging political agendas, a point Bennett (1998) has made and argued for and Van Meijl and Goldsmith (2003) have shown for Fiji's neighbours, New Zealand and Australia. In Fiji the vision of multiculturalism (in association with equal rights for citizens) has, for many years, been a driving force behind, most notably, the political agendas of democratically motivated forces drawn from all ethnic groups. Thus this vision has been placed in the service of opposing the efforts of ultra-nationalist groups, who are bent on establishing political ascendancy for autochthonous Fijians, including their culture and language. A glance at the debates waged about multiculturalism in Fiji alerts us to relations extended on a multiplicity of levels not only within, but also between, the historically and socio-culturally constituted groups living there. If then, given our focus on heterogeneous relations, we designate Fiji as multicultural, it is because we see multiculturalism as pointing to interculturality and transculturality (cf. Robertson 1998:5)--processes that, in many walks of life, are long since up and running.

The modalities whereby relations are dealt with carry equally, in this context, the imprint of culture and socio-politics, and are the outcome of historical processes. One of these modalities, which it is our intention to submit to closer analysis, is 'articulation'. The verb 'to articulate' is used here in its twin meanings of 'to express' and 'to join' or 'connect'. In co-opting this concept, we follow in the footsteps of those proponents of social and cultural anthropology (e.g. Jean Comaroff 1985) and cultural studies (e.g. Stuart Hall 1980, 1986:53-55), as well as other social scientists, who have fashioned 'articulation', with its dual semantics, into a useful tool for investigating encounters between socio-cultural systems. The concept of "articulation", writes Comaroff (1985:153), 'permits us to view the joining of distinct systems, themselves dynamic orders of practice and meaning, into a unitary formation, the novel product of particular historical circumstances.' As Comaroff's argument makes clear, relations can be read not only as connections already in place, but also as the object of further articulations. Writing of the encounter between the socio-cultural systems of colonisers and colonised, she says: 'we might add that articulation, proceeding from an initial point of contact, establishes relations between orders of relations and, in so doing, generates the emerging social structure' (Comaroff 1985:154). With regard to the political history of Fiji's socio-cultural life, it was Martha Kaplan (1990, 1995, 2004) who gave us, in the concept of 'articulation' with its dual meanings, a useful epistemological tool, one that has greatly advanced our understanding. Discussing the encounter between autochthonous Fijians and British colonisers, she stresses how important it is to study the 'routinizations of articulating systems' (Kaplan 1995:15). Thus she shows in detail how Fijian history-making was articulated with British colonialism, pointing out that Fiji Indians articulated their politics with political visions whose origins lay in India (Kaplan 2004). Both authors, Comaroff and Kaplan, have stressed the importance, in any event, of achieving insight into a) what interactions took place between local formations on the one hand, and between the local and the global on the other; and b) what agency was exercised by social actors in the midst of the prevalent power relationships. Such interactions were analysed especially by historically oriented anthropology (e.g. also Beckett 1993; Carrier 1992; Jolly 1992b), but also by the anthropology of the present (e.g. Austin-Broos 2003). Following on from these studies, the essays in the present volume focus on how historically constituted relations can be articulated (= given expression) as complex (orderings of) connections. By focussing not only on the plane of systems but also on that of actors, several of these essays attempt to clarify how persons and groups articulate (= join) and represent specific relations with other linkages. As far as representation is concerned, the case studies show that articulation of relations can take multiple forms--relations can be articulated by language; but also by verbally and corporeally mediated emotions, by practices such as physical labour, and by artistic modes of depiction. Finally, some of the treatments implicitly contain an array of information on how existing relations can be 'disarticulated' (Clifford 2003:88) by negating them, by ignoring them, by dis-connecting them from each other.

Transformations of relations are necessarily born of their articulations. We owe this insight to all those studies that have examined cultures from an historical perspective. The process of articulation transforms socio-political structures by ordering relations anew (Comaroff 1985:155); and it transforms cultural formations by re-organising elements of cultural practice (Hall 1986:54-55). Thus cultural transformations also, and nowhere more than in the realm of 'tradition' according to Clifford (2001:478), lend themselves eminently to re-thinking in the light of articulations. As Kaplan (1995:16) noted for colonial Fiji, articulated cultural systems cannot be adequately subsumed under the categories 'indigenous' or 'colonial'; only a third category is up to the task: 'both and neither'. Social actors in postcolonial Fiji are involved in relations that have undergone change prior to and during colonisation. Ever since Fiji gained its independence, social actors have further transformed relations whenever they had cause to link these up anew with discourses and practices of the day. This means that each transformation of relations entails as well an articulation.

Positionings of relations may be seen as a further factor arising from articulations and transformations, even as it helps drive these along. A connection between relations does not stand alone; rather it is ranged against other constellations or juxtaposed with them. This is a conclusion enjoined on us by social and cultural anthropological studies into social and (im)material relations; but also by Hall's theory of identity formation. Hall uses the concept of positioning to describe how social subjects are constituted. In his theory (Hall 1996:6, 1998:291), cultural discourses and practices make available positions that subjects then have to adopt. By dint of investing in these positions, subjects identify themselves with these for a time, thereby acquiring specific identities. In Hall's view (1996:6), this process should be construed as the articulation of subjects with positions. What we have are positionings on the part of social actors, enabled both by how they relate to one another and by historical connections and disconnections, as Clifford (2000:96) has formulated it in his reception of Hall. If we move the focus slightly--away from the constituting of the subject to the constituting of relations--we can see that cultural discourses and practices also actuate relations that are positioned already. When social actors engage in relations of this kind, they can, within the limits of what is culturally and socio-politically possible, also actively position these themselves.

When pointing to this dynamics of articulations, transformations and positionings of relations, we should not lose sight of the fact that the latter are processes underwritten by social actors. Without wishing to make too much of the possibilities of action, we submit that it is collective and individual actors who drive the dynamics. Here it is especially the transformed, positioned and articulated relations that enable actors to unfold their agency in handling these connections. For if social actors can only act effectively from culturally constituted places (Hall 1998:291; Clifford 2000:96), then they are reliant on multifarious relations if they are to position themselves there indeed. Three domains of relations--key ones that are articulated, transformed and positioned by the citizens of Fiji and which all the essays address in one way or another--form the focus of our Introduction.


In today's Fiji the relation of the past to the present is often thematicised when cultural traditions for representing identities and power claims are raised. 'Tradition always encodes a relation between past and present,' as Jolly (1992a:330) pointedly puts it, noting that 'differences in the construction of past-present relations are nowhere more apparent than in how the past is evoked in the politics of tradition in contemporary Pacific nations.' Evocation of tradition in the politically motivated circumstances that now prevail in many Oceanian societies has been noted by numerous studies (see e.g. the essays in Jolly and Thomas 1992; Keesing and Tonkinson 1982; Otto and Borsboom 1997; White and Lindstrom 1993). When analysing local discourses and practices, there is no point in caging tradition into polarities such as authenticity vs. inauthenticity (Jolly 1992b; Kempf 1999:104); rather, it is eye-opening to carefully scrutinise what has been called the 'encoding of past-present relations in the variety of symbolic constitutions of tradition' (Jolly 1992b:63), which means giving full attention to the "politics of articulation" (Clifford 2001:480) in question.

A notion of tradition which plays a leading role in the political debates of present-day Fiji is encapsulated in the frequently heard term 'vakavanua' ('the way of the land'). 'Vakavanua' designates a specific modality for articulation of past and present, as Jolly (1992a:330) has trenchantly noted. The notion is invoked by Fijians when, in the context of talking of the past, they try to stress the continuity of cultural practices rather than the discontinuities (Jolly 1992a:340ff.). In her in-depth analysis of how this notion figures among the inhabitants of Fiji's Gau Island, Toren (1988:696-697,712) argues that tradition is a culturally appropriate form of action and possesses processual character. Thus 'vakavanua' can also imply that social practices have undergone change through time (Toren 1988:712). In this cultural logic, it is possible for Fijians to articulate their tradition using notions they borrowed originally from other cultures. Hence, Fijians see no contradiction in conceptualising their profession of Christianity as falling under 'vakavanua' (Toren 1988:712; Tomlinson 2002:251-252 for Kadavu). But Fijians do not only enlist the notion of tradition in their own communities to proclaim an (at once continuous and transformed) relation to the past; they enlist it also to position this relation vis-a-vis others. So it is that Fijians often articulate tradition with--and through--ethnic discourses, as when they juxtapose 'the way of the land' to the 'way of money' followed by Fiji Indians and Europeans (Jolly 1992a:345; Kaplan 1993:39; Thomas 1990:139-140; Toren 1989).

How certain traditions are re-contextualised nowadays and how culturally specific relations are construed between past and present, is a recurring theme in this volume with several essays treating it in depth. Allen Abramson inducts us wittily into how Fijian practices are symbolically constructed as exhibiting continuity, by alerting us to kava-drinking--a tradition which, as he puts it, forms 'a key emblem of Fijian existence'. To be sure, after a 'ceremonial welcome', he offers a differentiated account of how the use of kava is being transformed in diverse contemporary contexts. Abramson shows how Fijians in the eastern parts of Viti Levu use kava, on one side, to promote or curb the efficacy of cosmic forces, while deploying it, on the other, within the tourist industry to fashion a modern Fijian ethnic presence. In both contexts, the social actors articulate, through a variety of kava-drinking practices, how they relate to the past in light of invariably concrete present interests. Based on this (during the actual process) transformed relation, actors position themselves, in a manner redolent with symbolism, at once on Fijian soil and in the marketplace of Fijian modernity. Michael Dickhardt examines how Fijians living on Kadavu Island construe their ongoing relation with the past in another context of Fijian modernity, that of Christianity. Adopting an analytic perspective, he shows how the people of Kadavu articulate past and present by means of a space-bound religious practice. His argument is that by drawing on culturally specific, historical modalities Kadavu islanders forge an unbroken relation with the land of their ancestors; moreover, these same modalities permit them to connect up with the wellsprings of Christianity--just because they do have this relation with the land. Viviane Cretton likewise describes how Fijians fashion an ongoing relation with the past in cases where they deploy tradition as a strategic tool in light of present political realities. The political context she sets out to examine is the crisis touched off by the civilian coup of 19th May 2000, particularly the period up to 13th July 2000, when the members of the toppled government who had been taken hostage were released. She shows how Fijians who aided and abetted the hostage-takers cited traditional practices such as kava-drinking, but especially also associations with a traditional rite of forgiveness, to acquit themselves of having broken the law. In her analysis, she notes that tradition was not only mobilised here to bolster a Fijian identity at an ethnic remove from Fiji Indians, but also to legitimise nationalist aspirations to secure for Fijians the sole right to form a government. Studies by Cretton, Abramson and Dickhardt show for Fijians what has been elucidated by Trnka for Indo-Fijians, by Emde for both ethnic groups, and by us for Banabans, namely that social actors move strategically to help shape relations between past and present. Such relations on the axis of temporality are positioned in multiple contemporary contexts with an eye to the future.


Temporal articulations such as actors inject into the politics, local and national alike, of ethnic positionings are closely enmeshed with spatial affiliations and exclusions. Land for the greater part of Fiji's population represents a material, legal and conceptual benchmark that is as symbolically and economically significant as it is emotionally endowed and politically controversial. Standing in a relation to land is constitutive of ethnic identities, yet it also gives rise to modalities of exclusion and ethnic otherness (by staking out the boundaries of belonging). And so countervailing processes in which land and people, places and identifies, are articulated and dis-articulated give us a window into existing power relations. On this terrain it is chiefly the Fijians who claim privileged ties to the land. They think of themselves as owning and (indeed) belonging to the land, as holding it inalienably and communally by descent groups under the leadership of their chiefs. The close linkage between land, tradition and socio-political structures means that Fijians associate their very existence with processes and efficacies in which human beings and their land co-evolve and are infolded (Abramson 2000; Jolly 1992a; Tomlinson 2002; Toren 1995; Ward 1995; Williksen-Bakker 1990). Traditional relations of this kind to land, such as have found encapsulation in the Fijian slogan, 'the way of the land', are drawn on by Fijians to anchor in the very soil itself their ethnic identity and, at the same time, to specify and consolidate their political stance vis-a-vis the ethnic other. Indo-Fijians, who as a rule can do no more than live on and farm the land as tenants of the Fijian owners, often are difficultly placed in this social setting of politicised land-relations. In any event, many Fijians are of the general opinion that only they themselves, the autochthonous inhabitants, can possess ties to the land. However, this exclusive--and excluding--claim made by Fijians bypasses the lived reality of Fiji's other citizens, who have developed relations of their own with the soil and the land of Fiji. Thus, the Rotumans (Howard 1964; Howard and Rensel 1997) and Indo-Fijians (Datt cited in Abramson 2000:208; Trnka 2002:77) no less than the Tuvaluans of Kioa Island (Koch 1978) or the Banabans of Rabi (Kempf 2003a, 2003b, 2004; Teaiwa 1997) all feel part and parcel of the land on which they live, exhibiting this closeness in their own idiosyncratic ways. The Banabans, for example, articulate their ties through the love they feel for Rabi Island, which does not mean that other emotions do not figure too (Hermann 2004, 2005).

In her contribution, Susanna Trnka alerts us to articulation between the land and the Indo-Fijian body. She demonstrates that this connection is both empirical and symbolic. After Indians from the Subcontinent were brought in as workers, they created an empirical tie by investing their physical labour in the land. To this historically evolved relation they added an overlay of symbolic meanings specific to their culture. Trnka argues that it is through their multi-facetted relation to the land that Indo-Fijians are able to articulate their emotions of being part of the national community. She looks at such articulation in the recent context of rhetoric--and, at the time of the coup in 2000, of open violence--emanating from Fijian ethno-nationalists, a rhetoric that gave Indo-Fijians every reason to fear that their work, and even their lives, would be forcibly dis-connected from Fijian soil. Against this background, she concluded, Indo-Fijians are bent on securing via their connection with the land not just their economic position, but also, and indeed especially, their place in what they see as a multicultural nation. In our own essay (Wolfgang Kempf and Elfriede Hermann) we shed what light we can on the (likewise) historically emerged relation to the land built up by Banabans living on the island of Rabi (sometimes spelt 'Rabe' in maps). We show how these islanders, right from the time of re-settlement in the year 1945, pegged the articulation with their island of origin in the Central Pacific squarely to their new home on Rabi Island, so squarely, indeed, that their present relation to Rabi embodies their relation to Banaba. This transformation in how they relate to space the Banabans have tied to re-configuring their ethnic identity. Since the encroachments of Fijian ethno-nationalists in the wake of the 1987 coups, Banabans have become fearful for their legally guaranteed land rights on Rabi Island, to the point of articulating emotions like 'concern/insecurity' in connection with this, their second homeland. In view of the politico-historical context, we argue that the Banabans mobilise the performative arts as a powerful tool for positioning the articulation of their spatial relation with their ethnic identity in a multicultural Fiji. Ethnic performances are therefore an integral part of the Banaban politics of turning Rabi Island into a zone of dignity and empowerment for their future survival as an ethnic group.

In her essay Sina Emde addresses the aspect of emotions as articulated with land relations, an aspect apparent too in the case studies on Fiji Indians and Fiji Banabans. Sketching in the historical contours, Emde notes that colonial-era institutionalisations of land ownership and land use led to structures which--against a backdrop of political power struggles--are associated in the discourses of both Fiji Indians and Fijians with insecurity. Thus Indo-Fijians fear that their leases on Fijian land may not be renewed. For Fijians, the fear is that Indo-Fijians will take steps to achieve ownership of their land. Emde and Cretton both address the issue of the means by which this fear was further fomented among Fijians during the coup of 2000. The fact that Fijians express emotions over land, albeit not always for reasons of political rhetoric, makes sense when one ponders their cultural conception of what belonging to the land really means for them. Allen Abramson takes on this aspect when he designates Fijian land, along with the urban centres, as the fundament on which are built the two trajectories he describes of kava-drinking. From his analysis of the complex symbolism surrounding the imbibing of kava, we see that practices bearing on the effectiveness of external gods and stranger chiefs are tied integrally to the land. Michael Dickhardt also looks at this sense Fijians have of being tied to their land ('vanua'), a sense sustained by experiencing the presence there of their ancestors. So it is that through ancestors (in many narratives represented as historical actors) not only are social relations established but political and legal ones as well. As Dickhardt explains, the notion of land, which contains all these facets, can be widened additionally to take in the Holy Land, thus bringing the Christian religion into association with 'vanua'. From the essays gathered in this volume, it is apparent that members of all the above ethnic groups position their articulations with the land--i.e. their relations in the field of spatiality--both inside Fiji and in the wider world.


When social actors in Fiji thematicise land relations or past-present relations, they always draw on relevant connections vis-a-vis others, irrespective of whether these others belong to their own community or to other groups. Just which persons or collectivities are defined as 'others' and how relations towards them are crafted, always depends on the concrete social situation and the political configuration of power relations. Of all relations it is the interethnic relations that are especially reflected on in Fiji. As already mentioned, relations between Fijians and Indo-Fijians after the 1987 and 2000 coups became increasingly politicised--a development that also affected how other ethnic groups related to these segments of the populace.

But within the various ethnic groups antagonisms prevail too, as a result of which members identify with quite different collectivities and can position themselves contrary to other persons of the same ethnic background. Both on the Fijian side and on the Fiji-Indian side, a key role is played by regional identifications, membership of religious congregations and class identity, when it comes to determining associations and dissociations (e.g. Kaplan 2004:74; Lal 2002:90). Moreover, unequal articulations with global economic forces constitute a factor making for new kinds of ties both inside Fiji and in the wider world (Kaplan 2004:74). At the same time, having to juggle with global influences means that men and women in the island state have different options for acting (see Schade 1999, 2003 on Fijian women in urban centres). As far as Fijians are concerned, this much can be said: they are well aware of significant differences within their ethnic group (e.g. Brison 2002; Norton 1993:748-749; Thomas 1990), be it regional differences (chiefly between eastern and western parts of Fiji) or differences of social and economic stratification; yet in their collective self-representation towards ethnic others they tend to stress the commonalities--among these is the cultural shaping of intra-ethnic relations (see e.g. Ravuvu 1987:307-335). Thus, Fijians regard most of all a fundamental orientation to the community and hierarchical relations between commoners and chiefs as specific to their culture (e.g. Qalo 1997:132; Thomas 1990:139-140). Christina Toren (1990) and Margaret Jolly (1994) note that between these hierarchical relations and those positioning women against men there is a series of connections. Their studies suggest that Fijians have actively transformed these two kinds of relations under the influence of missionisation and colonisation and further articulate these with each other in the socio-political life of the present. The modalities by which hierarchical relations are created anew are especially clearly evidenced in ritual occasions in everyday life, as exemplified e.g. by kava-drinking (Toren 1989:148, 1990:chapter 5). As Steffen Herrmann (2003:33) shows, kava features in Fijian discourses and practices as a symbol for kinship, exchange and sharing, but equally as much for community, and is articulated as such for purposes of cultural differentiation against other ethnic groups. As for the Fiji Indians, they weigh in for their part with a discourse of shared cultural characteristics, although they are very well aware that among them are different socio-cultural groupings--there are descendants of workers stemming from North India; descendants of workers from the south of the old heartland; and there are the Gujaratis; nor can the distinction between Hindus and Muslims be discounted (Mayer 1973:144ff., 180ff.). The cultural trait imputed to all Indo-Fijians is a strong emphasis on individual achievement in economic life, rather than a communal orientation. On the one hand, such stereotypical descriptions influence inter-ethnic relations between Fijians and Fiji Indians. But on the other, social relations between Fijians and Fiji Indians, especially in cases of inter-marriage, can be structured along quite different lines (Thomas 1990:140). But in times of political crisis these stereotypes are reinforced (e.g. Trnka 2002 for Indo-Fijians).

In considering how the inhabitants of Fiji relate to each other, what stands out is that emotions in particular reveal much about socio-political life in the island state. To appreciate this, we should not think of emotions solely as inner states of individuals. Instead emotions-discourses--i.e. discourses on emotions and emotional discourses--should be construed as social practices dependent on the specific power relations in play (Abu-Lughod and Lutz 1990:1-2). A focus on emotions in the context of social relations yields the insight that emotions-discourses unfold efficacy in the world (Abu-Lughod and Lutz 1990:12); also that emotions form a basis for action (Barbalet 2001:186) and so play an enabling role for agency (Hermann 2004, 2005). In order to briefly discuss what a specific emotion can tell us about how relations are handled, let us take the case of fear. This is an emotion that has been raised repeatedly in studies of Fijian life since the far-reaching political upheavals after 1987 (see e.g. Brison 2002:66, Hereniko 2003:86-87, and Leavitt 2002:32 for Fijians; Trnka 2002:80-81 for Indo-Fijians). From the socio-political contexts of discourse on this emotion it can be concluded that to articulate fear in Fiji, as elsewhere in Oceania, is to signal a weak position in power relations (e.g. Lutz 1987:297; Hermann 1995:73-74,199; 2003:89). However, this does not necessarily mean that fear constrains people in Fiji to adopt a rather passive stance within existing relational networks. Rather a closer look seems to confirm what Jack Barbalet (2001:168) has noted for western societies, that a climate of fear induces collectivities to apprehend their group's interests and act accordingly. In Barbalet's theory, fear can constitute a basis for action since it is a prospective emotion (2001:155ff.). Social actors fear negative developments for the future and attempt to fend these off. Barbalet concludes: 'A climate of fear, like emotional climates in general, serves both to maintain social and political identity and to be the pivot of collective behavior or action' (2001:168). That fear induces people to act, in identification with their group and with its interests in mind, can be observed in Fiji too. Emotions like fear cause social actors from disparate ethnic backgrounds to actively articulate, transform and position relations of every kind, with the aim of ensuring future prosperity for their own group.

Sina Emde in her treatment turns her attention to the role fear and rumour play in the politicisation of ethnicity, such as was fomented at the time of the political crisis after the coup of 19th May 2000. She describes how the hostage-takers, acting in collusion with ethno-nationalist elements, spread rumours to sow fear among the Fijian populace at the prospect of Fiji being colonised by the Indo-Fijians. This fear mobilised Fijians into giving political support for the toppling of a government headed by an Indo-Fijian prime minister. Simultaneously, the ethno-nationalists sowed fear among Fiji's entire citizenry, but nowhere more so than among Indo-Fijians, that force would be used against them. As Emde reports, this fear pushed certain of the democratic forces into silent protest, even as it dissuaded others from any public show of criticism. Thus Emde's essay shows graphically how fear galvanised both Fijians and Fiji Indians into action. While ultra-nationalist factions tried to disrupt, or even dis-connect, inter-ethnic relations, other forces were activated to articulate connections. Susanna Trnka expressly alludes to the climate of fear in which Indo-Fijians have followed political developments since the end of the 1990s. As a result of their bitter historical experiences and the rhetoric coming from Fijian ethno-nationalists, they fear they will be denied a place in Fiji from now on. That such fears have led Fiji Indians to adopt a cautious-approach to relations is quite apparent from Trnka's piece. She shows that the Indo-Fijian political leadership has long pressed for inter-ethnic relations to be placed on an equal and inclusive basis. Given the political climate since the coup of 2000, Indo-Fijians now talk less of gaining representation at the higher echelons of power; rather their approach has been to carefully position in their discourse the work-related connections they have with the land, the better to demand equal membership of the nation. We too (Wolfgang Kempf and Elfriede Hermann) point out that Fiji's Banabans, shocked by the coups of 1987 and 2000, have moved to re-configure both their ethnic identity and their relations with other ethnic groups, this under a politics of caution. We cite the fear of attack by Fijian ethno-nationalists on Rabi Island as a driving-force behind Banabans articulating their relation to the land with their ethnic identity. Hence emotions of fear, concern and insecurity are causally implicated in the agency Banabans display in transforming and positioning their multi-facetted relations. One social framework in which such agency is unfolded is ethnic performances. The fact that the Banabans and an audience of ethnic Fijians, at a performance which we describe, mutually (and positively) confirm their ethnic identities and relations is articulated, in turn, in a display of emotion: enthusiasm all round in those present.

The negotiation of ethnicity and therefore the shaping of inter-ethnic relations in Fiji is also the object of other contributions. Allen Abramson enquires into the fashioning of Fijian ethnicity within the compass of kava ceremonies that Fijians have taken to staging for foreign tourists. In the context of such inter-ethnic relations, Fijians use kava-drinking as a symbol of authentic Fijian culture, standing, at once, for a modern and self-confident ethnic identity and for the presence of cultural difference in multicultural Fiji. As Abramson shows, Fijians transform their ritual practices in this context in a creative spirit, the result being that relations between themselves and the tourists, in the domains of gender, age and role hierarchy, unfold quite differently than they would in a kava rite involving cosmic forces. In the latter case the cosmic powers are addressed in order to re-constitute intra-ethnic relations. Abramson argues that here hierarchical relations between commoners and chiefs, but also between men and women, are so transformed as to form a symbolic unity. Viviane Cretton outlines how ethnic relations were mobilised in the political crisis that followed the coup of 2000. She points out that Fijian nationalists spread fears of looming rule by Indo-Fijians, using ethnic differences as a pretext to legitimise deposing the government. She concludes by noting that Fijian traditions were cited in this context to reinforce Fijian ethnicity and nationalism. This ethnic strengthening led, however, to breached relations between Fijians and the rest of Fiji's citizenry, with rifts also appearing within the Fijian community itself. Aside from tradition--but in close association therewith--it is Christianity to which Fijians preferentially refer for assurance of their Fijian-ness. Michael Dickhardt scrutinises in his piece a variety of ways in which Fijians connect to other Fijians, while also--via their ties to the land, to the past, to the ancestors--positing connections all the way back to the Ancient Israelites and, ultimately, their latter-day descendants. His essay brings out what is also highlighted in the other essays: relations in the social sphere, whether intra- or inter-ethnic, are very closely articulated with temporal and spatial relations.


By depicting how connections and dis-connections are negotiated in various contexts of Fiji's socio-political life, the essays in this volume point to the reality of an active shaping of relations. They argue that Fiji's citizens actively work on their relations in regional and national settings, while incorporating them into international settings as well. The essays confirm the insight that specific formations of relations, which present themselves in the present as given units, are historically pre-formed while remaining malleable. In addition, they provide a precise image of the modes of dealing with relations. Our analysis shows that a dynamic exists between these modes--that is, between transformations, positionings and articulations. This dynamic is articulated in an efficacious enmeshment. The articulation of relations in the social domain, but also in the spatial field and on the temporal axis, leads to their transformation. Such coupled and transformed relations are positioned vis-a-vis other constellations that, likewise, are more or less sharply contoured. And these positionings are actuated within fields of power relations: the product of previous articulations and transformations, even as they are the source of future ones. This dynamic of articulations, transformations and positionings is an open-ended process. The only aspect that can be taken as given is that positioned, transformed and articulated relations exert influence on acting persons and collectivities. Thus we have to do with a multiplicity of wechselwirkungen: relations are a causal factor behind the agency that social actors unfold; the latter, in turn, by acting give rise to relations. This two-way process has to move within the constraints of the politically possible, even as it plays an active role in shaping these possibilities. What matters is to see that, in this protean field, possibilities indeed abound for crafting constellations of relations, such as give members of all ethnic groups less cause to fear and more cause to invest positive emotions in the business of living together. Moreover, it is vital to recognise that relations can be profitably used to work towards a single nation, guaranteeing to all its citizens equal rights under the law.


First let us express our gratitude to all those people in Fiji who kindly opened windows into their cultures and inducted us into the multi-facetted relations there: vinaka vakalevu, kam bati n raba, shukriya. For permission to pursue our research, we thank relevant institutions of the Fijian government and the Rabi Council of Leaders. The staff at the National Archives of Fiji, in particular the government archivists Margaret Patel and Setareki Tale, were gracious in rendering kind assistance. Further, we gratefully acknowledge grants tendered by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation). Most of the contributions in the present volume were initially presented at the 5th conference of the European Society for Oceanists (Vienna, July 2002). Our gratitude to Anette Schade for kindly co-organising a session at this conference on the topic 'Fiji: Resources from the Past--Relations of Today'. We thank all those who gave papers on that occasion and contributed to a lively debate, with special thanks going to Teresia Teaiwa. Our sincere gratitude to Margaret Jolly, who ever since our Viennese session enthusiastically backed this project, in which spirit she has kindly supplied the present map. Our express thanks also to Christina Toren, who not only made thoughtful comments in the discussion, but read and commented upon the whole manuscript of this collection. For constructive comments and encouragement, we owe very much to Brigitta Hauser-Schaublin. To Steffen Herrmann our deepest appreciation for laying out the essays in this volume and for placing his knowledge of Fijian literature at our disposal. And our warmest thanks to Bruce Allen for guiding us again, as so often before, through the thickets of the English language. We gratefully acknowledge the detailed comments of the two anonymous referees and particularly the valuable advice Neil Maclean has tendered throughout this project.


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(1.) 'Social actor', as it is used here, means that persons and groups from all ethnicities living in Fiji fashion, via their actions and by means of their actions, the relationships in which they are incorporated. The term is not tied to any specific concept of the person (and certainly not to any western concept of the autonomously acting individual); rather it is open-ended with regard to culture-specific ways of construing personhood, such as can be encountered in all of the groups living in Fiji.

(2.) The term 'autochthonous' is used here in the context of recent history, i.e. to describe the (ethnic) Fijians as descendants of those inhabiting the Fiji Islands at the onset of European colonisation. Thus 'autochthonous' in no way alludes to Fijian local historical narratives, in which the indigenous population of the islands is distinguished from more recent arrivals, who then became their chiefs (see e.g. Kaplan 1995:27-28; Sahlins 1985). Rather the term, following Clifford (1994:308-309), is intended to point out that the designated group claims for itself a 'natural' tie to the land. By using 'autochthonous' in this way, we can keep 'indigenous' not only for Fijians but for other ethnic groups living in Fiji, who, for their part, can also look back on a long history of settlement--a suggestion that has been made inter alia by Robertson (1998:205ff.).

(3.) Descendants of those who emigrated from the British Raj we refer to, following the standard practice in Fiji, as Fiji Indians or else as Indo-Fijians.

(4.) Following passage of further land bills in recent years, the percentage of land in the hands of the autochthonous Fijians is estimated as being even higher. Robert Keith-Keith puts it at 'about 90%' in Fiji Islands Business (October 2005:4); Trnka this volume, note (5) refers to a recent sociological study that assumes a figure of approx. 87%.

(5.) According to census data, Indo-Fijians between the years 1946 and 1986 formed the largest segment of Fiji's population (see Fiji Bureau of Statistics: 'Census of Population--1881-1996', available online at %20population.pdf).

(6.) To be sure, the stereotype that Fijians would not perform successfully in terms of business is refuted in the everyday life of the Fiji Islands. Ropate Qalo (1997) has put together a well-informed study, based on action research, describing a case of a successful 'small business' in Fiji.

(7.) Norton (2002) stresses, based on his analysis of archival documents, that Britain did not deliberately set out to perpetuate ethnic division in an independent Fiji. Rather the colonial decision-makers acted under the pressure of events and in response to pressure from various leaders in Fiji.

(8.) See e.g. the contributions in Akram-Lodhi 2000.

(9.) Aside from the Indo-Fijians, persons of other ethnic backgrounds were also threatened with violence. Thus Bessie Ng Kumlin Ali (2002:202) reports of violent excesses being perpetrated against Chinese living in Fiji and their property.

(10.) See 'Fiji: Great Council of Chiefs Apologises to Indo-Fijians',, May 15, 2004.

(11.) See Fiji Bureau of Statistics: 'Social Statistics', available online at

Elfriede Hermann and Wolfgang Kempf

University of Gottingen
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Author:Hermann, Elfriede; Kempf, Wolfgang
Geographic Code:8FIJI
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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