The Fiji Coup: Clash of Ethnic Nationalism and Multiculturalism
Srebrnik, Henry, Canadian Dimension
The May coup d'etat in Fiji, which succeeded in ousting the country's elected government, underscores the continuing ethnic polarization in that South Pacific state. Despite the promulgation of a new democratic constitution in 1997, following 10 years of semi-authoritarian rule, large numbers of indigenous (taukei) Melanesian Fijians, who comprise 51 per cent of the country's total population of 813,000, obviously remained opposed to sharing power with the non-Native Indo-Fijians. The latter, who make up 44 per cent of Fiji's citizens, are descended from indentured labourers (girmitiyas) brought to Fiji to work on sugar plantations, following the British takeover of the 300-island archipelago in 1874.
This seems like an unimportant event in a far-off land. But, as I will indicate, there are reasons why Canadians should pay attention. From the start, the two communities had little in common. While most native Fijians had been converted to Methodist Christianity, the Indians were Hindus and Muslims. The two groups spoke different languages. In order to preserve the Fijian way of life, the British had reserved 83 per cent of the total land area of Fiji for the native Fijians in perpetuity. It was inalienable and could not be sold, but only rented; it belonged to Fijian clan entities known as mataqali, each headed by a tribal chief.
The Native Fijians continued to live in villages and practiced subsistence agriculture, while the Indians toiled in conditions of near slavery on large, white-run plantations. When the Indians …
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Publication information: Article title: The Fiji Coup: Clash of Ethnic Nationalism and Multiculturalism. Contributors: Srebrnik, Henry - Author. Magazine title: Canadian Dimension. Volume: 34. Issue: 5 Publication date: September 2000. Page number: 22. © 2009 Canadian Dimension Publication, Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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