Academic journal article Oceania

The 1961 British Military Recruitment Campaign in Fiji: Historical Circumstances, Discourses of Fijian Culture and Personal Narratives

Academic journal article Oceania

The 1961 British Military Recruitment Campaign in Fiji: Historical Circumstances, Discourses of Fijian Culture and Personal Narratives

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In 1961, the British Armed Forces enlisted 200 men and 12 women of various ethnic backgrounds in what was then the Crown Colony of Fiji. Many of these Pacific Islanders, now widely known as the '212', have since settled in the United Kingdom. Although this military recruitment campaign has remained a footnote in British history, it represented a critical juncture for the '212', their kin, and following generations of transnational Fiji Islanders who have been working for the British forces. Drawing on Marshall D. Sahlins' notion of 'structure of the conjuncture' and the personal narratives of my interlocutors as an analytical focus, 1 reveal how these Fiji Islanders have appropriated and creatively used the historical circumstances as well as discourses of Fijian culture that enabled Britain to recruit soldiers in Fiji to pursue their individual projects and ambitions. While loyalty and colonial obedience feature in some of the '212' narratives, other prominent motives include the urge to escape the communal Fijian lifestyle and the smallness of the Fiji Islands, as well as the desire to experience adventure. The article suggests that the socio-cultural complexities ingrained in critical junctures, made visible through narration, enable us to scrutinize how modernity and global circumstances have allowed Pacific Islanders to transform their ways of life.

Keywords: Fiji, United Kingdom, migration, military history, narration, agency.

INTRODUCTION

In July 2013, the Telegraph reported how Sergeant Rusiate Bolavucu, a Fiji-born soldier of the British military's 1st Battalion Duke of Lancaster Regiment, puzzled the audience in the market town of Kendal when he sat down and clapped his hands after speaking to Her Majesty the Queen. As the Telegraph put it, Sergeant Bolavucu 'was following an ancient tradition from his South Pacific homeland'. The soldier himself later revealed in an interview that it would be a 'cultural thing for people from Fiji to do when they meet a head of state. It is a way of showing respect' (Fijian Soldier Sits Down 2013).

Rusiate Bolavucu is one of approximately 2200 Fiji Islanders who were recruited by the British Armed Forces in the course of several campaigns since 1998 (Ware 2014:31-33) and who have settled with their families in and around garrison towns throughout Britain (e. g., Aldershot, Catterick and Tidworth), Germany (e.g., Gutersloh and Paderborn) and other destinations such as Cyprus (cf., Hulkenberg 2015a, 2015b). (1) Although most of these 'military migrants' (Ware 2014) are indigenous Fijian men, this group also contains a small number of indigenous Fijian women (Teaiwa 2014, 2015), Indo-Fijians, and part-Europeans. (2)

It is no coincidence that the Telegraph presents 'culture', 'tradition', 'respect', and 'subordination' as intrinsic to the Fijian soldier's gesture of lowering himself in front of Britain's monarch. Indeed, the presence of Fiji Islanders in the British military has a long pedigree in the pre-colonial and colonial encounters between indigenous Fijians and the British, evident in one particular historical event which 1 explore in this essay. In 1961, 9 years before the Fiji Islands, then a Crown Colony, gained independence from British rule, the War Office (which became part of the newly formed Ministry of Defence in 1964) decided to recruit soldiers in Fiji. (3) Two hundred men and 12 women, commonly known as the '212', a term I will employ in this article, were recruited in Fiji and arrived in England in the winter of 1961-1962. Many of the '212' and their families have remained in Europe ever since.

While this initial recruitment drive is perhaps best described as a footnote in British history, I argue that for those '212' with whom I have been engaging in recent years, the campaign was a critical juncture that changed their lives irreversibly. (4) It also prepared the ground for a Fijian military diaspora in the United Kingdom as well as ongoing transnational connections between Britain and the Fiji Islands well beyond Fiji's independence. …

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