Introduction to Relations in Multicultural Fiji: The Dynamics of Articulations, Transformations and Positionings

By Hermann, Elfriede; Kempf, Wolfgang | Oceania, September-December 2005 | Go to article overview

Introduction to Relations in Multicultural Fiji: The Dynamics of Articulations, Transformations and Positionings


Hermann, Elfriede, Kempf, Wolfgang, Oceania


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.

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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). …

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