Saturday, March 20, 2010
Writer: I was not pro-coup
CP And Fiji? How do you see post-coup Fiji?
AW I haven’t been to Fiji since the coups. I’ve tried to follow the events there by talking with some of my Fijian friends who come to New Zealand. I read about Fiji in the newspapers and magazines. In some ways, I predicted what happened in Fiji. Some Fijians and Indians claimed that Fiji was very stable politically [laughs]. I’ve never believed that. My first visit to Fiji was in 1952 when I was returning to Samoa after having been away in New Zealand. I grew up in New Zealand with some Fijians who became prominent in Ratu Mara’s government. I knew from them that the racial situation in Fiji wasn’t going to be stable, politically. And years later, when I shifted to live and teach in Fiji, I realized that the country was not going to be stable, in the long run.
When the Fiji coup happened, there was enormous sympathy for the coup among indigenous people throughout the Pacific, including the Maori, Samoans, Cook Islanders, and Tongans. You might say this reaction is very racist, but you can’t help the way people feel. The coup proved my belief that Fiji was politically unstable and will be for quite a while. You can’t just hope that two different groups of people trying to live together will get to love each other.
CP What about the second coup?
AW I believe that the second coup was carried out by Sitiveni Rabuka against the Fijian leadership, against Ratu Mara and Ratu Penaia Ganilau. I was actually told that by people who were close to Rabuka.
CP What do you see as a possible solution to the racial conflicts in Fiji?
AW Marriage between Indians and Fijians. It’s a pity that the rate of intermarriage between the two races has been low. If I have grandchildren from such mixed marriages, I won’t advocate sending them out of the country, no matter how racist I am. We just have to hope that the Fijians and Indians will eventually come to like and trust one another – that will take a long time. Fiji is not unique, of course. Malaysia is in exactly the same situation. That’s probably why Ratu Mara likes analyzing Malaysia.
The coup was painful for many people, particularly for Indians. I was in Fiji during that time. I was offered the Auckland position at the end of 1986, so I didn’t have to be in Fiji, but I decided to go back to Fiji to finish my term there. My family and I suffered, living through the coups, but I learned a hell of a lot. I learned about fear and what it is, about inhumanity and what happens when it gets out of hand, about how easy it is to think it’s normal to see soldiers around every day, to have your car stopped every day, to have some of your friends arrested. I was beginning to think that this was a normal condition of life, until I left Fiji. I was glad to get out. I was getting immune to those abuses and inhumanities.
CP There were rumors around the University of the South Pacific campus that you were pro-coup. Were you aware of this?
AW I was not pro-coup. I don’t believe in military coups. This rumor came about because of the volatile Fiji situation and my political views about indigenous peoples. I don’t believe in the use of military force to obtain anything. But my heart and my sympathies are with the indigenous people. Now, you can interpret that any way you want to, but that doesn’t mean I was pro-coup. I understand why the Fijians did it; I’m not excusing it. I understand too why the indigenous people around the Pacific sympathized with the coup. I mean, look what’s happened to the Aborigines, the Maori, the Hawaiians!
CP Did you feel alienated by some of your friends or colleagues during this time because of your beliefs?
AW I didn’t care. [laughs] It didn’t matter what I believed or what I did. They were still going to say I was pro-coup. You know what happens in Fiji, particularly at that university – anything to attack somebody. That’s one of the reasons I was glad to get out of Fiji, not because of the coup, but because I would be free of the perpetual « problem » between the Fijians and the Indians!