Laisenia Qarase, the ousted Prime Minister, (Fiji Times 16 Aug 2008) led the opposition to what is now law, quote, “This is a highly sensitive proposal to the indigenous population. Ever since the word 'Fijian' was first used it referred to the indigenous population. It is part of their psyche and part of them. Any change must have the approval of the Fijian people after very wide consultations with them”.
Qarase further stated accordingly, “The common name for the citizens of Fiji is 'Fiji Islander'. This is contained in our 1997 Constitution. This common name has not been used publicly. The problem is that the name 'Fiji Islander' has not been promoted and marketed both locally and abroad. If the common names 'Solomon Islander', 'Cook Islander' and 'New Zealander' can stick, there is no reason why 'Fiji Islander' cannot” unquote.
By stripping the indigenous people of its Polynesianized ‘Fijian’ identity, the regime's law replaces the Melanesianized – ‘i Taukei’- when referring to the original settlers of Fiji. Reform done and dusted, end of story.
There is an issue, however, with i Taukei if the regime intended the name to mean what it represents. Much as the indigenous people are proud of being i Taukei in an anthropological sense, Taukei-ism has taken on a militant indigenous political meaning since the 1987 coups. Father Barr condemned 'Taukei-ism' or extreme Fijian nationalism as a “philosophy of domination and discrimination”. (Barr 1999:15)
Reverend Josateki Koroi, the president of the Methodist church at the time of the 1987 coups, also asserted, “It is the domination of men over women, adult over children, husbands over wives and chiefs over their subjects. In the field of religion Taukei-ism is the domination of Christianity against non-Christian religion of Fijian domination over the others” (Ernst 1994:208).
The name sharpens instrumentalist views such as generated by the ethno nationalist Taukei Movement and will definitely inhibit political moderation. This possible untoward outcome is the exact opposite of the all racial new ‘Fijian’ civic- nationalism call of the regime. For the indigene now branded a Taukei this change plays right into the identity politics arena of ethnic out bidders.
Unwittingly, the Taukei branding will by default also officially assign all other races in Fiji to perpetual Vulagi (guest) status, a living traditional concept as articulated by Professor Ravuvu. (Ravuvu 1988)
In endeavouring to solve a race issue the regime has elevated an even bigger latent issue-a state instituted political ethnic identity ready made to be manipulated by ethnic out bidders.
Such rough shod reforms were similarly carried out at the hands of short sighted leaders of the majority Sinhalese triggering the tragic Sri Lankan civil war.
What is the alternative?
In a speech on new immigrants in 1986 US President Reagan said that an 'American' is based on a proposition of Liberty, Freedom and Democracy not on a race such as English or French.”
Therefore, I suggest similarly basing our common identity on such a proposition as that of the United States of America – the emergence of a national identity fashioned out of democracy, including our shared historic and colonial past- rather than a race.
For to date the word 'Fijian' has been the referred identification embodying the mana of the indigenous race or Kai Viti to his land Viti - ever since the Tongans initially introduced its usage as Fisi to early European Explorers, Traders and Missionaries.
Basically, an involuntary name change, especially involving a whole race, risks permanent generational and emotional resentment by such a race for what is basically, identity theft.
What then is a common bond, for both the major races, Fijians and Indians and all others?
I suggest a fusion of words to create this new identity. The fusion of the word 'Fijian' and the word 'Indian', symbolizing this new identity, the emergence of a Fidjian.
What’s more, the addition of the alphabet “d” into Fiji signifies and symbolizes the fusion of all races based on the proposition of democracy and a common national identity. To take it further, figuratively speaking the “d” in democracy and the “d” in Indian has fused into the “d” for a truly democratic nation - Fidji. Food for thought in a new democracy?
Jone Baledrokadroka is a PhD in Politics candidate at ANU Canberra.