#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: Illegal regime great manipulators of Fijian traditional thinking

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Illegal regime great manipulators of Fijian traditional thinking

By Jone Baledrokadroka 
As we approach the fourth anniversary of the 2006 coup, why are Fijians quietly acquiescing to the illegal military regime? Have we sheepishly gotten used to the curtailment of our rights and freedom by the monthly extensions of the Public Emergency Regulations? Or has the regime really delivered to warrant widespread local acceptance?

Professor Waden Narsey’s revealing Diwali article has put paid to the latter sentiment which is beyond doubt except for regime apologists. Backing Fiji’s outspoken academic are the United Nations, European Union, Commonwealth of Nations, United States of America, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands Forum in their call for a return to democracy given the socially and economically tattered state of the nation.

Much as we try to understand the complexities of Fiji’s coups by comparative studies of other coup prone states, the answer to disengaging the Fiji military from politics may well literally be, in the minds of the Fijian indigenous people.

There is a deeper pre-colonial traditional role that the military in Fijian society plays that appeal to ordinary and, indeed, village bound Fijians that need to be understood.

The guardian role of the Fiji military regime being mandated upon the nation by the President strikes a close resemblance to the benevolent dictatorship exercised by chiefs of old.

In addition, underpinning this autocratic guardian role seems to be the subtle exploitation of the old chiefly diarchic relationship symbolized by the mutually exclusive role of the war lord (Vunivalu) to the ancient Fijian ritual king (Tui) as articulated by anthropologist Arthur Hocart. This chiefly dualism was widely accepted in balancing Fijian hierarchy and traditional society.  The Fijian traditional idiom of “me veitabani de kata na qio” translated as, “all things go in pairs or the shark will bite” conveys this thinking and is often still used today.

In 1972, prior to Fiji’s first  elections, Ratu David Toganivalu, the deputy speaker of the house in a speech at the 18th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in Malawi, said that a benevolent dictator could be appropriate for Fiji. He meant the paternalistic chiefdoms of traditional Fiji. This Fijian traditional yearning occurs time and again in modern Fijian political thought and action.

In the 1977 elections crisis, reinstated Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara humbly offered that it was his duty to controversially accept the wish of his high chief and Governor General, the Vunivalu of Bau Ratu Sir George Cakobau, to form a minority government. President Ratu Iloilo’s January 7th 2007 acceptance speech of Bainimarama and his illegal December 2006 coup is quite similar. The modern  dualism at play.

In 1987, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, in traditional fashion, offered Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau to be first President of the Republic after deposing his high chief as Governor General. The illegality of it all did not matter to Fijians and their elite, so long as the chiefly status quo was in office.

The close relationship and reverence that Bainimarama held with the office of the President, formerly Ratu Josefa Iloilo the Tui Vuda and now Ratu Epeli Nailatikau a chief of Bau, reinforces this traditional exclusive relationship.

An investigation by Commissioner Andrew Hughes (pictured above) into the manipulation of the President’s office by the military was snuffed out by the 2006 coup and would have substantiated this idea of mutual and exclusive political manipulation.

This traditional exclusive  autocratic psyche is engrained into the older Fijians’ mindset. Bainimarama and Nailatikau as they illegally play the modern leadership role of Prime Minister and President pander to such subtle traditional connections.

Another past traditional Fijian idiom of “keda nai i Taukei e rauti keda ga na veiliutaki kaukauwa kei na kana kuita”- “we Fijians respond to authotarian rule and the fear of punishment”, currently the rallying lore of the military elite, strikes a chord with a people whose elite often reminisce of the ordered colonial Fijian society.

The late Ratu mai Verata and disciplinarian Ratu Ilisoni Qio Ravoka, a known mentor of Bainimarama, in a speech at the Great Council of Chiefs in 2000, championed such a strict stance to keep erring chiefs and rebels in check. Bainimarama and his regime cleverly exploits this native mindset in the campaign against ethno-nationalists, prior to and after the coup of 2006.

The subtle connection being, that it is only through the military and chiefly benevolent dictatorship that true democracy and development can be achieved for Fiji. One without the other will fail. Previous governments including high chiefs, Bainimarama argues, have failed in this respect.

Christina Torens, in attempting to explain this modern enigma of Fijian culture, one of hierarchy and equality, states, “Equality and hierarchy are the warp and woof of traditional Fijian village life. There is an attempt to make hierarchy contain relations of equality and a simultaneous recognition that this hierarchy itself depends for its very continuity on the dynamics of relations of equality which cannot in their nature be ultimately contained by chiefly ritual but only by raw power”. 

Again, as the following news piece of one of Commodore Bainimarama’s rural visits shows, “He[ Bainimarama] told the people of Koro this is one of the reasons why they took control of the government in 2006 because politicians were lying again. Commodore Bainimarama reiterated that only the military can change the political leadership. He said his government is not in place to please anyone in particular but to carry out the development work which past governments have failed to deliver.”

Jon Fraenkel succinctly explains the phenomenon thus, “Through early 2010, Bainimarama toured Fiji’s provinces and far flung islands, soliciting indigenous support with promised roads, piped water and rural electrification projects. What became the standard response in ethnic Fijian villages was to apologise for past hostility and embrace the ‘Peoples’s Charter’ which few have read but which many regard as symbolic of acquiescence under the new order. Bainimarama has been welcomed as the conquering warrior chief, to be granted ceremonial recognition by the people of the land (now officially called itaukei).” 

This subliminal message plays on Fijian cultural sensitivities and the use of authoritarian power backed by an all Fijian military. This lends credibility to the regimes shrouded efforts in trying to bequeath to the nation ‘true democracy’.

This flawed thinking has been debunked with the onset of the third wave of democracy into the 21st century. Fijians must learn to accept that liberal democracy and freedom does not entail a relapse to our traditional authoritarian past what so ever. This has been the case the last four years as the regime continues to exploit Fijian traditional thinking. We can never mature as a free society by backing a dictatorship.  

As famous political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted, “Force does not constitute righ t... obedience is due only to legitimate powers” through the people’s choice. In essence man is born free. He is born in the image of our Maker and for his highest expression of human organisation - liberal democracy to mature in Fiji then the fallacy of authoritarianism by the manipulation of tradition and custom has no future. Unshackling our minds may be the first step back to democracy.

Jone Baledrokadroka is a former member of the Great Council of Chiefs.


Anonymous said...

Lot of people especially those overseas simply just don't get it?
Overwhelming majority of 'Taukei
Villagers' don't give a hoot about the current political situation - sofar as their concerned its a 'Suva' problem - does not concern them.

Suggest that those who don't believe this go and check?
Spend some time at the Village coalface & listen.

The Fijian mindset said...

I agree that shackled minds are a problem among the i'Taukei but don't think Jone Baledrokadroka is in the best position to lecture the rest of us. If anything, this guy is a prisoner of the mindset he says he wants to throw off. The record shows he was happy to be part of the authoritarian system so long as it served his own interests. Land force commander and member of the GCC? Hello! I'm not taking sides here but having fallen victim to that system because of a crude authoritarian power play, I can't help thinking that everything Baledrokadroka now says smacks of "well, he would say that wouldn't he?" And If he wants to reinforce his argument, why fall back on a kai valagi fellow academic with no idea of the realpolitik of the Vanua? He could at least quote people with real mana rather than wander into the next office at the ANU. The Fijian people haven't suffered a "relapse to an authoritarian past". Vast numbers of i'Taukei know nothing else. They're supporting the latest strongman because "he's the man" and don't listen to Baledrokadroka because he isn't. End of story. Sitting in Canberra with the rest of his gang hoping otherwise isn't going to change anything.

mark manning said...

Vinaka Jone
Now that makes a lot of sense and explains fijians inability, generally, to thin k for themselves.
Basically, they will end up with the leaders they deserve.
but at the cost losing their freedom, future, their heritage and land.

Anonymous said...

Quite a lot of words to describe the simple fact that Fijians and Indo Fijians are a bunch of arse kissing cowards. If you keep sucking up to Frank, don't be fooled by the term benevolent. Frank has done this to save his own skin and get rich in the process. Nothing benevolent about his dictatorship.

Vusi Loa said...

@ Anon 10:35

That is basically the problem with those idiots. They know realise that what is happening in Suva affects theirlives and their future generations. They are like frogs in a pot off water that is heated slowly, before they know what the hell is happening they will be dead.

Anonymous said...

I concur Jone – a great article. The benign dictatorship alluded to by Ratu David is a basically despotism in disguise. Without the checks and balances brought about by democratic features of accountability,transparency, and a free press, that particular model in Fiji will spawn further corruption and serve as a barrier preventing the nation from evolving to becoming a dynamic modern and open pacific state.
Authoritarian politics basically is about corruption and establishing a machinery for promoting the narrow interests of a few elites. A dispersed liberal democratic profile is the very best option for Fiji. It empowers the people and is better able to handle crisis situations. Fiji’s long term security is better served by following a path constructed from Fiji’s own mix of a liberal democracy.

Anonymous said...

I think the equation might be far simpler than that. The regime is basically saying if you don't support us then don't expect any assistance and those in the outer regions having not much else going on will go along. The mentality is simple really and they don't see anything wrong with giving their support if they get something in return. This support however is dependent on getting something in return and will easily be removed and given to the next person/government. You don't have to look too far back to see that these are the same people who were in full support of PM Qarase when he was building village halls/churches and providing water tanks and rural electrification. Couple of years down the line they're giving their support to the person who ousted him when he promises them assistance. Village politics doesn't extend into the dynamics of the coup on the regional/world front or to their coming generations in terms of the countries increasing debt, its more along the line of "we make one sevusevu and show of suppot this afternoon and we should get a new ice plant next year". I do agree to some extent with the blogger who says the coup is largely seen by the rural areas as a 'Suva' problem because thats the area that coups affect the most. Ask the villagers what effect the '87, 2000, 2006 coups had on their lifestyle and way of life and they'd probably say it had no or negligible effect whereas ask the people in the city and business people in particular and you'll get a totally different opinion. Those of us who can see what a terrible price these coups and dictators like Frank are costing the country and what it will mean for our future generations, it is up to us to change things as in my opinion the majority of those in the villages although they will happily embrace the chance to choose their governments will not go out of their way to bring about the needed change to make it happen.

JQ said...

Something to ponder aye Jone!

"It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. ~Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason


Anonymous said...

If SDL was democratically elected in 2001 and had followed the correct path as stipulated in the 1997 constitution, there would have been no room for the 2006 to take place.

Indeed we learnt from the similar manipulations post 1987 which then delivered a beautiful constinution which is the best in the world.

But politicians were testing its strength by manipulating for 6 years its provisions by their actions or inactions. THis gave rise to copy precedents from the past.

Past precedents when not dealt with seems to have made that to be understood as or interpreted to be law.

While Jone's assessment is 100% supported by myself, the seeds were planted elsewhere. No one spoke then against them - and that is the sad part of the interpretation of the word democracy...

Disgraceful slur said...

Mark Manning, can you keep your insulting, racist comments to yourself? Fancy having the audacity to suggest that Fijians ( you don't even give them a capital F ) are stupid or easily led. What gives you the right to say something so offensive, mate? Butt out!

sara'ssista said...

@disgarceful ... i wouldn't be too quick to attack, this regime has pretty much suggested if not said the same thing , suggesting they needed to step for similar reasons.As democarcy isn't really a good fit for fijians and the are all too easily led and influenced and all but saying that fijian cannot be trusted to exercise a vote just yet until it is rigged by the military to guarantee the outcome they want.

Anonymous said...

Sara ssista, vote was always rigged as I know ever since 1977. Thisis nothing new. Only players will change again under the name of democracy....

Joe said...

So what is the point of all this JB? Do we endeavour to have a "real democracy" in Fiji, or just bend over to the chiefs? You seem to have a 2 way bet.

paula raqeukai said...

...the big problem with FMF is that it is too traditional and mixes the ideology of a true military force and a Fijian traditional customs...if that could be removed then the FMF will surely serves it purpose in the country...also we must realistically reduce its size to a right size and right budget...and appoint someone who is capable not only to respect the rule of law but to be a God fearing leader...

Anonymous said...

@ Vusa Loa.

Idiots & Frogs.

They are netheir - merely simple hard working souls who's main focus is feeding their extended families. This does not imply they are naive - simple - or as our good friend & long time supporter Mark Mannings continually but incorrectly bemoans - cowards.
There is both Fiji Time & Fiji Way.

Idiots and Frogs said...

Whatever, they are too feeble to defend their own rights and freedom.

Anonymous said...

the master touch as always.....pity jone too far away to be effect real change

Fiji Boffin said...

JB would be the only 'academic' to rub shoulders with the people on the ground and the freedom bloggers. Note that the other so-called fiji commentators from ANU prophetise from the lofty heights of mainstream and remain( as has been said before) far flung warriors, widely quoted in kaivalagi quarters, but with little credibility in the circle they profess to be authorities on.

mark manning said...

@ disgraceful slur and anon 931 am
Someone has to put a rocket up your sulus, and I'm sorry I forgot to put a capital " F ", usually I endeavour to do this.

Anonymous said...

Not realistic. People on the ground including rural villagers are much more informed than what JB seems to think. All they want is clean water, easy access to school and to the market etc. And they don't really care whether so and so is PM, it is as long as their need is met. Sad as it may seem, the chiefs are a dying lot and only those who continue to participate in the peoples' lives are respected - eg. Marama Bale, Roko Tui Dreketi and will continue as long as they practise what they preach. She attends the village meetings, weeds around her compound, attends mass regularly and tells people off who lie and do not look after their families. Secondly, it is only a few greedy Indigenous leaders who play the politics of race amongst the people and put fear into them by claiming that only an Indigenous Fijian can be a national leader. A whole lot of cowshit! JB and his academic friends would do well to read Peter France and other earlier writers who will tell us a different side to the Indigenous fijian society. It was not all about hierarchical leadership, there was also a democratic system, particularly in the interior of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu who were mostly Melanesians. They were corrupted however by Polynesians in the 14th/15th centuries. So for now, if the Indigenous particularly those in the rural and other areas are not concerned about Suva Politics, it is because their need is being met and that is all their concern is about. Sa kaput na duavata ni Taukei. Why? Because the people are fed up with all the bullshit from the leaders both traditional and modern - JB's brother in law the Qaranivalu is a classic example. In Tonga, a chief is 'defrocked' off his role when he goes to jail. O keda na i Taukei e sega - sa wakia vata ga - butabutako, daulaba, lasulasu da rokova ga! But thank goodness, this does not apply to all I taukei. Times are changing and I have hope in our beloved country. I dream that one day, we will be served by non-self serving leaders no matter the race, colour or religion, as long as he/she is God fearing and not afraid of the truth.

Anonymous said...

One for the Ecology archives.

NZ resident & self proclaimed Viti guru Prof Crosbie Walsh is currently advocating a very radical developement line for Viti in his blog - "portable sawmills for smaller Islands".

Suggest he google 'Easter' - as in 'Island' not ceremony.