Quishile Charan, Fijianx, 6-22 November 2015

6-22 NOVEMBER 2015

I feel like some looming or brooding figure on people’s shoulders that they want to brush off. The little things hurt the most. One of the worst is people declaring “you don’t act Fijian”, I still can’t gage exactly what that means. Do they expect me to parade around in a grass skirt and a sign saying, “oh hey, look I’m Fijian”, would that help define me more? Dodging those heavy conversations because basically, oppression of your race is only for you to deal with and no one else. Don’t burden the wider public with the r word, because that doesn’t exist anymore.

I have spent my whole life living like this, I didn’t choose it but here I am. For a long period in my life I was scared to associate myself with the word Fijian, it got so bad that I would deny my own ethnicity to my mother. I was alienating myself because that is all I had ever experienced within social constructs. The little things pile up, like that day at primary school when the kids stereotyped my family only based on skin colour. Engaging people with these heavier issues always makes them grit their teeth, I feel like everyone is waiting for me to glue my mouth shut. I am so immersed in the almighty globalization that I feel that society is whitewashing me. I’m clutching at straws trying to understand why my voice doesn’t matter, why my little Fijian self decided to oppress.

My ancestors prided themselves on the ideals of kinship and the collective community, how can one person show and exchange love. For me this means sharing, sharing my time, sharing around food and exchanging stories or offering my ears to listen. As I have gotten older these things have become more significant. When living in a more individualistic society these ideals are placed on the back burner. And this is what I am really trying to describe here, the oppression of someone’s cultural nature. Because my value system is different to other people they think that they have to push and shave me into categories. Othering seems to have become a popular past time that I myself experience on a daily basis. What plagues me the most is racism through stereotypes and how many people of indigenous decent are subjecting themselves with this mind set to fit into the status quo. The little things are just so damaging. They beat you until you give up and eventually the bruises show in the forms ‘civilized lives’ as we the barbaric must abide.

I have been told my whole life that its best to keep my mouth shut, not to stir commotion. I refuse to do this, I will not stand by and be further oppressed through others ignorance. These stereotypes that cling to our societies are just a figment of the imagination, fallen through history because we chose to keep them. Are we going to continue to divide and separate our communities within these invisible restrictions of thinking, are we really that childish. 

I am of Fijian decent and refuse to be marginalized.

For many years Fiji has been seen as being a country of uncertainty and conflict due to being divided by two main ethnic groups: the Fijian community and the Indo-Fijian community. During the period of 1987 – 1990, there was a boom in immigration of the Indo-Fijian community in countries like New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States of America. The following will attempt to explore all possible evidence explaining the migration of Indo-Fijians to New Zealand, with particular focus on the instability of racial divides, the economy, politics and living standards. Through the evidence provided (from the period of 1970-1994 and the 1987 and 2000 military coup takeovers), the push and pull factors of New Zealand that resulted in a large number of Indo-Fijians leaving Fiji, will be discussed.

Fiji’s racial instability started during colonial British rule. In 1879 the first Indians arrived in Fiji as indentured labourers. Many were brought over in promise of a better life, only to find out that they were confined to being field labourers (Naidu 7-9). During the years of slavery, the Indian community fought in earnest for their freedom and the ending of ties to the British Empire who badly mistreated them. On the other hand, the Fijian community saw their loyalty to the Empire as promising and helpful to the formation of a modern Fiji. The sugar cane industry became an area of labour mainly populated by the Indo-Fijian community. As this industry grew it also created a demand for more labourers thus further increasing the Indo-Fijian population. Field hands started organising strikes and protests for better living standards and wages, notably in the years of 1920-1921, 1943-44 and 1959-60 (Scobell 188). During the year of 1987 we see that both racial groups to be approximately of equal size (188-189), this brought issues within the communities in regards to the identity of Fiji in the wake of the post-colonial era.

Fiji gained its independence from the British Empire during 1970. From Fiji’s independence the Alliance Party governed, with favourability towards the Fijian community. In the year of 1987 we see the promises for racial equality with the coalition of the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party (dominated by Fijians of Indian origin). The elections results did not sit well with the native Fijian community, who took to the street in a four week long protest against the new government. The Fijian military saw an opportunity to restore the old ways and overthrew the new government to restore the Alliance party, favouring only one community in this self-serving decision. (Gani 58). During this time we see a boom in migration to New Zealand, mainly in the period of 1988-1989. During the year of 1988, 1,548 Indo-Fijians migrated, and during 1989, 1,192 migrated (Elek and Tabor 756). Between the periods of 1987-1990 we see an overall of 14,083 Indo-Fijians migrating out of Fiji. With 1,462 professionals, 589 managers and public servants, 1,488 clerical workers, 345 commercial workers, 1,518 other services workers, 264 agricultural workers, and 8,417 dependents, which includes spouses, students, and retired persons (Gani and Ward 1634). This migration was driven by various factors, those being: economical benefits, the low living standards and the continued instability of Fiji’s government and military (Gani 59).

The vision of a (racially) stable future for Fiji was heavily disrupted by the 1987 coup as it became apparent that the military was geared toward a goal of ethnic homogeny, highlighting to the Indo-Fijian community that race relations in Fiji were still extremely unstable. Following trade boycotts from international investors the economy began to slump further. A vast decrease in wages across a number of industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and services only encouraged the pull factors of migration to New Zealand (Elek and Tabor 755). With the real mean weekly wages of Fiji being: NZ $79 in 1970, NZ $105 in 1975, NZ $113 in 1980, NZ $73 in 1985, NZ $44 in 1990, and NZ $36 in 1994, the drastic decrease was an incentive for many Indo-Fijians to leave Fiji (Gani 60). Unemployment rates started dropping in Fiji, leaving a steady decline in the workforce. The annual unemployment rate for Fiji was as follows: rate averaged 9.5 per cent during 1970-79; 7.5 per cent during 1980-84; 8 per cent during 1985-89 and 6 per cent during 1990-94. If we compare this to New Zealand’s unemployment rates for the same time period we can see dramatic differences. For example: annual unemployment rate averaged 0.19 per cent during 1970-74; 0.94 per cent during 1975-79; 4.15 per cent during 1980-84 and 5.77 per cent during 1985-89 (60).

With GDP per capita shrinking during the ten-year period of 1980 to 1990, we see a dramatic drop in the year of 1987 of almost 7%. Half the decline was in the sugar harvesting, which meant that Indo-Fijians were impacted the most. GDP output was falling in other major sectors as well. These were historically low levels for Fiji. We can tie these figures down to the years leading up to 1987. Annual GDP growth rates declined; if we look closely we can see 7.2% in 1965-70, 5.8% in 1971-75 and 4.0% in 1976-80. The fluctuating GDP in the year-to-year performance is best reflected in the average annual growth. For example: during 1980-85 was 1.2%, which meant a 0.7% annual decline in per capita terms. Fiji as a country was struggling to keep the domestic fields of work at a high economic standard (Elek and Tabor 756).

Sugar cane farming was a key component of growth to the economy. With the Indian community growing to equal size of the Fijian community, the question of land ownership became a prominent issue. Policies were becoming increasingly favourable to the native Fijian community, further showing the hostility of government towards the Indo-Fijians. With 82% of Fijian land owned by the ethnic Fijians, it left no viable room to provide stability for building a home (766). With the economic slump affecting the sugar cane industry and land ownership disputes along with the political biases, it was becoming hard for the Indo-Fijian community to call Fiji home.

Whilst the government was fighting for more stability it is evident that the Fijian military was aiming to entrench Melanesian supremacy (Scobell 196). The overall sense of that time was one of immense uncertainty. The social context of Fiji during the 70s and 80s made for higher migration percentages, as many Fijians wanted to escape the conflict and move to a safer, higher income country. Advances in technology meant that it became easier to stay in contact with family. With professionals moving due to the injustices served to them, it became evident that one of Fiji’s most important emigrant communities was being ignored (Naidu 12). The Indo-Fijians had no place within the Fijian community, which was clearly shown during the post-colonial state with the government’s systematic exclusion and division of Fijian-Indians. (7). Living within such a prejudiced environment would only further hasten migration throughout their community; the 1987 coup only further embodied these notions.

Colonial order was still trying to be implemented in Fiji and the military would exert its strength over the political spectrum if it feared the government expressed notions towards a need for equality (9-11). This trend was once again confirmed during and after the May 19th coup of 2000 where indigenous Fijians took members of parliament hostage, including Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji’s first and only Indo-Fijian prime minister (Trnka 3). The reason this is mentioned is to highlight the ongoing ethnic divide. For six months following, Fijians of indigenous descent became excessively violent. Indo-Fijians endured physical abuse, rape and complete destruction of their Indo-Fijian communities. This event, occurred only thirteen years after the 1987 coup takeover, was lead by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who in December 2006 became the Fijian prime minster (and still is to this date) (3-4). It is evident that Fiji is still latching onto a government and military that clearly favours one ethnic group as superior.

From Fiji’s colonisation it is apparent that the colonial state was to be kept in place. The uprising of a military driven by the goal of ethnic homogeny created the fear of inequality and persecution within the Indo-Fijian community. It is clear from my research that there were numerous push and pull factors of migration for the Indo-Fijian community. With a country that has a long history of imbalances it is clear that New Zealand was a place of prospect, a place to build a future. 

Except from 'fijianx', publication by Quishile Charan 2014/15