marxism-digest V1 #2459

John Edmundson JWE21 at SPAMstudent.canterbury.ac.nz
Wed Aug 2 20:38:33 MDT 2000


Lou P writes:
>Phil believes that the indigenous, or Melanesian, Fijians are the
>oppressors, and that the Indo-Fijians are the oppressed.  If I also
>believed this, I would probably be taking positions similar to his.
>He says it is "CLEARLY" not the case that the indigenous, or
>Melanesian Fijians are racially oppressed.

The question is not whether Melanesian Fijians oppress Indo-
Fijians or vice versa, the situation is vastly more complex than that.
Ordinary Fijians dont get to see the rent from "their" land, the local
chief gets it. If Indians want some land to cultivate, they go and
give gifts to the local chief as the first step in the process. When
the chief wants some sugar, rice or other goods, Indian tennants
have to provide it. There is no question of refusing. So yes, some
Indian cane farmers have done well from the system, many chiefs
have also done well. Ordinary Fijians and many ordinary Indians
have not.

>Phil thinks it's clear that the indigenous Fijians are the
>oppressors and the Indo-Fijians are the oppressed.  I would NOT
>go so far as to say that "the Indo-Fijians are the oppressors and
>the indigenous Fijians are the oppressed," because I don't think
>it's that simple.  It's not like South Africa.  Both groups have been
>oppressed by imperialism.  Neither group contains imperialists.
>Neither has tried to crush the other group completely or exploit its
>labor.

True

>But Phil, because you have convinced yourself that the Indo-
>Fijians are "the oppressed", you have closed your ears to all the
>grievances of the indigenous Fijians, and listen to them as if they
>were "the oppressor."

>What about the evidence that has been posted here which you
>have not engaged?  What about Davies' articles available at the
>Maorinews site?

>What is your case against the indigenous Fijians?

The Indigenous Fijians against whom a case exists is the chiefly
elite, who benefit from their control of land at the expense of
ordinary Fijians. Remember that one of the first measures carried
out by the Rabuka coup was to halt the translation of the
constitution, which makes alienation of Fijian land virtually
impossible, requiring GCC approval.

>But if I am renting Fijian sugar land and build a house on it, the
>landlords have to buy the house before they can evict me.

Bear it in mind here that the "house" is often what we in the west
would call a shack. Fiji Indian houses I have stayed in have
generally been built of unmilled timber, with corrigated iron roof and
walls, mud floor, few services, no wall lining etc. These houses are
dismantled and moved in many cases if a lease is transfered.

>but it seems to me that the Fiji sugar situation is one where
>NEITHER is very well off.  The sugar grower is poor.  The
>indigenous land owner is also poor.

Actually, the chiefly land owners are not all poor at all, but
generally, your comment that ordinary Melanesian and Indo-Fijians
don't benefit is true, hence the frustration in the reality that ethnic
politics hold such sway.

>Then you say that the Indo-Fijians "have been consistently kept
>out of political representation."  This is false in relation to the 1990
>constitution.  The 1990 constitution allocated the seats in the
>parliament among communities in proportion to their population at
>the time.  The Indo-Fijian community elected 44%, the indigenous
>or Melanesian Fijians elected 51%, the "General" voters
>(everyone else) elected the rest.  So the Indo-Fijians were not
>"kept out of political representation."

Every constitution since independence has attempted to exclude
the possibility of Indo-Fijian political power. But more importantly,
the 1990 constitution you defend here is yet another example of
the communalist institutions which hold back any real progress for
the country.

>Your whole argument that the Indo-Fijians were kept out of
>representation assumes that Indo-Fijians and indigenous Fijians
>must always organize in separate parties, which must always be
>divided on the basis of race.

Under Fiji's electoral system, this was almost unavoidable. Also,
whatever we may wish, it is the current reality.

>I notice that you now refer to the Fiji Labour Party as "a political
>party led by Indo-Fijians, but attempting to appeal across the
>communal divide", and you say that this characterized the FLP
>not only in 1999, but also in 1987!  I myself would not have gone
>quite that far, since it seems to me that in 1987, when they
>named Bavedra the P.M., they were doing much better
>intercommunalwise than they did in 1999, when they got only 6%
>of the Melanesian or indigenous Fijian vote.

Certainly, the Bavandra govt was characterised as gaining support
from the Melanesian population. How accurate this was I don't
know. But you're probably right, that he was more successful than
Chaudry. But then as now, it was difficult with the electoral system
set up as it was.

>I don't think this argument that the Indo-Fijians are "clearly"
>oppressed by the indigenous Fijians holds up.  Furthermore, we
>haven't even looked at the evidence on the other side - that there
>is (pace Dr. Chand) evidence of racial discrimination against the
>indigenous Fijians.  More of that in my next.

I've heard the formula "Fijian land, Indian labour, European capital".
I think it generally holds. Allied to that capital is the largely Indo-
Fijian merchant and capitalist class, elements of which have been
implicated as bankrolling Speight's "indigenist" coup!

European capital now includes much Australian and NZ capital,
especially in tourism.

Incidents of "racism" are common, for example in employment
practices by Indian owned businesses. In fact, in a country which
was trumpetted pre 1987 as a model of racial harmony, - "Fiji, the
way the world should be " - antagonism between the groups is high.
Remember though that, as Yoshie's posts indicated, poverty is
higher amongst Indo-Fijians than Melanesians. Indo-Fijians have a
wider income spread, more at the top and the bottom. This is one
reason why I'm wary about "indigenous" solutions. Essentially they
are racial solutions. Addressing "indigenous land" rights would do
nothing for the Indo-Fijian poor, of whom there are many. And these
people have nowhere to go. NZ and Australia don't want them, they
have no capital and no 'in demand' skills.
John Edmundson






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