Eliminate Prejudice, Let’s Respect All Cultures
This is an edited version of Nemani Delaibatiki’s My Say in the FBC TV programme, 4 The Record last night.
One of the factors that stifle our growth in this country is the prejudices that exist in our communities. The way we look at others who are not of our kind, so to speak.
It conjures up suspicion, distrust, animosity or even hatred. The negative perception is even more pronounced when it comes to economic gaps between the various groups.
Prejudices also exist within a particular group but often they are rooted in envy and jealousy.
A lot of these prejudices exist because of misunderstanding and ignorance. The social environment we live in influences the way we think and behave.
I grew up in a village and went to the local school for my primary education. My whole life revolved around the village. I hardly went to town, only on very special occasions, but with my parents.
I learned the local customary practices and cultural sensitivities. I learned to be quiet and attentive when those older than me speak to me.
They include my parents, relatives, school teachers, church leaders and village elders. I learned to be obedient and love everyone and to familiarise myself with the local lingo and culture.
When I was 11, I left home to be on my own for the first time. This was when I enrolled at Queen Victoria School as a form one student. It became my second home for six years.
While I went home for the school holidays, I spent most of the six years at the school.
I had to readjust. One of the very first things I learned was to overcome the culture of silence. I learned to speak out and speak my mind and assert myself. I learned self-esteem.
I learned from students from other provinces. They were different in some ways. I had to learn and understand their differences.
That exposure and learning continued into my professional life as a journalist as I travelled and met people from many countries in the world.
I learned to understand and appreciate the diversity of cultures and beliefs. Instead of seeing these as barriers to our unity, they should be the glue that binds us together as one nation and people.
We need more social integration to remove the prejudices that were born out of some aspects of our cultural heritage.
The Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has suggested that we should study the history of the different races and cultures in this country to increase our knowledge and understanding of the different races.
He made the call at the Girmit Centennial Celebrations in Lautoka to remember the arrival of the last shipload of Indentured labourers from British India in 1916.
Learning and understanding each other’s history will help break down the walls of prejudices.
Many Indo-Fijians in Fiji can trace their roots back to the Girmitiyas, the Indian indentured labourers.
And non Indo-Fijians can also learn that the Girmitiyas were lured into coming to Fiji to work in sugarcane plantations.
They were exploited and treated like slaves. But they endured, survived and help build the first building blocks of Fijian economic development.
Some of the most successful industries today had their origins back in the old days. They have built them through blood sweat and tears. We owe it to these pioneers what we now have today.
Their legacy becomes all our legacy because of the profound impact of their contribution to this country.
Their descendants, therefore, have earned their rights through their ancestors, to be equal participants in this country’s development. Any effort to alienate or discriminate them should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
The Constitution now regards all of us including the descendants of Girmitiyas equal under a common name, Fijian.
We should strive to reach out and understand other races and cultures. It will help us let go of prejudices we harbour.