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Opinion, Opinion

Opinion: Am I Really a Fijian?

Opinion: Am I Really a Fijian?
Dan Fox (left), and Sadrishan Velaidan depict two cultures coming together under one banner, Girmitiyas and iTaukei during the opening of the Girmit Centennial celebrations at Albert Park in Suva on November 9, 2016. Photo: Ronald Kumar
May 18
19:41 2017

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

Obviously William Shakespeare wasn’t a Fijian! You would all agree that a name impacts heavily upon ones identity and assists in the development of one’s sense of belonging.

So if we know this then why has it taken Fiji so long to catch up with the rest of the world?

In the last elections the new democratically-elected Government sanctioned through the new constitution, an identity as ‘Fijian’ regardless of ethnicity.

However, since then it has been repeatedly challenged by many who called for the term ‘Fijian’ only to be used for indigenous citizens of the country and it’s been argued everyone else should be called “Fiji Islanders.”

But why the division among a group of people, who all consider Fiji as their home?

The part that baffles me most is this: If you’re a citizen of Australia, you are called an Australian, if you are a citizen of New Zealand, you are known as a New Zealander so why then is it that all citizens of Fiji should not be called Fijians?

After reading through many blogs written on the topic what became apparent was the lack of understanding behind the need for everyone to be termed ‘Fijian’.

The Government of the day strongly emphasises that anyone and everyone who is born in Fiji has every right to be identified as Fijian and belong to Fiji equally, without any ethnic discrimination, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

What really needed to be achieved was a recognition of the cultural integration that has already taken place and a need to further assist towards cultural understanding between the multicultural communities of Fiji.

What is cultural integration?

Cultural integration is where people from a culture adopt the essence of another culture (such as their attitudes and ceremonies) while at the same time maintain their own culture.

Cultural integration happens in many immigrant homes as a survival tool regardless of where the individual moves to or from.

Individuals maintain the familiar, usually at home and in their own community, while they adopt the core practices of the new culture in public. Another facet of cultural integration is people from other cultures introducing elements from their own culture to their new one.

This can come in the form of music, food, attitudes, religion, arts and many other cultural characteristics.

Fear of losing your own culture

Many people believe that cultural integration means that you will lose your own cultural identity in the process, but this fear is totally unfounded.

We only need to look back at the Girmitiyas (descendants of indentured Indian labourers) bought to Fiji, to learn that so much of their culture has been preserved in Fiji.

Likewise, there has been an unfounded fear that to call everyone a ‘Fijian’ will somehow strip the indigenous people of their identity.

According to the current Fijian constitution, the term used by indigenous Fijians to describe themselves is ‘iTaukei’ and by solidifying this term Fiji, is now maintaining the international norms so to speak.

Australia refers to their native people as Aboriginal and New Zealand uses the term Maori.

Cultural integration will not mean people lose their own culture, it simply means that in fact they will be better equipped to value and share their culture with a wider community. Fijians are one of the leading communities when it comes to maintaining and preserving their heritage and this has been widely assisted by all Fijians living in the country and overseas.

The important thing about integration is that the individual culture, and members of cultural communities, are welcomed and accepted for what they are. There is respect for the practices, beliefs and values of that culture.

Integration involves reconciling and connecting one’s diverse cultural identities. This is achieved by perceiving similarities between these different identities.

In addition, the differences between the identities are recognised, but are deemed to complement and enrich each other rather than to clash.

Globalisation

Cultural integration happens on all levels, both within a particular country, but also between countries itself.

Cultural integration has become increasingly more important due to globalisation.

This means that the world is becoming ideologically smaller due to the increased ease of transportation and the influx of better means of communication. So Fiji’s progression towards equalising the status of all citizens has been widely accepted by other countries in the world and this in turn will assist Fiji’s relationships in regards to trade, tourism and financial aid from other countries.

This is Fiji’s small step towards cultural integration with the rest of the world.

The importance of cultural integration

Cultural integration is important because it maintains a unity and a certain balance in a particular society.

Cultural integration helps keep a society together, so all can share the same beliefs and values in a social system. Therefore, it helps to reduce conflict in a society where cultural integration is present.

If all parts of a society are linked together, it becomes more homogeneous, which affects the amount of conflict present. That purpose of cultural integration was to keep the people of that society on the same page, and therefore the society will be held together in a common bond.

Be proud Fijians

I recently met a man who looked like he was an ‘Indian’ however when I asked him where he was from, very proudly he told me he is Fijian.

This is an amazing change as in the past people from Fiji have struggled to describe their identity to others. So yes I really am a Fijian just like the rest of you and at the same time I respect, honour and appreciate all the cultural diversity that Fiji displays today.

So together let’s complement and enrich each other with our differences rather than creating divisions. So let us stand together united as proud Fijians.

Edited by Jonathan Bryce

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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