Tackling the rather rotten planks in the platform of some political parties, bankrupt of progressive ideas to meet the challenges of our times. Professor SatendraNandan is a writer-academic and a
18 Aug 2014 18:01

Tackling the rather rotten planks in the platform of some political parties, bankrupt of progressive ideas to meet the challenges of our times.

Professor SatendraNandan is a writer-academic and a former member of the Fiji Parliament. He’s currently writing a book on his literary-political experiences of Fiji, India and Australia. His new book Nadi: Memories of a River was published last month.


In the past 500 odd years the world has changed more radically than in the past 500,000 years. It all began once the European age discovered the world was round, not flat. Ultimately it was geography that determined and continues to shape our global fate much more than history, economics or politics: Now through rising seas and climatic changes to the fractured environment of life-giving planet Earth.

Much of our information now comes from satellites, circling overhead and keeping a sharp spy-eye on our activities– another dimension of our scientific advancement.

Yet if you read the reports, certain regions of the world seem to be living in the Dark Ages: think of Iraq, Syria, Libya and other holy lands of our shrinking planet with seven billion people and still counting.

It was only in 1927, from time immemorial, that we were mere two billion souls inhabiting this world. In less than a century, we added another five billion.

They have to be fed, clothed– and sheltered, from injustices and atrocities.

In Fiji ,too, where a modern democracy is on the cusp of a wave– a flight about to take off—we hear the occasional voices obsessed with a kind of fundamentalist thinking about indigineity and migrancy, race and religion, communalism and privileges.

These have become rather rotten planks in the platform of some political parties, bankrupt of progressive ideas to meet the challenges of our times.

The responsibilities and challenges of a nation-state to its citizens are security and liberty.

Integral to these are human rights of all its people. Fiji can be rightly proud that its indigenous rights are well-protected in the Fiji constitution. It’s been part of the colonial-constitutional thinking in Fiji for generations. Partially, it’s the very nature of our historical evolution and the result of the coming of Christianity, the Deed of cession, the advent of Indian Indentured labourers and our geographical location and geo-political knowledge.

In the South Pacific, Fiji remains a unique society—there’s no other country like Fiji in the South Seas.

It’s also been lucky that the islands of the South Pacific were colonised in the 19 Century, rather than in the 17th or 18th centuries.

The brunt of the brutality of European civilising   missions were felt most in Australia; and to a lesser extent in New Zealand.

By the time serious colonisation came to the South Pacific, the European imperial powers themselves were getting civilised. In the 1830s seriously sanctioned slavery was abolished, at least on paper, in the British Parliament. We were lucky in the imagination and empathy of the great explorer, Captain James Cook.

His bloody death is part of the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

The translation of the Bible and the building of churches took place in our islands only after that.

The life of the Aboriginal people was, however, being brutalised by the most shameful and painful means. Today when we talk of UN’s indigenous rights, we talk of such communities who were decimated and dispossessed in the most devastating ways. Much of all civilisations are built on genocide and slavery, domination and discrimination, patriarchy and hierarchy, conversion and communalism.

Because of the price the original Australians paid, people in Fiji, Tonga, PNG, etc., were saved not only from their sins but from the cruelty of dispossession. To compare the fate of indigenous peoples of our region with what happened in Australia, is to denigrate the resilience, resistance and survival of the oldest living culture in the world.

The Aboriginal people had the most beautiful way of conceiving the universe: not as maya, or original sin, but out of human dreaming and song-lines that connect the contours of our physical world with the spiritual life-lines, close as tears to our eyes and as distant as stars. No holy wars are required here to attain salvation.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the remarkable descendants of this community: the late Kath Walker, a poet, Tom Calma, the Chancellor of my university, and a few graduate students, working at their PhD theses; and some undergraduates I taught. I also have a daughter, who teaches literary studies and creative writing, especially in a university that cares for the Aboriginal culture and civilisation.

I think it’s a great gift to my child to engage with some of the most creative minds in these areas in an institution that gives such prominence to the life and philosophy of an ancient civilization, its values of a visionary generosity. It’s in the world of our children that we truly learn. The youth of Fiji may also have a few lessons for many of us.

Not all of it, of course, is relevant and meaningful to our ideas of modernity or market forces. One of the most articulate spokesperson of the Aboriginal community is Mr Noel Pearson—a highly respected public voice in Australia. This is what he said exactly a month ago, on July 15:

Our nation is in three parts. There is our ancient heritage, written in the continent and the original culture painted on its land-seascapes.There is our British inheritance, the structures of our government and society, transported from the United Kingdom fixing its foundations in the ancient soil. There is our multicultural achievement: a triumph of immigration that brought together the gifts of peoples and cultures from all over the globe—forming one indissoluble commonwealth.

We stand on the cusp of bringing these three parts together: our ancient heritage, our British inheritance and our multicultural triumph, with constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. This reconciliation will make a more complete commonwealth.

We stand in good stead. Never has the time been more propitious. The planets are moving into alignment. With a large enough lever we can even nudge the stars.

Stirring words, soaring thinking: from a person of a community who have suffered most in our region. Very belatedly the Australian people and government are making amends but it’s going to be long journey of understanding, commitment and recognition.

In Fiji we can all be proud that the indigenous people have not been dispossessed of their land or culture, first because of the British cannons of enlightened colonisation and evangelical Christianity.

Most importantly the presence of Indian indentured labourers, 60,000 of them—precisely the same number of Australians diggers who died in the First World War: the current centenary of which the world is commemorating with such tragic nostalgia and money-making exhibitions.

We’re told that these young soldiers died under many incompetent commanders so that we could live and cherish our freedom as citizens of a nation. History can happen in a moment or during momentous times.

The discontents of democracy are numerous but its rewards, too, are many. If one wants the freedoms, one often has to give up the privileges.

This is happening in Fiji too: it gives greater scope for individual initiatives on a level playing field.

It does not mean that Fiji can solve all its problems of poverty and political differences in one general election; but it does indicate the direction in which a modern Fiji can take shape and build a future for her people with both pride and promise.

All Fijians can look at new horizons with hope and human decency of relationships, without pampering to the privileged, or pandering to xenophobia of some people.

Fiji’s children now live in many societies: imagine if they were discriminated against on the basis of their country of origin, inherited privileges, gender, race, religion, economic position, sexual preferences and political philosophy.

Today they are part of the citizenry of the countries they have chosen to live in and contribute to every aspect of social development—from sports to heart surgery.

They are all first class citizens in the nation’s laws.

Our world has been shaped more permanently by migration—of peoples, ideas, institutions. Jesus was not born in London or Marx in Beijing or Einstein in the US.

Most of the world-changing ideas have come from the most migrant nation in the world: the US, the only country where both the Blacks and the Whites created a new civilisation that has affected our world more profoundly than the founding fathers could have imagined.

It’s not a perfect society but it tells an interesting story of the unfinished and flawed humanity of a migrant community.

As Barack Obama put it in his book Dreams From My Father: ‘my efforts to understand that story, might speak in some way to the fissures of race that have characterized the American experience, as well as the fluid state of identity—the leaps through time, the collision of cultures—that mark our modern life.’ I think Barack Obama is our generation’s best President in the West Wing of the White House despite what the right-wingers write.

In the mirror of a much larger nation, we may see ourselves; in the rearview mirror of Fiji, other nations may glimpse the world.

This election is an opportunity of rare possibilities for Fiji to move forward.

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