Wednesday, October 29, 2008

'There is no such thing as a poor Fijian'

'There is no such thing as a poor Fijian'
By Alisi Daurewa - Wednesday, October 29, 2008

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An indigenous farmer toils the land to feed her family
In my paternal grandfather's vocabulary, there was no such thing as a poor Fijian, only a lazy one. He died aged 89 in 1971.

One of the biggest challenges faced by agents of change today in their work to reduce poverty and hardship is the dependency syndrome that seems prevalent in the local culture.

Fiji is no different.

I wonder whether it is because we are more at fault for failing to listen carefully to those we target.

We fool ourselves with the notion that we are here to save the world and disregard their own knowledge accompanied by generations of customary practice that may seem different to what we were taught yet embrace also the common principles of human rights and democracy.

As a result, we either unthinkingly or connivingly influence a people into shifting from independent to dependent mode, only to suit our agenda.

Susan George's 'How the Other Half Dies' said "...the West had tried to apply its own conception of 'development' to the third world developing countries working through local elites and pretending that the benefits showered on these elites would trickle down to the less fortunate, especially through the whole application of Western inspired and Western-supplied technology. These methods have not produced a single independent and viable economy in the entire Third World and in fact, were not meant to. 'Development' has been password for imposing a new kind of dependency, for enriching the already rich world and for shaping other societies to meet its commercial and political needs...."

Fiji recently celebrated its 38th year of Independence on October 10.

Given our history of coup de' tat and current events, it is probably more correct to say that we celebrated our shift in dependence from one external power to the other.

Our chiefs confirmed our dependence on Britain in 1874 and we became subjects of Queen Victoria.

In 1970, our political leaders confirmed our dependence on the Western power houses including the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the Pacific Forum, and treaties that now hang us by the noose as we struggle with our National Charter for Building a Better Fiji.

The world's tune though, that Fiji is dancing to, is getting off-beat as the pyramid of economic power begins to fall starting with America. We face panic.

Whether we are in a position to counter what is to come is unknown but we can at least prepare ourselves by looking within, and, learn from our past.

What I will shortly share is about a people who lived in an era where peace was non-existent and some of the strategies they used to survive. It is about God's hand in a culture that became richer as life progressed from a time to another.

It is about a man born out of a past that gave him the skills to survive in unfamiliar territory, where there was no preferential treatment.

He coped because he did not dwell in self-pity.

He trusted his inner strength. He was not lazy.

My paternal grandfather came from a background of much diversity.

His ancestors left the colo (hinterland) of Viti Levu, a place called Nasaunokonoko, after a dispute that saw their heritage destroyed as kinsfolk fled to other parts of Fiji.

They settled for a while in coastal Vunibau, Serua and later sailed the seas where they saw land and named it Ono.

They finally made Natumua, (meaning our end, our way) in Tavuki, Kadavu their home.

Peace was a Godsend in those days because much of their effort was spent on building territories through warfare. And to maintain power, their people were placed strategically in new found places.

Such as establishing the chiefly household in Yale district and calling it Naivibati, after their people of Naivi.

And, leaving some of their own in Matasawalevu in the district of Nakasaleka whose mataqali is registered, Naivilailai.

Natumua became the centre stage for battle during those volatile days in Nacolase.

Sites that exist today in Natumua bear names like Gagabokola where the captured were soaked in the sea until their bodies became tasty meat to eat.

Nubunisona is where the weak and the sick were left soaking to die, if not from the cold southerly winds, from hunger and as food for bigger fish.

Uluimoala, previously called Uluimakawe, the highest mountain in Tavuki, is testimony to the Moala (of Lau) chiefs' gratitude to Natumua for having helped them in battle.

May I seek your indulgence for this digress.

Sir James Ah Koy's Chinese gene is often credited with his business acumen.

Yet if not for his ancestor of Waisomo's shrewdness, the chiefly house in Tavuki might instead have been elsewhere for Natumua had killed its chief and Tavuki had to seek help from Waisomo.

Waisomo, smart enough to accept Natumua's might knew its weakness for beautiful women. Waisomo mesmerised Natumua with a pretty maiden which cost Natumua's position of power.

So against this background of pain and death, God allowed the unexpected by using the same fearsome Natumua, through Naivibati in Yale, to receive Christianity for Kadavu, brought by the Methodists of Viwa, Bau.

Natumua later gave Nasalia to the Catholics. Much later, one of Natumua's own son, a recipient of the military medal for bravery during the Malayan campaign became the first local head of the Assemblies of God Church in Fiji.

God worked his miracle further.

Natumua built a church in 1979 to accommodate the seven Christian denominations which used the same building according to a roster that was prepared in unison by the people.

This practice remains today.

Natumua is only a very small example of how our forefathers lived with change. There are many others in Fiji, untold, more fascinating and intriguing. The man who said there was no poor Fijian, only a lazy one, left Natumua with his young family in the 1930s for medical treatment in Suva. He decided to remain when he saw what education in an urban school did to his children.

His daughter topped the country in the first qualifying examination for nurses.

She was also the recipient of the Florence Nightingale Plaque awarded to the best all around nurse of the year in the early 1950s.

His other children did equally well.

His only son made it to medical school but forced to join the civil service out of necessity to help feed the family which by then included many relatives.

My paternal grandfather was not at all disempowered by his lack of western education but instead showed his inherent skill of survival in many ways.

One day, on learning that his employer in Toorak refused to pay him the promised rate for some casual work, he took upon payment for himself by carrying off the white man's prized furniture down Amy street and along the way, threatening to throw it down the gulley. He was soon paid his just wage.

On another occasion, he and his kin from Naivibati decided the row of empty beer bottles decorating the graves in Lovonilase would be better used, if sold for cash to feed their families.

They had started uprooting the bottles when up came the Prisons' Officer.

The Naivibati relative on noticing the advancing officer took off with the few bottles already collected.

But grandfather trusted his sixth sense and pretended to restructure the whole grave.

The officer thinking this was very noble, allowed him to continue.

I wonder what these two men would have thought of the $20 million chiefs' building in Nasese, against a background of surrounding squatter settlements.

On another occasion during the second world war, the Fijians who stayed behind were mobilised as handymen for the army. Some of them were 'wharfees' including my grandfather.

They also underwent practice drills of fitness and were grouped according to their provinces.

During a practice march session, on leading Kadavu, my grandfather who could not speak English had to master his instructions in this foreign language.

He was okay with the pronunciation of lefte (left) and raiti (right) but struggled with 'about turn'.

He managed instead with his own Kadavu translation.

My grandfather had little tolerance for chiefs who did not know their role.

On arriving at his district meeting in a Suva house one evening, he found all the senior men sitting in a row at the top end of the room, with a handful of young men, serving them. He told the men sitting at the top that if they did not truly know their place, then he was not going to participate in a meeting with a bunch of idiots.

He walked out.

A painful issue close to my paternal grandfather's heart was being told his only son was not good enough for his daughter-in-law whose family begrudgingly accepted a marriage they believed was beneath her.

This must have rattled his pride. But he dealt with it in a subtle manner.

He made sure his 'susumadrai' grandchildren spoke the language of Natumua in his presence.

To this day, I am forever grateful for his wisdom.

It is said that the strength of a man is never without that of a strong woman.

Yes, my paternal grandfather was able to achieve what he did with the grace and quiet dignity of his prayerful wife.

She was from Wailevu in Ravitaki, nurtured by a Tongan mother from Pelehaki in Tongatapu.

This couple now lie in their graves side by side in the Nasinu cemetery.

Their descendents range from lawyers to architect, surveyor, doctor, engineer, pilot, nurses, missionary, accountants, teachers and soldiers to name a few.

During the 1998 tsunami disaster in Aitape, Papua New Guinea, the Fiji Government sent a senior military officer to assess the damage. The Australian Government through the Royal Australian Air Force recalled one of its senior officer from the Phillipines to travel to PNG to also assess the damage.

These two men are grandsons of the paternal grandfather who once claimed there was no poor Fijian, only a lazy one.

* These are the personal views of the author and not of Partners In Community Development Fiji, where she is the executive director.

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