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May 14 – The Most Important Date in Indo-Fijian history
Today is the anniversary of the first time Indo-Fijians set foot in Fiji, back on May 14, 1879. Not without coincidence, it is also the date that marks the first South Pacific coup against a democratically-elected majority Indian government back in 1987. I was too young to remember the horrors inflicted on the Indian population at the time, but with that one act, this day was forever tarnished in our imaginations as a ‘new beginning’ for us.
Instead of calling Fiji a ‘coup culture’ and ‘banana republic’ the International Community should look back to the history of Fiji. What they would find is that Fiji represents is a failure of the colonial imagination, a mere unwitting consumer of the ‘modular nationalism’ promoted by its colonial rulers, a nationalism that does not work for Fiji. With Eurocentric ideas of parliament democracy, sovereignty, nationalism, land use, and property now infested in Fijian culture and politics, the imagination of the people of Fiji has been colonized to accept this sort of structuring and try to work with these colonial concepts. And when the British model does not function for most of the people in Fiji living below the poverty line, when the ‘Other’ (Indo-Fijian) is elected to office despite the political privileging of Fijians, military takeover of the democratically-elected government seems to be the answer. (And military-takeover or coups are also not ‘Fijian-inventions’–they are concepts borrowed from the ongoings in the International Community). It is not about a coup culture or coups as a military hobby; but about how a ‘postcolonial’ dependent country can function with colonial structures and legacies in a still colonial globality that turns a blind eye to the history of colonialism.
As we stepped into this century, trying to put the memory of the second significant May 14 behind us, another coup rocked the small Island nation, this time directed against the first Indian prime minister of Fiji, and again, on May 14. And again, this time I was in the United States, far away as my capital city was burned down into ashes.
Since the two coups, the Indo-Fijian population has fled the Fiji Islands, becoming second-time disaporic peoples and trans-migrants in countries like New Zealand, Australia and the United States. More Indo-Fijians live abroad than at home, many granted asylum in other countries. Small Indo-Fijian communities have since then, sprung up in these refuge-giving countries. A good example is the Canadian and American version of “The Fiji Times.” We are not merely Indians; we are Indo-Fijians, tied together by memories of a distant land that we probably would never go back to.
Whether or not the many Indo-Fijian scattered the world over find a ‘mother’ as opposed to step-mom is yet to be seen. However, since all existing nation-states continue to prosper on an inside/outside, self/other, us/them narrative, it would hardly be surprising that as long as nation-states exist, a foster and step-child would exist within those borders, their stories buried and forgotten, waiting for someone to come by, remember, and re-write history from half-remembered experiences.
(The parts in blockquotes are from my MA thesis).