The social and political construction of Fijian identity and knowledge : a postcolonial perspective

Dabea, Samuela Bogitini (2001). The social and political construction of Fijian identity and knowledge : a postcolonial perspective PhD Thesis, Graduate School of Education, The University of Queensland.

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Author Dabea, Samuela Bogitini
Thesis Title The social and political construction of Fijian identity and knowledge : a postcolonial perspective
School, Centre or Institute Graduate School of Education
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2001
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Don Alexander
Total pages 349
Language eng
Subjects L
330102 History and Philosophy of Education
749904 Education across cultures
Formatted abstract

This research attempts to identify the various forces that have contributed to the deconstruction, reconstruction and legitimation of the historically constructed Fijian identity and knowledge. It is implicitly concerned with how the current concept of Fijian identity had been constructed, in particular, the way it has been consciously maintained, represented, expressed and generally accepted as an integral aspect of taukei knowledge among taukei and non-taukei. Within the Fijian society, conventional knowledge maintains that the notion of Fijian identity is exclusively homogenous and hegemonic. This is often validated by the existence of the hierarchical taukei social structure accompanied by the traditional cultural practices. These cultural activities represent the social manifestations of spiritual and cultural unity, that tend to maintain the status quo. 

The interplay between tradition and modernity plays a significant role in modem day Fiji. As a result of this interplay new forms of power relations were created which cemented the status of the chiefs in Fijian society. Chieftainship emerges as a natural and traditional feature of taukeis' social and political beliefs. 

Further advancing the status of chiefs is their hereditary leadership of their vanua. The vanua (land) is a tangible representation of taukei unity. The vanua, has two meanings. In the first sense, the physical sense, it is a symbolic representation of the people's relationship with their land. More precisely, vanua means people of the land. This is a cultural expression of people belonging to their ancestral land. In the second sense, the vanua provides a social belonging to a small group of people within the wider Fijian culture. Differences among the vanua manifest themselves in language, customs, and traditions, though all are generically and inherently Fijian. Thus, more simply put, the vanua is the source of identity with a specific location in Fiji, as well as the source of identity with a specific community of Fijians. Because the vanua are hierarchically structured, with the chiefs at the top, continuity of the vanua as they traditionally constructed, maintains the hereditary positions of the chiefs. A significant erosion of the power of the chiefs was demonstrated with the defeat of the Great Council of Chief s (GCC) sponsored Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) party in the 1999 general election.

It is a common belief, promoted by the chiefs, that the unification of all vanuas can only be achieved by and within the vanua rather than outside the vanua. To acknowledge important influences external to the vanua weakens the power of the chiefs. Such unity had been historically maintained as a result of the autonomous relationship between the people of the land and the chiefs, however, after the formation of the GCC in 1874, new divisions, previously unknown, were created. These divisions transformed the relationship between chiefs and the people. Sir Arthur Gordon, Fiji's first Governor, created the GCC as a convenience for the British administration. Once the GCC was codified by law, rigidity and bureaucratic practices replaced the autonomous and fluid Fijian system of government. The GCC centralised the management of the vanua, removing people from their chiefs even further. Chieftainship is now emotionally and spiritually distant from the vanua, analogous to a person without a soul. The traditional make up of vanua has been altered, and the people of the land have been marginalised as subservient to the chiefs. 

Under Fiji's traditional social system, the people of the land provided advice on community matters to the chiefs. With the current oraganisation, directed by the GCC, the people of the land have less direction over their respective communities. The chiefs are without their traditional advisors because they are virtually cut off from their people. Likewise, the people have few opportunities or avenues by which they can advise the chiefs. The assumption is that the chiefs know best, and can speak on behalf of their people. Inspite of the dubious nature of this assumption, a new Fijian identity is emerging out of this distorted unity.

Fijian culture was seen mainly within the restrictive boundaries created by chieftainship. Further distortions of Fijian culture were created by the arrival of the Methodist Church. It soon imposed its code of morality, and the domination of institutionalised education, signaling the early arrival of modernity. The structuring mandates of modernity soon developed a generalised Fijian identity.

Because of the nature of this research, it is possible for me, as a Fijian insider to speak from and within the Fijian context. The crux of this study is the examination of the established knowledge and values of the Fijian people and how these find their way into the school system, the Fijian studies curriculum, and are finally accepted as part of a dominant Fijian discourse. To complement and corroborate my insider knowledge and insight, I have chosen respondents ranging from traditional and influential chiefs, politicians, senior bureaucrats, to academics and teachers. Their responses provide a composite group of perspectives from diverse viewpoints.

As an outsider to the Fijian context, I have put myself in a position as a researcher, attempting to be objective and scholarly in the approach that I have taken to explore this study. This requires theoretical approaches used to confront and interrogate my cultural, moral and political standpoints. This interrogation draws heavily on postcolonial and feminist theory as an appropriate body of literature to inform a study of contemporary Fiji. As a combination of the two bodies of literature I have adopted a theoretical position that is not restrictive but mobile. My approach as an outsider has forced me to step aside from my own identity in order that I can see more clearly than my own identity allows.

A major finding from this study is that the traditional, hegemonic Fijian identity has remained relatively impervious to modernity. However, Fijian identity has made adjustments to the stereotypes, and these are more false than ever. What emerges are several Fijian identities forged by the complicated influences of modernity. Among these influences are education, travel, media, and other socially structuring agencies unknown before the arrival of European. Essentially, Fijian identity is complex, because modernity is complex, yet Fijian identity remains distinctive. 

Keyword Identity (Philosophical concept) -- Social aspects
Identity (Philosophical concept) -- Political aspects
Language and culture -- Fiji

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 17:45:18 EST