Fiji Sun

SUVA, Fiji (Nov. 30) – No indigenous Fijian should be labeled poor nor should they blame other races for their poverty, states the chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, Ratu Ovini Bokini.

The statement will attract the deserved sympathy of a broad cross section of our multiracial community. However, it contains two quite different and competing concepts.

Firstly, Ratu Ovini states that Fijians should not be called poor.

Secondly, however, he acknowledges their (in many cases obvious) poverty by reminding the chiefs and Fijians in general not to blame other races for that condition.

Perhaps the problem for so many Fijians today is that Ratu Ovini is right on each count.

Indigenous Fijians who own 90 per cent of the nation's land own but a minuscule proportion of its wealth. They should not be poor but the harsh reality is that the overwhelming majority of them are.

And whose fault is that? Certainly not the ethnic Indian businessmen and women and certainly not the farmers and ex-farmers who now live in squatter settlements while the land they used to work reverts to bush.

Nor, to be fair, is it all the fault of the Fijians themselves. For in a culture that favors the distribution and sharing of wealth rather than its accumulation, poverty is all too possible. The inevitable triumph of the cash economy over the traditional communal system has seen to that.

So ethnic Fijians at first glance face a stark and unenviable choice. They can retain the lifestyle and culture of the centuries or they can join the modern world - frequently referred to as the rat race.

Yet there is more to it. Culture is not static. It is a means of dealing with and relating to our surroundings and our fellow humans and of necessity it has changed in response to alterations in these. That is not new.

But change comes slow and traditions die-hard. We cling to our traditions because they have served us well, letting go only when it is abundantly clear that there is no choice. And Fijian traditions do serve the people well. They are not about to abandon them.

How, then, can Fijians escape the dungeon of poverty in which they seem trapped in their own land?

There is no quick fix, no silver bullet. Handouts encourage dependence rather than enterprise while farming and business skills cannot be acquired overnight.

However, statistics do provide some hope. Education can be the only sure and long-term solution for the ethnic Fijians and they are making genuine progress.

That this will necessitate future cultural adjustments there is no doubt. But so long as these are minor, it seems a small price to pay to make Ratu Ovini's true statement a matter of history.

December 1, 2005


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