Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (Jan. 12) – The issue of making the Fijian language compulsory was up for debate at the Fijian Teachers Association annual general meeting this week.

The Vice President, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, and FTA president Tevita Koroi have a point in raising this issue.

By making the language compulsory in our schools, we would not only head towards saving the language from becoming extinct but give all the citizens of this country, a common something to start the much talked about process of reconciliation.

We have been faced with many challenges in the past to bring people of this country together in peace, harmony and forgiveness.

The fact remains that this country has a bad track record of unity and reconciliation, particularly at decision-making levels.

Today, our society is as fragmented as ever, fuelled by uncertainities over many issues, land and constitution being the prime issues and a general identity and acceptance for people calling this nation their home.

For ages, the people of this country have concentrated too much on racial origins, looking at themselves as Fijians, Indians or Pacific Islanders.

The issue always goes back to that common something, either in language, identity or acceptance. Way back in 1995, the then Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, proposed a common name for all citizens. This, he said, would unite people.

One identity would mean one people, eliminating suspicion towards any group of people who may not look like you or "smell different", as coup leader George Speight had proclaimed.

A "common something" should be a starting point where everyone, irrespective of race and religion, can boast a common identity and work together as a nation.

It is disappointing that in this country, home to people of many ethnic communities, each with its own special cultural features and customs, the defining of our very identity as one people of one country, has remained just in our national anthem.

The country does have an all-encompassing identity for its citizens as Fiji Islanders but this hasn't helped any one group looking at the other with suspicion.

In more than a century of living together, Fijians, Indians and other races in this country still jealously guard their own cultures, identities and lifestyles.

The coup perpetrators themselves compounded that problem with that nationalistic dream. But coups shouldn't be the way to make a point.

After the hard and long struggle this country has faced, we owe it to ourselves to find that common something to hold onto. It's just a matter of carrying the idea forward.

We all have to make a firmer commitment towards uniting people in this country.

The so-far failed attempts to work together by the two major races and leaders on the political front is a classic example that the idea of national unity still seems far off. And, as Ratu Joni suggested, a common something, starting with our language to bring people together would be a good, common start.

January 12, 2006

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