Who is a Fijian and Who is a Christian? The SDL Submission

Rev. Tuwere: A Christian Fijian
This article examines two key words in the SDL submission to the Constitution Commission: Fijian and Christian. 

I have delayed publication of the article until now because subsequent to Fiji Village publishing its report on the SDL submission on Monday, ABC's Bruce Hill said the SDL denied it was their submission, and Prof Brij Lal thought it highly unlikely. In other words, the submission was either a fake, possibly fabricated by the Bainimarama to bring the SDL into  disrepute, or it was the product of only a few SDL members.
My initial reaction was that the Fiji Village report was genuine. The reason? Most of the submission's recommendations had been expressed by SDL leaders before.  The only significant exception was the recommendation that Fiji become a Christian state.  However, this has been a long held position of extreme iTaukei nationalists and I reasoned its inclusion could have been a consequence of the inclusion of the extremist Matanitu Vanua (CAMV) party in the SDL after the Speight Coup.

 It transpires, however,  that the Fiji Village report on the SDL submission was genuine after all. The submission was shown to Fiji Village by three SDL members, including the President, as explained and documented in this article by Graham Davis.

There is therefore no reason to hold back my analysis on what it could mean for Fiji if the SDL recommendations on ethnic Fijian paramountcy and  the declaration of Fiji as a Christian state were to be accepted.

Facts and opinions by Crosbie Walsh

For the record  I agree totally with what Graham Davis says in his Grubsheet article The Racist Bigots of the SDL.and can only add these thoughts on two critical words: Fijian and Christian. Who exactly is a Fijian and Who is a Christian?

Who is a Fijian?
The idea that all Fiji citizens are Fijian  is rejected by the SDL. Their submission is that only iTaukei be called Fijian. We need therefore to examine the term "Fijian" as they might define it.

First,  we presumably  have to exclude  people whose mother is iTaukei and father non-iTaukei, and the kailoma and kaisolomoni,  for only people with Fijian fathers are officially recognized as Fijian. This reflects the historical influence of eastern, and not western, Fiji.

Secondly, we presumably have to limit the use of the word  Fijian to people  who are "racially pure",  whatever that means given the  intermix of Melanesian and Polynesian over the past few thousand years.

 Its use  also probably excludes those whose names or mataqali are not registered as landowners in the Vola ni Kawa Bula (native land registry). This leaves out a large number of people who might otherwise consider themselves iTaukei.  And if the VKB is the proof of iTaukei identity, it  also presumes, non-traditionally, that the modern state, and not the traditional vanua, decide who is and who is not Fijian — as happened in 1992 with Jim Ah Koy.

After wresting with these problems of racial identification, the claim of  Fijian paramountcy requires  a high degree of cultural and political commonality and a shared common purpose.   But this has never been the case, either before Cessation or after Independence. In recent years the  rivalry between vanua for the treasures of public office has been repeatedly evident in elections, government policies and contested chiefly appointments. Indeed, some think the rivalries were a major factor behind the 1987 and 2000 coups.

To these traditional divisions, we may add  the modern effect of education and urbanization. Nearly one-half of the iTaukei population now lives in urban places.  It is unlikely many of them will be willing to give unqualified support to a chiefly and established elite system that excludes them, either because they are poor and at the bottom of social pile, or educated and aspiring to be closer to the top. Class, as well as vanua, now divide iTaukei, and I would expect this division to increase over time.

The term Fijian, therefore, does not describe a united homogenous group. It describes a people who are ethnically similar — and proudly so— but whose unity is prone to constant political fragmentation.

Who is a Christian?
For Fiji to be declared a Christian state, as proposed by the SDL, an overwhelming number of citizens need to be  Christian, and preferably one denomination needs to be clearly dominant. One thinks of the Islamic states where, despite being overwhelmingly Muslim, blood continues to be shed between Sunni and Shi'ite.

Fiji's statistics show that over one-half (58%) of the population was Christian which leaves a significant 42% not Christian (1996 Census). There were also marked geographic differences. Christians  were the minority in many districts (tikina) in the economically powerful provinces of Ba, Ra, Macuata, Naitasiri and Rewa.  And only  7% of Indo-Fijians were Christian.

Further,  the Christians are by no means united. I suspect the SDL is really is talking about the Methodists in their Christian state.  Methodists  accounted for 67% of ethnic Fijians in 1996. But their numbers have been severely eroded since then as many have turned to the "new" charismatic churches, such as Assembly of God, Apostolic, Baptists, Gospel and even newer introductions, mainly  from the USA.

It is important to note that all of these new churches are evangelical and they are constantly seeking out new members at the expense of other churches.  This competition will not help the cause of  Christian (or iTaukei) unity.

Then, there are others, such as the Mormons (LDS) and Jehovah Witness, who are generally not accepted as Christian, and of course there are the Catholics who comprised 13% of the iTaukei population, and between 20 and 34% of the Chinese and Part-Chinese, European, Part-European, Rotuman and Other Pacific Islander populations.  They are unlikely to accept Methodist leadership or the Christian fundamentalism that comes with the SDL package.

It can be reasonably assumed the  SDL did not write their submission without referring to their supporters in the Methodist Church hierarchy. I say hierarchy because it can also be reasonably assumed that some Methodist Church leaders and many lay people will disagree with those of its leadership who support the SDL submission.

This is not the first time the Church is divided on the merits of a coup.  If we look back to 1987 and 2000, we will see history is  repeating itself.

I quote from my book Fiji: an Encyclopaedic Atlas, page 223. The book was "launched" by Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi just  days before the 2006 coup:

"In traditional Fiji society there was no separation of the material, the political and the spiritual. Vanua (land), matanitu (government) and lotu (religion) were one.  What this means in today's Fiji is strongly debated within the [Methodist] Church.

"Following the first coup in 1987, a faction comprising most superintendents from eastern Viti Levu and northern Vanua Levu, led by the General Secretary, supported the coup. They demanded Fijian control over all political processes, the declaration of Fiji as a Christian nation, and a total ban on Sunday trading.

"The President's faction, mostly from Lau, western and central Viti Levu, which opposed the coup, the Sunday ban, and imposed Fijian paramountcy, was defeated.

"Church-State relations —and particularly  leading church members' support for extreme Fijian nationalism— remains an important matter for the church (and Fiji) to resolve."
 -- Based on writings by the Revs Niukala and Tuwere. [Note: the Rev Akuila Yabaki was forced out of the church because of his stance against  the coups.]

One hopes for a different outcome this time round.

Finally, many people must ask how any modern-day Christian, Methodist or otherwise, can support the inherent racism, arrogance and intolerance of the SDL submission.

Far from working for a tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and united Fiji in which people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds are treated with respect, the SDL's myopic focus  on race and  religion can only make the country more divided.


Anonymous said…
Your link is to CCF site and not Constitutional Commission, as far as I can work out.
One can not even read their schedule of meetings.Pretty crap site.

There are no submissions being posted as promised by Yash Ghai, if this is the official site.

So unprofessional, beyond pathetic.
Division inevitable said…
As usual, Croz, a thoughtful and intelligent offering that goes much deeper than the usual commentary. Your scholarly approach is much appreciated. How right you are to highlight the division among the i'Taukei themselves that all of this madness would bring. Very interesting to see your analysis of the divisions within the Methodist Church. I hadn't realised that there were so bitterly divided. One Methodist is clearly not the same as the next and it must be very painful for those who oppose the ethno-nationalist push of the leadership to see the church being used in the way it has. As Christ said. Render to Caesar etc. Actively involving the church in politics can only weaken the Methodists. John Wesley was a social reformer, not a politician, and would be spinning in his grave.
Anonymous said…
Thank God the SDL has made its position clear and loud. If anything, this is a big help to the cons. comm. This submission by the SDL is more than enough reason for Ghai & co. to include a clause in there that will prevent racist parties as such to contest any election in Fiji. We can clearly see now, that the 2006 takeover was such a blessing for Fiji.
Croz Walsh said…
@ Anonymous No. 1 ... This post is misplaced and should be on the News and Comments posting but to answer: I think you clicked the CCF logo that took you to their site that gives some Constitution Commission information. Clicking (or copying and pasting) the exposed hyperlink at the end of my item will take you to the CC site which, as previously announced, is still in its early stages. But if you click on the "pages" such as FAQ you will get more information. I'm not sure all submissions will be put on the site. This would be a major task and Yash Ghai seems to prefer making a brief summary of submissions to the media. Huope this helps.
Anonymous said…
This Constitution Commission website is very second rate. It is lightweight with very little meaningful information? As for Ghai's comments - we are interested in facts not 'views'. If this is to be the depth of analysis and comprehensive consultation it may be preferable to stick with the real constitution?
Croz Walsh said…
@ Anonymous ... Why are you going on about the website? Why not simply say you don't like what's going on in Fiji and leave it at that? It is not the job of the website to provide in depth analysis, and Prof Ghai is making brief daily reports on what submissioners are saying. They are not his views but theirs. If you wish to make further comments to this blog, please say something new or substantial.

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