Learning from the past as we leap into the future

Ladies preparing the refreshments Picture: JONA KONATACI

LAST month on Wednesday May 24, His Excellency the President, Ratu Wiliame Maivalili Katonivere, opened the Great Council of Chiefs meeting on Bau Island. He spoke in the vernacular.
On that day the President, among other things, said, and here is a quote from the translation of his speech: “Today we herald in a new dawn; on this new voyage we welcome those who make up our multicultural society and have made Fiji their home.”
Wonderful sentiments indeed!
Listening to, and reading several times over the President’s words, the optimistic spirit of His Excellency’s speech is infectious.
It challenges us while at the same time inviting us to be partners, co-sojourners on this new journey, stand shoulder to shoulder as we face the challenges that will be part of the journey.
And to top it all, Ratu Wiliame delivered his message, for such an important occasion, in only a few minutes. So now, we have our faces firmly to the sun in anticipation of a bright future. No doubt there will be trying times ahead of us.
However, to get through those, all we have to do is work together.
For six months now, we have witnessed three political parties doing exactly that in government.
Very early into the new year, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka had said: “We, as a nation, must stay positive despite the challenges that we are going to face this year.” Together, Mr Rabuka said, we can find solutions if we are willing to trust and have faith in each other.
He also said “… we will come back stronger together than ever before.” Come back from what, who or where was not specified, but it could have been in reference to the past 16 years under the previous government.
What if we went further back, more than the 16 years? Say right back to the years 2000 and 1987 when democratically-elected governments were ousted by men supported by others who were wielding guns. When there was a lot of talk about the supremacy of the iTaukei to counter the threat of Fiji Indians wanting to grab the reins of political leadership and consequently taking over Fijian-owned land etc. When there was not only talk, but determined action which resulted in the 1990 Constitution to legally cement Fijian iTaukei political supremacy.
Section 41 of that document stated there would be 70 seats in Parliament. Section 41 (3) said there would be 37 seats for indigenous Fijians. Section 41 (4) stated: “Twenty-seven members of the House shall be elected from among persons who are registered on the roll of voters who are Indians.”
Some might say that the abovementioned document has been definitively put into the dustbin of history. That is true. They would then point to the recent national events of Girmit and Ratu Sukuna days. Again they would be true.
In addition to the euphoria of the national celebrations held on Girmit Day and also on Ratu Sukuna Day, reconciliation ceremonies included, an examination of our past would help set us firmly
on track to journeying harmoniously together to our destiny. Otherwise, unresolved issues fester.
This suggested examination of our troubled past would have to raise some uncomfortable questions probing the racial enmity which sometimes raises its head among Fiji’s two major groups — the
iTaukei and Fiji Indians. Where there were calls that the British government, since it brought Indians to Fiji, should repatriate them to the sub-continent. That Indians in Fiji should “go back home” or “Indians should go back to wherever it is they came from”.
Some of them moved, but not to India. Indian families and farmers who had been attacked after the coup of 2000, moved to a camp that had been set up in Lautoka. Some labelled them as refugees in the country of their birth. How did that happen? When the Syria ran aground at Nasilai in 1884, it was the iTaukei villagers who lived along that stretch of coast who risked their lives to save those who were stranded/ struggling on the reef and in the waters near it.
What happened in the years after 1884 right up to the coup of 1987, and also that of 2000, where the Fiji Indian had been demonised to such an extent that for some iTaukei, all that was wrong in Fiji then, was because of the existence of Indians in Fiji? It should be understood that there are places where the two races live peacefully next to each other with a lot of interaction between them.
But generally speaking, while they can co-exist, there is always an uneasy undercurrent. As has been seen in the aftermath of, and even years after, the two events of 1987 and 2000, some terrible things were said about Indians not belonging in Fiji because they were
different etc. Some of those words were even uttered in the then bicameral parliament.
How did that ill-feeling develop? How and where did it begin? Why has it endured? These questions and similar others, have to be confronted for us to really move forward together.
If those in power think it worthy enough to be an undertaking, the next question is: Who will do it? Or, who will drive it? Who will be the main stakeholders and the principals? How will it be done to be effective? What about the generations to come, how will the lessons be passed on to them?
Given that the majority of those who publicly supported these two particular takeovers were indigenous Fijians, then it is only proper that the Bose Levu Vakaturaga/ Great Council of Chiefs is to be involved in some capacity. Maybe a sub-committee could be convened for that purpose. Also on that note, since the bulk of indigenous Fijians are Christians, leaders of the different Christian denominations should be part of a process that could have a very significant bearing on the way we move forward.
For those who think it is important that such an endeavour be carried out, they will put forward the idea that Government must be involved, as it should be. After all if it, or something like it, is done, it will be on their watch.
 More next week

 SAILOSI BATIRATU is a senior sub editor of this newspaper.
The views expressed in this article are his and not of The Fiji Times.

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