.Posted: May 19, 2000 - By Amon Hotep

The Insurrection in Fiji

Fiji Map The Insurrection in Fiji holds important lessons for us here in Trinidad and Tobago and by extension the wider world.

The insurrection/coup began when the gunmen burst into parliament on Friday May 19, 2000. A dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed in the Fijian capital as security forces try to quell an attempted coup.

Nine MPs were released on Saturday night after signing an agreement to resign. The prime minister's bodyguard and 20 parliamentary workers were also freed. Mr Chaudhry is the first ethnic Indian prime minister in Fiji, where 43% of people are of Indian origin.

What is going on in Fiji is the result of societies that have not addressed their ethnic differences with a clear policy on education that allows all people the right to express their concepts of culture and religion and for them to discuss and seek more information on what ever they do not understand about their differences.

In the absence of this type of education, people remained harboring deep-seated resentments, which some opportunists exploit to get themselves in political power.

"Ethnic divisions between indigenous Fijians and Indians have dominated the country's politics. In 1987, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka led a coup d'etat saying Indians were taking over.

Three years later, a new constitution guaranteed indigenous Fijians more than half of all seats in parliament and banned Indians from the post of prime minister.

Colonel Rabuka was named prime minister after the first elections under the new constitution in 1992.

In 1997, a commission established by Mr Rabuka reviewed the law banning Indians from taking high office.

It recommended the abolition of the constitution's racially-biased provisions.

There are still seats reserved for indigenous and ethnic Indian candidates, but 25 of the 71 deputies are elected from so-called open-race seats.

Following elections in March 1999, Mahendra Chaudry became the first Indian prime minister.

His Fijian Labour Party won 70% of the seats, in coalition with two smaller parties.


Indians started coming to Fiji as labourers on sugar plantations at the end of the 19th century, when Fiji was a British colony.

In 1970, when Fiji became independent, ethnic Indians were in a majority.

But after the 1987 coup, many Indians - especially professionals - left the country, and now 51% of the 800,000 population are indigenous Fijians.

Echoes of 1987

The latest coup attempt has come on the first anniversary of Mr Chaudry's taking power.

The coup leader, George Speight, says he wants to give indigenous Fijians control of their own destiny once and for all.

Many ethnic Fijians believe they have been put at a disadvantage.

There are disturbing similarities here to what happened in Fiji 13 years ago, when Colonel Rabuka led armed soldiers into parliament and arrested the prime minister.

Mr Speight's father, Sam Speight, is a member of parliament with close links to Colonel Rabuka.

Multi-racial coalition

Fijian politics had been controlled since independence by the Fijian-dominated Alliance Party of the man who is currently president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

But elections in April 1987 saw the Alliance Party supplanted by a multi-racial coalition which divided ministerial jobs evenly between Fijians and Indians, to the horror of hard-line indigenous nationalists.

After Colonel Rabuka took power, he declared Fiji a republic and the country was expelled from the Commonwealth.

It rejoined the Commonwealth in 1997."

In many countries today there are people who came from different cultural experiences living together without understanding each other. Some of these people came together during slavery and indentureship, others because of persecution like in Israel. In the recent past in India and Africa, people were forced together during invasions, slavery and indentured servitude. Their various ways of viewing the world has not been a subject of concern to most governments and educators.

In the folktales of most ethnic groups, there are distorted views about other people. There are myths that explain important survival skills and myths for things people did not understand. There are myths which served to keep the people fearful of leaving their cultural group, and myths, which dealt with unresolved conflicts. There are folktales in most cultures that portrays the particular ethnic group as being superior to all other people. At a time in the past these stories served to develop national pride, and this helped to build societies.

When people were forced together during the period of slavery and colonialism, they tolerated each other because they had a greater common enemy. European ways and values dominated their awareness and the peoples' cultural heritages were suppressed to some extent. However, once people felt there was no longer a direct threat from their common enemy, and as they competed for limited resources, some searched in their myths for answers to their numerous problems. Others went along with their acquired view of themselves as defined by the dominant European Culture.

Some people, because how they came into countries, were able to retain major aspects of their older language and cultural values, and they practiced this alongside the dominant European culture. They maintained their tribal views in the same language and manner as they were in their former countries.

Because most people could not openly express or understand the varied cultural beliefs during slavery and indentured servitude, they were not aware of how their varied cultural groups were teaching and learning of each other. This gave a false impression of tolerance and togetherness. With more freedom to express their cultural teachings, and with a common language to so express, their misunderstandings became evident.

While the tribal practices fostered solidarity amongst social groups and maintained a relative order (for better or worst) in their former societies, these views and practices are oppressive to other people. Most times, when these people come into leadership roles, they do not have a broader set of ideas and values and are therefore unable to relate to other social groups in a multiethnic society. Very few people genuinely attempt to make this transition but even they are unable to rise politically because they lack the tribal support of the masses.

People would normally tolerate the feelings of alienation and discrimination if they feel their social group is not powerful enough, but once they realise they have the resourses to take revenge, they would.

Without people revisiting these issues through formal education and public discussions, the door remains open for opportunists to use these unresolved issues to gather support that could propel them into political power.

Today most world leaders come to office emphasizing some historical misunderstanding without showing a clear way for resolving the discord, and this have helped to reinforce the divisions in people.

The popular 'Brahmin Hindu' view of African (Black) people is very uncomplimentary, but most African people remain unaware of this because most times these bigoted views are expressed under the disguise of religion and in a different language.

What we need is open discussions about our cultural values, with facts being used to dispel some myths. The blind reverence people have for any view that comes under the label of religion need to be shattered with a proper presentation of historical facts. The view that all of 'religion' is worthy of respect is an obstacle to open discussions. People should be exposed to many points of view, and they should only accept what makes sense to them. This places a greater emphasis for quality teachers who have a greater understanding of world history and our diverse cultural views.

People must be educated towards developing respect for themselves before anyone or anything else. They should not hold any entity that demands blind loyalty in high esteem. Most important, world history need to be taught in all schools, with an emphasis on African history to deal with the problems of color and gender prejudices. People need the necessary information that shows them how we all share a common black, African ancestry.

If education does not remove misunderstandings then what we really have is miseducation, which leaves issues unresolved and ripe for violent confrontations.

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