Opinion | Our contradictions … When wellbeing becomes ill-being

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Our writer says the Fiji Bureau of Statistics 2019:2020 Household Income and Expenditure Survey reveal that Fiji’s indigenous people, the iTaukei comprise 75 per cent of the poor population which is not in proportion with their claim to 62 per cent of the people (864,132). Picture: FILE

Have you ever considered that the iTaukei’s plight as most poor might be an outcome of cultural attitude?

The Fiji Bureau of Statistics 2019:2020 Household Income and Expenditure Survey reveal that Fiji’s indigenous people, the iTaukei comprise 75 per cent of the poor population which is not in proportion with their claim to 62 per cent of the people (864,132).

The Indo-Fijians make up 34 per cent, while other ethnicities total 4 per cent.

When one examines the potential we have, things just don’t make sense, for economically we own more than 89.7 per cent of the nation’s land.

Politically, six out of seven elected prime ministers are iTaukei.

With potential for economic dominance and a record of political supremacy, crowned by over a century-old Council of Chiefs at its pinnacle, then why is there such a glaring contradiction?

Colonial indirect rule

Two years after Fiji was ceded to Great Britain in 1874, the system of indirect rule was formalised under Native Ordinance 1876.

This meant that selected chiefs, acted as agents, to actualise the policies of the Crown.

Studies have shown though that most countries that were ruled in-directly, continue to experience political instability, as we do in Fiji.

But let’s not blame the British!

Policies then however, suggested indirect rule was to be temporary.

But with newly-acquired wealth and power for some native officials, who would want to revert otherwise?

Wellbeing of the iTaukei

Under colonial rule, the wellbeing of the iTaukei was primarily the responsibility of the chiefs who represented selected provinces and the commissioners who represented the hill tribes of Viti Levu.

But it was not a perfect arrangement.

The people suffered gross injustices and those who reacted paid the price.

In addition, it was almost a transgression to be enterprising.

In later years, policy changes were made in preparation for eventual independence but what was lacking was preparing a majority of the chiefs for leadership under a new nation, where indirect rule was supposed to be no longer applicable!

People’s charter and the integrated Rural development

Ironically, however, nowadays, those who continued leadership with or without the tradition of acquiring government resources to assist with their role, appear to be not too affected by the changes over the years, because they have survived by maintaining strong kinship ties.

Others though might not be as fortunate as evidenced in the disintegration of some vanua alliances once strong.

A structural development of change has also materialised.

The application of the principle of the People’s Charter to “mainstream indigenous Fijians in a modern progressive Fiji”, and, its seventh pillar, ‘to develop an integrated development structure at the divisional level, while allowing for a more effective and efficient delivery of infrastructural and economic development to rural and outer-island communities under the Ministry for Rural and Maritime Development and Disaster Management, might further reduce the responsibility of the provincial development system under the iTaukei Affairs Board which is stipulated under the iTaukei Affairs Act Cap (120), to manage the administration and affairs of the 14 provincial councils to ensure the good governance and wellbeing of the iTaukei.

Making sense of customary practice

Lately, it is encouraging to learn that the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs has plans in place to review the structures (including the iTaukei Affairs Board) inherited from our colonial past.

I sincerely hope the powers that be will look at the development contradictions staring squarely at the nation’s face.

For starters, we might care to learn from a video relating to a visit overseas by HRH Princess Pilolevu of Tonga who enlightened Tongans overseas on the intent of customary practices and the simplicity required without all the extravagance and show that had become the preference for a people who ended up borrowing, which in effect, was against a principle they endeared.

Sensible and senseless

Similarly, research has found that the iTaukei is no different.

For example, the nineteen (19) findings of a research on how the living grieve for the dead in a process called somate I was commissioned by the iTaukei Trust Fund Board to undertake in 2015 include:

• The economic significance and implications of these practices though, indicate that the somate has become unduly and unrealistically burdensome to the iTaukei (who currently make up 60 per cent of Fiji’s poor population), forcing them to go into debt;
• Reciprocity a traditional iTaukei value, appears to be on the wane. Most respondents commented on the shifting values among iTaukei from being considerate for others (veinanumi) to focussing on the self (kocokoco) and becoming proud (dokadoka).

Respondents often used descriptive words like greedy, conniving and lazy in explaining how the iTaukei of the present have changed markedly from the behaviour and value codes of their forebears, as evidenced in the responses;

• Many feel the somate has shifted from being a simple and sincerely sorrowful event, part of a genuine grieving process, to being an elaborate but hollow show.

Without ignoring poor policy as another root cause, the above are highlighted for their relevance to the relationship between cultural attitude
and poverty.

A change in approach to looking at ‘poverty’, in the context of the ‘Lotu, Matanitu kei na Vanua’, a historical evil design, for psychological
control over the unsuspecting iTaukei, to fleece cash and kind out of them, which apparently is still around, might help peel the proverbial onion that is staring at us in the face!

References; Nayacakalou, R (1975), Dias, D (1977), Macnaught, T (1982), Durutalo, S (1986), Durutalo, A (1997), Nicole, R (2011), Daurewa, A (2013), Daurewa, A (2015) for Taukei Trust Fund Board (unpublished).

 

• ALISI DAUREWA is an advocator and practitioner for people-centred development. The views expressed in this article does not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper.

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