Verfasst von: rbontour | Oktober 8, 2010

Despite Fabulous Smiles, Ethnical Tensions Remain

Note: We posted some new Fiji pictures. You can click right here!

Before we came to Fiji both of us claimed that Thailand and Mexico are one of the friendliest and most welcoming nations we have visited during the past 10 to 15 years. We still think they are… there is no doubt. However, as we spent almost 4 weeks on different Fijian Islands and experienced the country’s rich and diverse culture, we think we found something absolutely unique here. There was not one single occasion in which we felt mistreated by indigenous Fijians and there was not one single instance a Fijian tried to rip us off or charge us too much.Despite our “white skins”, natives have always been honest, truthful, trustworthy, reliable and amazingly hospitable to us – a distinguishing quality we have rarely encountered in countries, where white skin and blond or fair hair simply sticks out in a local crowd.

No matter if we explored the islands by car, bicycle or foot, all the Fijians we met – including babies (no joke… some of them could barely walk or talk), kids, teens, adults or senior citizens – greeted us with a happy sounding “Bula!” (Hello!) , waving at us enthusiastically while putting on their best and most warm-hearted smiles. In all the traditional villages we passed, children joyfully yelled out as we slowed down to exchange greetings… they even came running after us when we left them, shouting “Bye, bye, Europeans… come again”. The people’s smiles were contagious and it often made our days and mood even better. Although it may sound awkward, but at one point we wondered if there are maybe special etiquette schools where children are taught how to treat foreigners. But probably their friendliness towards strangers is simply in their bloods and genes…

Some of the locals, who offered to show us around on an island, also invited us to see their home village. They served us fresh lemon leave tea and self-made bakeries. We sat on straw mats outside their “tin huts” (a quarter of all households live below the poverty line), met the entire family, the next door neighbors or the village chiefs (yes, every village has a traditional chief and there are quite a few rules you have to remember when visiting, e.g. taking off your cap, keeping your head lower than the chief, etc.). We talked with them about life in Fiji, the beauty of the islands, a distant European country called Germany, their village’s traditional customs, the crops they are farming or how cyclone Thomas destroyed their harvest and their tin huts back in March 2010 and how long it takes until all the plants can be reaped again. We will never forget the warm and sincere friendliness of the Fijians. Besides the stunning beauty of the 333 islands, they may be the reason why we definitely would love to return in the future!

Well, all of what we described so far probably sounded like an ideal and unspoilt world. Obviously every nation has its economical or political problems – and especially Fiji has quite some challenges to deal with.

Fijians vs. Indo-Fijians
We are not sure if you agree, but our Western world rarely reads about Fiji in the news. Before we came here we didn’t know a lot about the country’s racial and political tensions since 1987. Only very vaguely we remember that there have been some coups. However, we were not at all aware of what is really happening on these isolated volcanic and coral islands in the middle of the South Pacific.

The population is divided between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians. It’s not just a small portion of Indians who live here – currently the Indo-Fijian community accounts for about 44% (total population ~ 849,000). The presence of their distinct culture permeates throughout all islands. Especially in the bigger cities, such as Nadi or Suva, we sometimes wondered: Are we walking through India? Or are we still in the South Pacific? They have their own colorful way of life; they bring Bollywood to Fiji, shopping, restaurants, transportation and temples, but all with an unquestionable Fijian character.So where does this social group come from? This goes back to the late 1800s – the British brought the first Indians as workers for the sugar cane industry to Fiji (yes, Fiji was also a British Colony).

Unfortunately we saw the two social groups rarely mingle with each other, although they live side by side in one country. The ethnic tensions where especially noticeable on the main island Viti Levu and we slowly started to understand why the topic has been a recurring issue in Fijian politics (first military coup in 1987, last one in 2006). The indigenous Fijians often think Indians are mean, too business-oriented, egoistic and calculating. And we have to admit that the Indians didn’t appear as friendly and cheerful as the indigenous people (we hope not to offend anyone with this statement, but it’s just our observation). In 4 weeks, there were only a few minor instances when we felt mistreated (e.g., a rip off at the gas station), but whenever someone tried to trick us it was a person with an Indo-Fijian heritage. On the other side, Indians perceive the indigenous people as backward in their thinking, naïve and poor. And yes, the more prosperous people in Fiji are certainly the Indians – they are hard working and they are actually essential to the country’s economy as they not only dominate in business, but also in public services and agriculture.

Researching online we read that after the military coups some Indo-Fijians attempted to leave the country. They feel disadvantaged with too little say in politics. However, the vast majority remained in Fiji – it’s also their country… they were born here. In our eyes, all of the Indo-Fijian people we encountered live an Indian lifestyle (food, dress code, language and many other things). BUT, after asking a few of them we learned that they truly identify with Fiji – it’s the country they admire. Digging even a bit deeper we found out that going back to India would for many be unimaginable. After all, the distance from India and its very demanding traditional customs permits Indo-Fijians to get rid of the strictness of India’s caste system and social structures.

It was absolutely interesting to observe how unique the two cultures behave, yet, how certain things are already forming something that can be called a synergy. We noticed that some people of both communities speak each other’s language. The colorful fashion of the Indo seems to permeate in the indigenous group – some Fijian ladies in the cities wore Hindu outfits or you could see them in the Indian stores browsing. And also the food was a real mix – curries are certainly dominating the restaurant industry and Fijians don’t make a secret out of the fact that they love eating Indian curries. Looking at this perspective it’s sad for us that the ethnical tensions in Fiji still exist. Hopefully, the next generations will be more open-minded and much more flexible towards the other culture.

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