Opinion: Old Conversations...New Beginnings - Yellow Bucket

Opinion: Old Conversations...New Beginnings - Yellow Bucket

By Yellow Bucket
Thursday 18/05/2023

Long time fijivillage users may remember the Yellow Bucket opinion column that ran in the years leading up to the 2006 coup. Well following the repeal of the MIDA Act we are delighted to announce that YB is back!

For those who don’t go that far back, the Yellow Bucket is something of a Communications Fiji Ltd institution…. Yes it exists…. A real Yellow Bucket that the CFL team and visitors gather around after work to drink grog and discuss the day. Legend has it that every Fiji Prime Minister has at some stage enjoyed a bilo from the bucket.

The YB column ran from 2003 to early 2007 when it was shut down under extreme pressure from the military government. Later the MIDA Act specifically forbade any use of nom de plums or pseudonyms requiring every published article to have a named author.

So why the pseudonym. The YB column was and will continue to be a product of group thinking and discussion, so it would be impossible and a little unfair to attribute it to a single author.

It will continue to provide fact-based opinion offering context to the complex and constantly unfolding story, that is our home Fiji. We stress, FACT BASED…. No rush to judgement here ….. Our aim will be to run weekly but that could change depending on the situation.


Old Conversations ….. New Beginnings

The Girmit celebrations or commemorations depending on how you view the national holiday, has opened new conversation on what are very old wounds on our national consciousness. The move reflects the Coalition Government’s very different approach to nation building.

Over the previous sixteen years, the Bainimarama /Khaiyum Fiji First Government imposed a chamber of silence on the nation over the subject of ethnicity and diversity. The exception was during the election campaigns when they very enthusiastically played the race card!

Their thinking seemed to be, that all discussion ended with the declaration, “we were all FIJIANS”.

As a result, we no longer needed the various institutions that represented our various communities hence the dismantling of the Great Council of Chiefs and various other bodies.

AND there was no need to discuss or think about our history or cultural and religious differences. We could erase our past and all would be well with the world. Any attempt to suggest any other narrative was shouted down with cries of racism and ethno-nationalism.

One foreign observer watching this process graphically commented “you know if you try and straighten a dog’s tail with a splint, it doesn’t matter how long it stays on, when you take it off, the tail will bend once more”.

Since taking office the Coalition Government has ripped the top off the chamber of silence opening public discussion on a range of this previously forbidden topics like the GCC and this week Girmit.

Sixteen years in modern terms is a generation, in fact some would suggest multiple “generations” as we are seeing changes driving fundamental generations shrinking thinking to as low as five years hence the quick shift from “gen X to Y to Z”. To suspend discussion for such a long time leaves a massive hole in our national knowledge base. We have been surprised at the amount of younger (and some not so young) colleagues who had no idea that the term “girmit” came from “agreement” linking to the indentured agreement labourers signed before they got on the ships to Fiji.

Opening this topic up has inevitably been both emotional and at times a little contentious as we also get used to the idea that its okay to publicly express different opinions. Fortunately, the conversation has been led by the Chair of the Girmit committee Assistant Minister for Women and Culture Hon Sashi Kiran. While she is a self-confessed reluctant politician (even though she is clearly a natural) there is no doubt of her credentials as a leader on this subject having driven a change in thinking on how we see ourselves as a nation through her community work for many years.

This leads us to the emergence of the “Luvedra Na Ratu” discussion that has finally come forward as part of these celebrations. This idea was inspired by a friendship between Ms Kiran and the late Tui Noco Ratu Isoa Damudamu. As Ms Kiran outlined in her Straight Talk discussion it came out of a conversation around the need for Indo Fijians to be able to connect to the land and be recognised as something more than vulagi or visitors. This needed to transcend mere citizenship.

The Tui Noco was key because it was his people, more specifically the people of Naivilaca village that neighbours Nasilai reef, who in 1884 attempted to save the 497 girmitiyas and crew aboard the Syria that ran aground on the reef and sank. Tragically 54 died and were buried at Naivilaca.

He came up with the idea that the descendants of all those who came to Fiji as part of this traumatic and tragic system be accepted into the iTaukei cultural structure as people coming from Noco, the place their forebears were buried, and he gave them their title or identity Luvedra Na Ratu. In 2017 this was endorsed when the Gone Marama Roko Tui Dreketi Ro Teimumu Kepa accepted them into the vanua of Rewa.

It is difficult for those not well versed in the way the chiefly system works to understand just what a significant occasion this was, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that the key players were persona non grata in the eyes of the FijiFirst Government. YB believes this may even provide a path for the Luvedra Na Ratu to play a role in the new look Great Council of Chiefs.

Whatever the outcome it is exciting that in these new freer times we can as a country publicly discuss the implications of this event and ways in which can be used to heal old wounds.

All of this must come with education and discussion at all levels of our society and so it is refreshing to see critical investment into events like Girmit Day and later Ratu Sukuna Day. Yes it comes in tough times, but we can’t build on faulty foundations and until we have these national conversations in an honest and open manner our home, Fiji, will continue to wobble.

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