Vulagi ……. We enter this debate reluctantly mainly because it is getting a little tedious, spinning seemingly in a never-ending cycle with various politicians giving it a mighty shove every now and then so they can maintain our national insecurities that keep them relevant.
It is however important we talk about this in the hope that one day, we reach national consensus on, what the debate is really about, …… identity. As Fijians we all crave it and yet we have failed as a nation to deliver on this critical nation building block.
The Prime Minister raised the topic once again recently and away the commentators went interpreting and in some cases deliberately misinterpreting his words. YB wasn’t there at the event, but this isn’t the first time he has spoken on the subject so we’re fairly confident we understand where he is coming from. The concept of “itaukei” and identity for indigenous Fijians is linked to one’s connection to a place or area. This reflected when formally introducing a person in a ceremonial situation. You must list their connections to wherever they are from and that establishes the connection between the visitor or vulagi and the people they are being introduced to.
As the Prime Minister pointed out that means the concept of vulagi applies to any visitor to a particular place, no matter what their race or cultural background. It is also why the concept of “luvedra na ratu” linking Indo Fijians to the people of Rewa is so important. Underpinning this concept is that any “vulagi” should be treated as an honoured guest. It is not an insult!!!
However, as has inevitably happened this relatively simple notion becomes fraught when commentators take it to the national stage. This is where the debate gets ugly. Let us attempt, at YB to pick our way through this difficult path.
In fact, a path has been revealed by the work done in some of our bigger neighbours New Zealand, Australia and more recently Canada. This recognises that there is a difference between citizenship of a nation state and one’s cultural identity, particularly when it comes to the first people of the land.
Citizenship should, and let’s be honest, Fiji doesn’t have a great track record here, guarantee equal access certain fundamental rights i.e. rule of law , the right to vote etc etc .
Cultural identity in turn recognises that in a multicultural society numerous subgroups of citizens enjoy the equal right to celebrate their culture and religion as long as this doesn’t impinge on the rights of other communities.
With us so far???? Good that’s the easy stuff. BTW from now on we will be using indigenous/ first people/ first nation interchangeably.
So why is there a need to recognise separately the first people of a nation state? In our bigger neighbours it is understood by current generations that first peoples suffered terribly because of colonisation and as a result the very existence of their culture and identity is under threat. In Fiji it is often forgotten by current commentators that in the early 20th century many shared the same fears. Decimated by a series of epidemics the indigenous population plummeted and in response the colonial Government working with leaders like Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna chose to effectively quarantine the itaukei to their villages.
Contact to the outside world was largely limited to the chiefs and later those who it was felt were academically capable to go on to higher education. Many of those restrictions remained until the 1960’s. This is a much bigger topic for discussion and YB doesn’t have the time or expertise to enter it right now.
Our point is that while Fiji 2023 features a population mix that looks like being around 60% iTaukei, 35% Indo Fijian and 5% everyone else (oh for a proper census !!) as CITIZENS we need to recognise that the FIRST people of this land share indigenous cultures (remembering there are many) and language that are unique to this land that are vulnerable and so require our support and protection.
That starts with recognition, acknowledgement and understanding of our first people. In return those have come to Fiji later in its history should also be recognised as vulagi with honour and respect but it starts with acknowledging the primacy of our first people.
So, let’s get over this Vulagi issue. We are all vulagi depending on the place and circumstances we’re in AND THAT’S OK. It doesn’t diminish in anyway our identity as a CITIZEN that it in turn underpins our right to our cultural identity in a vibrant exciting multicultural Fiji. A Fiji that is built on a foundation set by the first people of this land.
This brings us to that latest social media storm the Fijian rugby team choosing to sing our national anthem in iTaukei and then English. To provide some context, this is part of an approach taken by Simon Raiwalui to reconnect the team with their identity. This started with taking the team ‘back to the village’ with their opening training camp on Taveuni.
The purpose of this was to remind the team, many of them having been living abroad for some time, of their cultural identity and roots. We were further delighted when it was announced that each team members jersey was to individually be monogrammed with their name and vanua.
Our national anthem should reflect our national identity and that starts with the language of our first people so the Fiji team’s decision in YB’s mind is a bold one that hopefully brings change. It is reminiscent of the first time the New Zealand national anthem was sung in Te Reo by Dame Hinewehi, coincidentally at Twickenham during the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
YB has for some time felt that our cherished “Blessing grant……” needed a revamp following hopefully in the footsteps of the New Zealand and South African anthems. We leave you with a link to the late Danny Costello’s “We are Fiji “as an example of what it could be like?
Toso Viti Toso.
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