Finally at home in Fiji

THE descendants of Melanesian labourers brought to Fiji 150 years ago have thanked the Government for recognising their existence, tradition, culture and language.

Fiji Melanesian Community Development Association general secretary Pateresio Nunu said it was something they had been asking for over the years.

“We were told by past political leaders who became government ministers that we do not need to worry because we were born here and we belong here, but this was only in words but not in laws compared to the 2013 Constitution,” he said.

“Attempts were made in the past for a Melanesian Act or a Melanesian Settlement Act compared to the Rotuma and Banaban Act but we were told that this could not happen even though we have been in Fiji for more than 100 years.”

Mr Nunu said their recognition was a first step towards a better future for the Melanesian community.

“It is a kind of relief to us Melanesian descendants,” he said.

“Even though the recognition is general to all Pacific Islanders who came during that era, it is one of the achievements that has ever been made by any government, which is a bold step to take.

“For us Melanesians, the registering of existence in the Constitution has created in us the sense of belonging not only in Fiji but also to our roots in the various islands we came from.

“The recognition has encouraged us to reconnect back to our islands or origin for the revival of our culture, tradition and languages.

“This is something that we really missed because we were more iTaukei in terms of tradition, culture and language than to our own tradition, culture and languages from our various origins compared to Fijians of Indian descent who have preserved their culture, tradition and language, which make them unique until today.”

Mr Nunu said since the Melanesian descendants were now recognised under the Constitution, they had something to celebrate.

“It is the answers to the prayers of those that have passed on and also the current generation.

“To us, this is liberation from all forms of discrimination and discriminatory government policies of the past, which hinder the progress of the Melanesian descendants in Fiji,” he said.

November 2014 marks 150 years since the first group of Ni-Vanuatu arrived in Fiji to work in cotton, sugar and copra plantations.

It was the beginning of the indentured labour trade to Fiji, with labourers also coming from Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and other Pacific Islands.

The association will have a three-day event in Levuka on November 7 to 9 to commemorate 150 years of their existence in Fiji.