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Fijian origins

Dr Christopher Griffin
Saturday, February 02, 2013

LAKE Tanganyika at its closest point to the Indian Ocean lies directly about 600 miles off.

Lake dwellers intent on leaving were therefore in the first instant more likely to have moved to another part of the 676 kilometre (420 mile) long by 50 kilometre wide lake where their traditional skills as fishers and boatmen might have been useful, than strike out across hostile land to the coast or make their way there north by the river.

Besides, even if some did eventually reached the coast — presumably over the course of several generations — and had their story circulated widely and lasted, one cannot safely conclude they went on to become the first Fijians who it should be remembered didn't weren't 'Fijians' until Europeans arrived and helped spread and eventually universalize Viti the Tongan word for Fiji.

Meo's other oral sources are equally dubious. The fact Nelson Delailomaloma may have heard the Tanganyika story from an African counterpart proves nothing.

The myth of an Tanganyikan origin was already alive in Africa by the Minister's time if the Fijians soldiers' accounts are to be believed, and foreign delegates no doubt, love to strike a common chord with each in order to smooth the way. This goes even more for diplomats — Meo's third proof.

If Meo muddies the origins picture by wishful fancy, Daurewa does so by pressing par-boiled research into a trendy political correctness.

If she wanted to pursue identity politics in a seriously scholarly way she would have done far better to have taken the Taiwan/south China route and steered clear of Tamil Nadu, which requires infinitely more delicate bearings.

Her audience would have learnt something, most would have been receptive, and the late Professor Ron Crocombe of USP would have approved

Sixth, Daurewa's desire to re-write colonial histories of Fiji is not flawed because it is ideologically driven but because it is vague and contradictory.

Sure, European records of iTaukei society and culture are often ethnocentric and distorted, sometimes to the advantage of co-opted indigenous elites, as sociologist Simione Durutalo argued in the 1980s and as Robert Nicole has analysed and part-rectified it in his book Disturbing History: Resistance in Early Colonial Fiji (2011). The problem Daurewa has brought on herself is that unlike these writers she does not specify which colonial accounts she has in mind.

Some — like those of Thomas Williams' Fiji and the Fijians (1858) — were, after all, little short of brilliant.

Instead she speaks without references and evidence and while generally white-washing colonial accounts, also talks about a depth of oral history and documented records "in Fiji and overseas" (F/T 29/12/12), some or most of which,I presume, are also of colonial origin.

Lastly, Daurewa's bias and failure to stipulate the names of colonial writers leads her into saying some very silly things.

For example, contrary to her assertion colonial writers "bastardized" accounts of iTaukei society, there were many skilful accounts.

To go no further than Williams (1858) again, the wonders of early contact Fiji were indeed "celebrated", not least its house and "town" construction, its ingenuity in arms and warfare, its ship-building and pottery manufacture, to name but a few. In 1882 Constant Gordon Cummings was full of praise for the iTaukei themselves and the beauty of their islands.

Far from "emphasising" cannibalism (and wife strangling) some of them were at pains to contextualize the practice.

In any case why draw a veil over such an integral social institution?

As it happens some among them, usually missionaries, declined to fully detail some practices out of a sense of decorum. Does that meet with Daurewa's approval? And how would absenting accounts of cannibalism serve the truth of the Fijian way-of-life and help us understand the universal nature of sacrifice or "sacrament"? Cherry—picking won't do and the young certainly won't thankyou for it. Sanitised history whether foreign or indigenous is simply unacceptable.

When the Confucius Institute was opened at USP last year Fr. Kevin Barr wrote a letter to the press pressing for the return of philosophy and comparative religion to the university's curriculum.

He also spoke of a need for courses in Islam and Hinduism.

Now I think it is clear we need courses in the history and philosophy of science, in the scientific method, and social science methods.

We also need courses in comparative social or cultural anthropology. Without these we cannot hope to understand where we come from, who we are, and might yet become.

nChristopher Griffin once taught sociology at USP. He has a first degree in sociology and doctorate in social anthropology. Before retiring to Fiji he lectured at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia, where he is an Honorary Senior Fellow.

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