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State of Suffering

Political Violence and Community Survival in Fiji

Susanna Trnka

Publication Year: 2008

How do ordinary people respond when their lives are irrevocably altered by terror and violence? Susanna Trnka was residing in an Indo-Fijian village in the year 2000 during the Fijian nationalist coup. The overthrow of the elected multiethnic party led to six months of nationalist aggression, much of which was directed toward Indo-Fijians.

In State of Suffering, Trnka shows how Indo-Fijians' lives were overturned as waves of turmoil and destruction swept across Fiji. Describing the myriad social processes through which violence is articulated and ascribed meaning-including expressions of incredulity, circulation of rumors, narratives, and exchanges of laughter and jokes-Trnka reveals the ways in which the community engages in these practices as individuals experience, and try to understand, the consequences of the coup. She then considers different kinds of pain caused by political chaos and social turbulence, including pain resulting from bodily harm, shared terror, and the distress precipitated by economic crisis and social dislocation.

Throughout this book, Trnka focuses on the collective social process through which violence is embodied, articulated, and silenced by those it targets. Her sensitive ethnography is a valuable addition to the global conversation about the impact of political violence on community life.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-8


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pp. ix-12

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1 Violence, Pain, and the Collapseof Everyday Life

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pp. 1-30

On May 19, 2000, armed gunmen led by indigenous Fijian businessman George Speight burst into the Fiji Parliament and took hostage forty-four members of Parliament, including the prime minister. They sought to overthrow the democratically elected Labour government and remove from office Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji’s first, and to date only, Indo-Fijian prime minister. For the next six months...

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2 The Coup of May 2000—An Invitationto Anti-Indian Violence

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pp. 31-62

On July 8, 2000, a number of Indo-Fijian wedding guests from neighboring towns and villages traveled to a wedding in Korovou Town in Tailevu, about thirty miles north of Suva. As bad luck would have it, the wedding took place on the same day that Korovou Town was overtaken by rebels. According to newspaper reports as well as accounts told to me by residents of Darshan Gaon where

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3 Living in Fantastic Times

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pp. 63-86

“We live in unusual times, almost like Alice in Wonderland, where things are seldom what they seem or are claimed to be,” stated newspaper columnist and legal scholar Sir Vijay Singh in the midst of the chaos of the 2000 coup (2000b, 7). Indeed, the events following George Speight’s overtaking of Parliament opened up a time unlike any other in the nation’s history. Across many parts of Fiji,...

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4 Looting, Labor, and the Politics of Pain

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pp. 87-116

On the same morning that George Speight and his gunmen broke into Parliament, crowds of indigenous Fijians broke into Suva’s shops and restaurants. In the capital city and later in nearby Nausori Town, the looters began to help themselves to a variety of merchandise. Along with a handful of Nausori businesses, it is estimated that 167 businesses in downtown Suva, most of which were owned...

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5 Fear of a Nation Returning to Jungli

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pp. 117-140

While Indo-Fijian political leaders and community spokespeople were busily promoting a vision of the Fijian nation as built on the cooperative and harmonious endeavors of Fijians and Indians alike, for many grassroots Indo-Fijians this image was shot through with racial divisiveness. Most of Indo-Fijians’ discussions of local history, national belonging, and national development...

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6 Victims and Assailants, Victimsand Friends

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pp. 141-173

In mid-July 2000, after spending the morning cooking together, Devi and I sat in her kitchen drinking tea. As it was on most days following the coup, her radio was playing continuously in the background. We were only halflistening until we heard what sounded like a class of Hindi-speaking schoolchildren reciting the final phrase of a chant...

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7 Restoring “Normalcy” in Postcoup Fiji

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pp. 174-186

By late August 2000 the security situation across Fiji had settled down. The interim civilian government had been in place since the end of July. There had been mass arrests of the rebels after they quit Parliament as well as crackdowns on various rebel groups around the country. Speight and twelve of his leading men were ensconced on the newly created “Alcatraz” of Fiji, Nukulau Island.....

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pp. 187-190

A great many people contributed to making this book possible. First and foremost, I thank my husband John, without whose never-ending encouragement this project would never have been started, much less finished. He has enthusiastically engaged with my intellectual endeavors from my first days of undergraduate study up through my initial years as a professional academic. In Fiji, he shared...


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pp. 191-206


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pp. 207-214

E-ISBN-13: 9780801461880
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801446405

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 732957114
MUSE Marc Record: Download for State of Suffering

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Political violence -- Fiji.
  • Ethnic conflict -- Fiji.
  • Fiji -- Politics and government.
  • Fiji -- Ethnic relations.
  • East Indians -- Fiji.
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