The Contemporary Pacific 15.2 (2003) 482-484
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Represented Communities: Fiji and World Decolonization, by John D Kelly and Martha Kaplan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. ISBN 0-226-42990-3; xiv + 243 pages, photographs, notes, bibliography, index.US$18.00.
Kelly and Kaplan's book is a collection of essays written between 1991 and 2000 in which they examine the topics of decolonization and nation building. Fiji is their primary focus, but they frame their discussion in terms of the broader context of the world order that developed after World War II. For them, the most significant aspect of that order is the idea of a world community of nation-states characterized by "symmetry, horizontality, and quiescence" (12).
This "UN model" of the world community required a global decolonization process, but, of course, symmetry and horizontality among states, while important ideals, have not become a reality. Using almost any measure—economic, political, military, or symbolic—the relations among nation-states are markedly asymmetrical. The local, as it has developed in recently decolonized states, reflects this aspect of the global;inequality and lack of "horizontality" between classes, genders, and ethnic groups are the norm.
The authors remind us that it is no accident that deep, horizontal bonds of nationhood have failed to develop in much of the decolonized world. Colonizers defined and maintained differences between social categories. For a variety of reasons, specific to their local contexts, these divisions often continue into the present.
Fiji is an excellent example to illustrate this problem. Out of his need to make the new colony self-supporting and his desire to shield native Fijians, Fiji's first governor promoted the growth of a sugar industry based on labor recruited in British India. The authors remind us that the thousands of Indians who came to Fiji differed in language, region of origin, religion, and caste and did not identify themselves in terms of the overarching category "Indian" prior to their arrival in the colony. Once in Fiji there was no escaping that identity, but Fijians also differed (and differ) among themselves. In the context of the colonial legal and political systems, however, both Indians and Fijians were treated as blocs and positioned below Europeans.
The relative positions of these two major ethnic blocs were not so much hierarchical in nature as they were laterally distanced. Indians were regarded as units of labor whose legal standing in the colony flowed from their labor contracts. They were forbidden by law to reside in Fijian villages, and there was (and is) very little intermarriage. Though there was interaction and cultural borrowing, a truly creole culture has never emerged.
As the authors point out, during the colonial period officials exhibited [End Page 482] a greater sympathy for Native Fijians than they did for Indo-Fijians. This was sometimes justified by reference to the founding document of the colony, the Deed of Cession, which could read as giving the Crown the obligation of looking after Fijian welfare. A baser reason was the fact that Europeans saw Indo-Fijians as potential political competitors. For their part, Native Fijians felt threatened by the demographic strength of Indo-Fijians, a fear frequently reinforced by European rhetoric. The stage was set, then, for continuing political confrontation.
Four of the essays in the book analyze the ways in which specific strategic decisions reinforced a sense of rivalry. Borrowing from Gregory Bateson, the authors use the term "ethnic schismogenesis" to refer to a process by which decisions and actions motivated by distrust reinforce antagonisms. The cases examined include Indo-Fijians' refusal in 1942 to participate in the war effort and Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna's refusal, on behalf of the government, to accept the sugar harvest offered as a gift by Indian cane growers during the sugar strike of 1943. An especially interesting essay focuses on the important role of ritual in establishing a sense of nationhood and the efforts of an Indo-European mystic to formulate a national mythology and ritual observances that could unite the two main ethnic blocs. Sadly, his message failed...