The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 529-531
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Where the Rivers Meet—Fiji:
A Divided Community and its Struggle for Peace
Where the Rivers Meet—Fiji: ADivided Community and its Struggle for Peace,36 minutes, VHS (PAL and NTSC), 1998. An Infocus Production for the World Council of Churches'Peaceto the CityCampaign. Written, narrated and produced by 'Atu Emberson-Bain; camera, sound, and music score by Michael Preston. Edited by Digital Domain. US$25.00.
Where theRivers Meet was written and directed by 'Atu Emberson-Bain for the World Council of Churches, and won theUNESCO gold medal for producers from developing countries at the New York Festivals Awards. Emberson-Bain has produced a number of important documentaries critiquing politics and development in Fiji—including In the Name of Growth, Caught in the Crossfire, and Na Ma'e! Na Ma'e! We Stand Until We Die—and this one looks at ongoing racial tensions. She presents [End Page 529] some of the opinions and experiences of Indian and Fijian members of the People for Intercultural Awareness (PIA), the Interfaith Search, the Citizens' Constitutional Forum, and the Fijian Nationalist Party.
While the politics of race in Fiji are much more complex than the Indian-Fijian polarities presented here, especially since the 2000 civilian coup, it is a sensitive and moving portrayal of the struggle for peace in this Pacific nation. Emberson-Bain includes a brief look at racial stereotypes, the effect of the 1987 coups and ensuing political struggles, intercultural and religious understanding at the community level, and the tensions around landownership and tenancy. The Indians are generally portrayed as victims of the British colonial indenture system, a national policy of segregation until the 1960s, and racial violence and hatred since the 1987 coups. Most of those interviewed for the film are leaders in their own communities promoting racial tolerance, understanding, and a commitment to democracy. Many Fijian interviewees are converts who overcame their racism through increased awareness of the history and struggles of the girmits or indentured Indian laborers. Iliesa Duvulocu of theVanua Tako-Lavo nationalist party is the only voice representing strong and continuing Fijian desires for what he calls "God-given" paramountcy.
After a look at the general racial divide, the film alludes to the growing alliances between groups at the level of class and labor organization. AcademicVijay Naidu and activist Amelia Rokotuivuna are shown at a trade union rally describing how Rabuka's government is leading to increased poverty among all races. Mahendra Chaudhry briefly appears in one scene and one can't help but feel melancholy viewing this film after the 2000 coup that deposed him, the first Indian prime minister.
The film was produced in 1998 so it is interesting to reflect on people's efforts toward harmony then compared with the situation now. Many activists have become disillusioned since the 2000 coup. My only critique of Emberson-Bain's film is that it does not contextualize or situate its proactive goal more complexly. Racial intolerance and the motivations behindall the Fiji coups are far more messy than portrayed here. Politics and indigenous rights rhetoric are tempered by economic factors that are controlled mostly by powerful men from all groups including Fijians, Rotumans, Indians, Part-Chinese, Europeans, and Part-Europeans. In addition, few groups are united and Fijians in particular have been divided along provincial and tribal lines for centuries. There are also many different kinds of Indians living in Fiji, including Gujeratis who play major roles on the national scene and are not descended from indentured laborers.
However, the purpose of this film is not to consider national problems at the macro level. It is a close look at how difference is negotiated successfully by some people on the ground—everyday people, farmers, students, husbands and wives who have learned to articulate and overcome the racism they were raised with. The interviews and Emberson-Bain's narration are set against the familiar backdrop of these Pacific islands. The orange-gold sun [End Page 530] through gray clouds above...