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Whats in the Name

What’s in the name?
The term indigenous is an adjective which means originating or occurring naturally in a particular place or referring to natives of one particular place. In the context of people, indigenous peoples refer to settling of first peoples, aboriginal peoples, native peoples, or autochthonous peoples, are ethnic groups who are the original inhabitants of a given region, in contrast to groups that have settled, occupied or colonized the area more recently. In addition to this, these group of people maintain their traditions and others aspects of their culture associated to their traditional practices such as expressions of their cultural practices which authenticates one being an indigenous person. This however does not mean that anyone who gives up an age old traditional lifestyle, language and cultural practices associated with their centuries old lifestyle accepting modern day lifestyle no longer indigenous.

There are different names used for various indigenous people such as the Aborigines in Australia and the Maoris in New Zealand. One must not confuse the nationality with the indigenous name. In Fiji, it has long being perceived that the term “Fijian” refer to the indigenous peoples. The indigenous people in the native language are referred to as I-Taukei meaning “Native Fijians”. A person cannot have multiple nationalities since by nationality it means the status of belonging to a particular nation. The descendants of Indian immigrants who came to work in Fiji have lived for generations in Fiji and call Fiji their home. It is their birth place, it their identity. There are other ethnicities in Fiji such as Chinese and Rotuman’s who also share the same nationality as the immigrant Indians. Calling someone “Indo-Fijian” is not the proper way to ascribe someone’s nationality. The reason for this is because Indo refers to the term Indian and Fijian as another nationality therefore a combination of 2 nationalities. Isn’t it funny that in one same country we have people that were profoundly known as Indo Fijians, Fijians and Rotuman’s and all of them are nationals of one common country. In this surge, it is a must that there is common identity for all those who are Fiji nationals regardless of their ethnicities. The best way to do is to recognise all those who are Fiji nationals under one name, Fijians. Ethnicity in this sense would mean, Rotumans from the land of Rotuma, immigrants of China to Fiji as Chinese, immigrant Indians to Fiji as Indians. Several people have confused themselves with ethnicities and nationalities. This is because all of them are referred to a particular race belonging to a particular geographical range. Eg. A person who may have migrated from India but is of not an Indian origin will never be referred to as Indo-Fijian even if he has an Indian Nationality.

There are more than one ethnic groups in America, Australia or New Zealand which includes Indians diaspora, Chinese European and many others. However these countries do not isolate them from a common identity for their nationality. They are known as Americans, Australians or New Zealanders as their nationality. Only when we talk about their indigenous community, people are referred to by specific names such as Aborigines or Maoris.  The same applies for ethnicities where many Americans, Australian or New Zealanders have indo Americans, Chinese, Europeans and others.

The huge national debate on the use of word Fijian for all nationals and stripping the rights of the natives to be exclusively referred to as Fijians has been hotly argued. I-Taukei is a term that better describes the indigenous Fijian which in English means “ Native Fijian “ and therefore is an appropriate word for use for the indigenous peoples. There has been another argument that the term “Fijian” was always used for natives and it belongs to them and a proper consultation was necessary before ‘being used as a common identity for all in Fiji. There are 2 things to look at (i) ownership of the word Fijian and (ii) the use of the term Fijian within Fijian laws. The first part, ownership is only when you can claim that you are the creator of the novelty or idea, concept or the name itself. Fiji as a country belongs to the republic of the Fiji Government and its people. The people here does not mean one particular race but all its citizens. Therefore, it is no doubt that the term Fijian is associated with the name of the country and in such a case it is exclusively within the hands of the Government. The indigenous peoples as I have alluded to earlier are called I-taukei which translates to “Native Fijian “and not merely Fijians. Native Fijians differ from Fijians and one must understand this point to know what and how common identity works. The latter part of the debate is about the manner in which the common identity was forced upon people. I must state here  that in a democratic country, peoples voice are heard but in a situation when you are being ruled by decrees and in notable absence of a parliament, the level of consultation that may take place is guaranteed to be limiting.

Although any referendum on this issue will resolve the problem permanently by getting an absolute answer to several accusations being made, remember that such concerns can only be heard if the opposite Party is convinced that what’s done was grossly wrong. One of the reasons Military overthrew the Qarase Government was to bring about radical changes to address gross marginalization of minority communities in Fiji. To most of the minorities, the common identity notion has given them equal opportunity in Fiji.  For any particular form of assistance to indigenous peoples, the I-taukei or the native Fijians can seek refuge from existing government affirmative plans and programmes offered via I-taukei Ministry.  At the end, what’s in the name? It was the name that divided the people and divided resource allocations from the state to communities. There is a lot in the name.


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