Fiji Coup Supplement

14 July 2000
Fiji: a European myth exposed
Ross Nepia Himona


Yesterday the last of the hostages in Fiji were released, without death or injury to any of them. It is a time to be thankful. And a time perhaps, to look back.

The Fijian military has often been ridiculed in the Australian and New Zealand media, accused of complicity and collusion, and of incompetence. They have been accused of acting too late, and of not acting with enough force. They have been judged by those who still know absolutely nothing of the culture of Fiji, and of the enormous difficulties facing the military when they asked the President to step aside to allow them to assume executive authority.

They have achieved the truly important thing for Fiji, once the coup had taken place, and that was to secure the release of the hostages without bloodshed, and they have kept the country free of bloodletting and anarchy, even including the relatively minor unrest of the last week. They have been reluctant participants in this national crisis, but they have patiently and persistently kept their focus on the safe release of the hostages, and the maintenance of security throughout the nation.

Some blood has been shed, when Speight supporters tried a shootout with the Army, but not one Fijian, indigenous or Indian, has died at the hands of the military. It is a terrible thing to ask a professional soldier to take up arms against his own countrymen; and even more terrible to ask him to kill his own. They have skilfully managed to avoid going down that track.

Some weeks ago on Radio NZ Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Tarakinikini said that they had learned from their peacekeeping experience that once the bloodletting starts it becomes contagious, and becomes unstoppable. He said they were determined not to let that happen in Fiji. They have achieved that aim as well, employing a light hand in their security operations around the islands.

They have achieved all this, even though there are some in the Army who are Speight supporters, and many who actively sympathise with the Taukei cause.

They have negotiated with people who didn't know the meaning of negotiation. They have patiently kept going back to the negotiating table despite the frustrations, and despite the howls of abuse from across the oceans.

They in their turn have frustrated the foreign media, and the Indo-Fijians looking on from their safe overseas havens, with their calmness, and with their absolute refusal to be pressured into precipitious action by busybody foreign bystanders and onlookers.

They have been totally professional in a way that the amateurs in the media and in politics will never understand.

They have achieved what they set out to do. We should hope that the same professionalism brings similar success in the difficult days ahead.


On 21st May, two days after the coup, I wrote:

"Of course the attempted coup, in this instance, is wrong. And of course it is very damaging to the economy, and damages efforts to build a national unity, across the racial divide. But it is after all a matter for Fiji to resolve, in a Fijian way. We in Aotearoa New Zealand are bystanders and observers, nothing more. That's our only role."

Non-Maori New Zealanders didn't like that, and they set up an amazing barrage of condemnation, and demanded that the Pakeha way should prevail in Fijian Fiji. Our government shouted dire threats from the sidelines. Goff shuttled off to Fiji to deliver his ignorance in person. But I was right.


On 24th May in "Small Predictions" I wrote:

"I think that they will go for the best Pacific cultural option, which will be to let the coup members off quite lightly and to bring them back into the whanau. Reconciliation rather than retribution. They might even get pardoned."

That didn't go down well either, but it was the approach that ensured the hostages would not be harmed, and it worked.


On 25th May:

"At the heart of the Pacific Way, which is so much at odds with the Western Way, is the network of kinship ties and reciprocal obligations that guides all cultural, social, economic and political thinking and behaviour throughout the Pacific. This is the Maori concept of whanaungatanga."

That was right on 25th May, and it's right now. The only way forward is through reconciliation rather than retribution, but I doubt that most New Zealand journalists and politicians actually understand that.


And on 26th May:

"In all the comment on Fiji by politicians and the media, I have not heard one workable suggestion to show how Fiji might reach a solution to this crisis, without bloodshed.

It is all very well to insist that the constitution be upheld, that George Speight and his controllers are criminals and terrorists and must be punished, that democracy must be upheld, and that the Bose Levu Vakaturaga must not give in to the hostage takers. It's all very well to threaten ex-communication from the Commonwealth. But what can be done, I ask you, without bloodshed?"

And the Fijians did it their way, without bloodshed, and without listening to the gratuitous and sanctimonious advice of New Zealand politicians and media.

Well done Fiji, and best wishes for the future.


The point of all this is not so much that I was right. The point is that New Zealand, her politicians and media, were wrong; absolutely wrong. They were wrong from the start, and they were wrong all the way through the last 56 days.

And now, their cultural and geopolitical ignorance revealed, even to themselves, they are predicting doom and gloom for the future. For their own sense of security they must do this. They must continue to deny the reality that the geopolitical upheavals in this region will remake the region in Melanesian, Micronesian or Polynesian images, not in the colonial European image.

Deep within the collective consciousness of the European of this region they cling to a comforting myth. Indo-Fijians, in their own way, participate in the myth. The central idea of this myth that they have constructed for themselves is that this is still a colonised European region, in which the traditional and cultural ways of the Pacific are subordinated to the supposedly superior colonial legacy. In which the Pacific Way should and will give way to the European Way.

We all of us live within cultural, social, economic and political myths. They simplify and help us make sense of the highly complex people-centred environments we live within. They provide for us the sense of security and certainty that most people crave. But when the myth becomes so far removed from reality, it becomes a form of cultural insanity.


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