I stayed for 4 days in the "Bay of Plenty" hostel in the islands of Yasawas seeking calm and encounters with locals. The owner of this establishment was a pretty interesting character, with traits close to some patterns typically found in a European profile.
Would you introduce yourself?
I'm Sevu, I'm half native of the island (my mother's side), and half of the main island. During my school years (and even a little after) I lived on the main island before deciding to come and settle here to build this hostel in 2007.
You insisted during your presentation about your background. Do you think that ethnicity is important in your identity?
Indeed, we are indeed one nation on paper. But in reality Fiji is made up of different ethnic groups with different languages and customs. In fact we have over 300 islands in our archipelago. However, these differences have been to fading away since the first arrival of the English, then immigration and finally opening up the country to the world mainly through tourism. That being said, we try to keep our uniqueness through the continuation of tribal customs. Let me remind you that my grandfather was in fact a cannibal!
Are you dissatisfied with this openness to the world?
Yes and no, it allowed us to have peace between us, even while still remaining different. But this openness has led to immigration which we do not need.
I guess you are referring to the Indian migrants?
Yes, we put up with a large presence of this population whose morals and religions are quite different from ours. They came with the occupying English to work the land in the 19th century.
But this migration has been more than a century already, so they are technically not Indians anymore. They speak your language, go to the same schools and contribute to the economy of this country.
This is indeed the case. But despite that they are not really locals, so in my opinion they should return as the British returned home before. We're just different from them.
But you said so yourself, that Fijians are different from each other. In addition, they took part in building this country!
They helped to build this country certainly, but they’ve had their fair share of the gains! And today, they monopolize the economic sector.
I think there is nothing that prohibits locals to engage in commerce; it's in their culture that these people are gifted for this kind of work and you should be proud.
Yes but then they steal our labor!
Do not you not think that repeated coups are the main problem of your economic crisis and the challenges you face?
No I do not think so. This government is certainly military, but they promised democratic elections very soon. They are our pride, as they released us from one of the last legacies of the occupation that is the Commonwealth.
I thought that Fiji was expelled from the Commonwealth as having an undemocratic regime?
We do not want to be a part of the Commonwealth. We want to have our complete independence!
So can I conclude that even under the palm trees, nationalistic ideas are still at the heart of the people, even when the economy is sluggish?
This is true, but we are still a warm and welcoming people.