Saw this article by Huffington Post shared on Facebook, decided to do a little “Third-Goaling” – spread a better understanding of Fiji – by correcting it’s many mistakes. It claims to lay out six things to learn from Fiji’s rating as one of the happiest places on earth.
However, then I noticed that the article was written by/endorsed by Tourism Fiji. Which left me with a predicament: who am I, a white foreigner, to dispute what Fijians seem to be sharing about their own culture? I’m not really sure. I’ve begun interrogating my own notions of democracy and free speech recently, after I asked a young man whose voice I really respect what he thought about the traditional power structure being based on the notion the bose ni momo – elder males meeting – should take precedence over the newer, government-led efforts to have village-wide meetings including women and youth (yet are still mostly just attended by elder men). He replied that traditionally, he didn’t have the right to an opinion on the matter.
That was a first for me – someone proclaiming their own right to an opinion null and void.
Anyway, I’m going to go ahead and disagree with this article, because I don’t believe the author of this article, who is likely a well-educated, upper-class Fijian (if Fijian at all – I can’t believe a Fijian would talk about a cassava sevusevu) is traditional to the same extent, and is thus putting their voice out there with the understanding it may be criticized. Also because I am writing this blog primarily for Westerners, which, if my blog stats are to be trusted, are my main readership – thanks for reading y’all! I appreciate it. I write cli-fi too, if you saw that article, and you should feel free to check it out over here.
- The claim that Fijians love to dance isn’t inaccurate, but it makes it ignores the social blanket of madua – embarrassment, shyness – that puts a damper on public dancing. Dancing by adults outside of clubs or traditional mekes (which are mostly done for tourists) is fairly rare. At social events in the village, middle-aged women are typically the main shakers and movers of trying to get others to dance; and young people are especially resistant to standing up and shaking out their limbs. Whenever I dance with one of the aunts, people ask me about it for days afterwards (though this is also partly because I’m an oddity, a sore white thumb.)
- Fiji does have a really amazing range of fresh food – for those with access to the market. Fiji actually has one of the world’s highest diabetes rates, due to an influx of cheap imported foods – lots of tinned fish and meat, and buckets of oil.
- The most obnoxious, by far, of all their claims is that “If that isn’t enough, Fijian ceremony dictates you yell ‘BULA!’ after each sip [of kava/yaqona/grog].” Fijian ceremony most certainly does not dictate that: it is that you greet people right before you drink your first bowl of grog. Yes, you say Bula! if you are a tourist or you are in Rewa/Lomaiviti or a government station, but if you are in Sabeto, you say Cola vina! Once. Before you drink, after you cobo (hollow-sounding clap of respect).
- The simplistic claim that “Fijians embrace traditions of the past” is meaningless. Fijians, like anyone else on earth, have a rich heritage that has been rapidly eroded over the past two centuries with the introduction of Christianity and colonization.
- The article also makes the typical mistake of painting all Fijians as being of indigenous descent; which doesn’t seem so bad until you consider that in return, Americans are often assumed to all be white.
- Finally, their biggest mistake is made at the very beginning of the article, in the introduction, where they admit their survey is based on a poll that found “93 percent of Fijians answering they were either ‘happy’ or ‘very happy.’” This is unsurprising, based on iTaukei culture. It’s rude to admit being anything other than happy – as one Fijian described it to me, “you know, we have to smile on the outside even while on the inside we are thinking ‘ah fuck this, fuck you people.’”
You can also tell how terrible this article is by the hilarious correction at the end.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated that kava was brewed from the cassava plant and that a cassava should be given to a chief upon arrival in a Fijian village.