Fiji is a vibrant country consisting of over three hundred islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Its Melanesian culture is characterised by a tropical environment and relaxed pace of life. The Western influences of British have left a cultural imprint on the indigenous peoples and introduced new migrant populations into the society. Nevertheless, native traditions have remained strong amidst the social, political and technological changes that have occurred in the and post- ages.
Fiji was a colony of the British Crown from 1874 to 1970. European settlement of the Fijian islands proceeded in a different manner to what was experienced by many other territories, as the British made a greater effort to recognise the social , language and culture of the native peoples when they established their relationship. For example, the local Fijian chieftain system of land and governance was not so different from the lord system of the UK. Thus, the British were able to incorporate these social structures more considerately as they colonised. In this sense, the relationship between the indigenous and non-indigenous Fijians is very different to what Australians are familiar with. Westerners are welcomed warmly, and rarely with suspicion. Some Fijians may continue to feel a personal obligation and honour to the British monarchy.
Native Fijians (known simply as “Fijians”) are the majority people and their origins on the land are deeply respected. Fijians are often outstandingly proud of their identity and the status it holds in society. They tend to have a very secure sense of belonging in their community and culture. This inner confidence is perhaps what makes them such forthcoming people. Indeed, their welcoming hospitality and warmth can surpass feelings of awkwardness very quickly. Non-Fijians can find this both bold and refreshing in a social context.
While Fijians of indigenous heritage make up approximately 57% of the population, there are many groups of other ancestries (such as Indians, Chinese, Europeans, part-Europeans, Pacific Islanders and Rotumans). Indians are the second largest group in Fiji. Almost 60% of the Fijians living in Australia are Indo-Fijians. There is a diversity of subcultures within the Indo-Fijian group. Most people with Indian ancestry are descendants of indentured labourers that the British brought over from India during their rule. They live in both the cities and rural areas. However, there are also groups of Gujaratis and Punjabi Indians that arrived separate to the import of labourers. These groups tend to live in urban areas, owning shops as merchants or traders. They may also have closer cultural attachments to India and their . Generally, most Indo-Fijians have tended to continue practising the religious, familial and marital customs of their heritage.
During times, Europeans adopted the highest class and considered the native Fijians (especially chiefs) to be superior to Indians. relations between Fijians and Indo-Fijians are somewhat contentious due to the political aspirations of each group. Fijians assert their political predominance as the original people of the island; meanwhile, Indo-Fijians seek political equality and recognition. Nevertheless, the tensions of political power-dynamics are unlikely to affect people’s day-to-day interactions with one another. Broadly, Fijians of all backgrounds interact with ease. The distinctions between groups are more noticeable in their different cultural traditions, customs and religions.
Today the most visible differences in society are between the two main islands (Viti Levu and Vanua Levu) and the rest of the country. Viti and Vanua are the biggest islands to have been urbanised and the cities can look more Western than Melanesian in their architecture and design. The traditional social structure of native Fiji is not as common in these places as a commercially driven economy has risen.
87% of the country is tribally owned native land upon which native culture continues to thrive. There is also often little or no communications infrastructure (i.e. internet, phone reception, etc.) in these rural areas of Fiji. The presence of the government is only really evident in educational and health care facilities, while the justice system is left largely to the community.
Inclusion and Social Organisation
Many Fijians continue to live in tribal villages headed by chiefs. He or she is in charge of disciplining those who have done wrong and maintaining harmonious relationships in the village. Tribes are generally large networks of close or distant ties. Thus, everyone in the village’s community is usually related in some way. Most commonly, the relations between families (or ) are through patrilineal heritage or marriage. However, as an example of the generous spirit of Melanesian culture, if an outsider accepts the standards of a tribe, they may be accepted and receive the benefits and rights of that family. In this way, they may become honorary ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ of a village. This familial emphasis within villages gives a very communal understanding of “home” and “family” as encompassing more than just a and their house, but the entire tribe and their village. As an outsider, it is important to appreciate these intimate relationships and recognise that villages are, in fact, private places. Though much village activity is done outdoors or ‘publicly’, the ‘public’ usually consists of family.
Within these villages, economic property or resources are shared and social organisation is very communal. For example, children may be raised up by the collective effort of a community. The traditional cultural idea that ‘nothing is really yours until you have shared it’ pervades. Therefore, behaviours that exhibit or ownership – whether it is of objects, resources or people – are commonly rejected. By the custom of kerekere, any relative or neighbour can request a favour or ask for something that they need and it will be willingly provided without any underlying expectation of repayment. In this way, the Fijian character is often extremely generous and inclusive. People temper their jealousy from a young age and are instead taught to offer and share everything they are given.
It is understood that when people share amongst the community, no person will have to go unloved or uncared for. A sense of personal belonging and economic security is provided for all. This stability of the supply of food and resources is particularly important in those villages that continue a subsistence-farming lifestyle. However, on the other hand, the culture puts many indigenous Fijians at a disadvantage when they move to the urban areas; they often have a major struggle adjusting to the competitive spirit of the capitalist economy. Nevertheless, this orientation towards inclusion influences Fijians to be very gentle in their demeanour and also very conscious of their neighbourly relationships.
Religion and Fatalism
The warmth and humbleness of Fijian culture can be somewhat attributed to the society’s strong devotion to faith. Almost all Fijians are religious and actively observant. Therefore, a well-developed sense of gratitude and servitude (to one’s community and God) has become a familiar feature of the Fijian character. Most people also have a multi-faith understanding as Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists coexist peacefully. People generally respect the important role one’s spirituality plays in their lives and are very tolerant.
Some sociologists have suggested that Fijians’ trust in God has contributed to the nature of the culture. Indeed, there is a relaxed attitude among Fijian society that it is possible to leave time, events and outcomes up to destiny and trust they will come to fruition at some point. This means people can be submissive and may expect things to work out eventually without necessarily investing the attention to make sure they do so. For example, one hears “sega na leqa” (the equivalent to “no worries”) as a response to problems or complaints quite often.
Daily activity is also approached patiently with more time devoted to personal interactions. People don’t tend to rush and instead follow ‘Fiji time’ to suit the tropical climate. For Westerners, this can be a particular cultural challenge to negotiate. The Fijian business sector is not very tightly organised and schedules are not closely followed. Fijians tend to structure their lives around the immediate social relationships important to them. They are generally very attentive to their relationships, observing the experience of their friends and family carefully to attend to each other’s needs and feelings. From this, the inclusive people-focus of Fijian culture can be seen.