Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: diversity
Tuesday, 30 October 2012 17:39

Kalih Didiyun: Relationship between Indigenous and Indo-Fijians

The idea of International exchange programs is not foreign to us. However, when you add life experiences and tribal sensations, it seems like a much more foreign term. I think back to my remote ancestors, who struggled and created fixed hunting grounds, with well-defined limits. Should another tribe cross over these boundaries, war would surely ensue; there were also some tribes that were good at social contact, which, by means of friendly mutual exchange, would swap goods or offer information, giving rise to stable alliances which lasted for hundreds or even thousands of years. These exchanges, full of friendly intentions, are probably no different from our modern concept of international exchange programs. Hundreds and thousands of years after our ancestors, we too are going to engage in what they did, an exchange of information to strengthen our common culture, and to find a “new understanding” of ourselves.

This time the exchange was focused on international interaction. Different from past experiences, in which both sides shared a common tongue, this time the exchange was between people from different countries and with different languages. Before the flight to Fiji I had expectations of “the indigenous people of two countries” engaging in an investigation of similarities and differences. After the plane landed, however, I discovered that my previous attitude of superficially observing and understanding any single ethnic group’s culture meant that I ignored the interactions between different ethnic groups within society as a whole, as well as how they are affected by global political and economic factors. If these “environmental” factors are put to one side, and only the individual characteristics of the single ethnic group in question are discussed, this kind of exchange trip can be of little value.

Generally speaking, the population of Fiji is composed of about 57% indigenous Fijians, and 37% Fijians of Indian descent. The former are classified as part of the Melanesian people, and speak Fijian; the latter are the descendants of the workers who came to work in sugar factories during the English colonial period of the 19th century, and then decided to stay. Because of Fiji’s colonial past, the locals often use English.

From a political point of view, indigenous Fijians are the majority. Because of the 2009 coup d’etat by the military, and the subsequent abolishment of the constitution 4 months after, Fiji is now ruled by a military junta, of which most of the members are indigenous Fijians. In addition, because of the fact that the deposed government was largely of Indo-Fijian origin, this caused friction between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians, which caused a large amount of Indo-Fijians to migrate overseas. After going to Fiji and interacting with the locals, I found that, even though there is no direct conflict, misunderstandings and discrimination still exist amongst different ethnic groups. For example, our indigenous Fijian tour guide Julia felt a little out of place when, during our trip, we paid a quick visit to a Hindu temple. Even though indigenous and Indo-Fijians are the two largest ethnic groups in the island, after chatting to the locals I found out that it is fairly uncommon for them to intermarry.

In economic terms, the Indo-Fijians have the upper hand. As well as some major domestic large scale industry companies, the Indo-Fijians have connections with international business. Currently the most important domestic industries including tourism (comprising over 21% of the GDP) and sugar are in the vast majority of cases in Indo-Fijian hands. However, the majority of the land (more than 80%) of Fiji is owned by indigenous Fijians, and this severely limits the potential for the economic development of Indo-Fijians. Throughout the military junta period, there have been several instances of indigenous Fijians raising the rent on the land in order to discriminate against Indo-Fijians.

***

Muaivuso village was very different to others we had visited previously. This village has avoided developing its tourist industry, instead focusing on working together with academic institutions to continue developing itself. I really admire this village, because the tribe has left behind the typical focus on tourism, and has chosen an academic route. Apart from the opportunity to advocate the integration of indigenous culture and modern knowledge, and the chance to promote the power of learning, it helps to share a traditional cultural standpoint with the wide world. As well as culture, another important aspect of the collaboration with the universities is ecology, preserving the indigenous people’s relationship with the earth through the concept of sustainable development. Amongst all of this there was a moment that moved me. When I was taking pictures to record the interior design of a house, a grandmother thought I wanted to take pictures of her grandsons, and pushed the two roughly two-year-old kids so that they were facing my camera, despite the fact that the children were busy tasting candy we had brought for them from Taiwan. The language may be different but a smiling grandmother probably has the same meaning anywhere; maybe she just wanted to cater to us “tourists” with a friendly gesture, but, if this kind of interaction springs from a “gaining more benefits” kind of mindset, it would inevitably leave a sour taste in my mouth, in the same way that the exploitation of the Orchid Islands for tourism does.

IMG_5960kalih

Right then, I heard one of my companions shouting: “Come get the candy so you can share it!”, and at once I found myself in a strange emotional predicament. Since arriving at Fiji, we have been to two or three villages, giving them candy, taking photos together, and giving out gifts. In these situations, my actions and attitudes have seemed to express the arrogance of someone who comes from a place he mistakenly believes to be more advanced. Giving candy or gifts is usually probably just an act of courtesy or an expression of friendliness, but, if you don’t spend time to consider the motive, you might not realise that in fact, you might be implying an act of “giving charity”. Even though locals don’t have access to modern factory-made candy, in no way does this mean that they need your candy to survive! A lot of Taiwanese tribal villages have also suffered this fate, but the experience of going from victim to perpetrator has made me reflect on my own behaviour and reproach myself. I hope that in the future I will be able to lead by example.

***

In Fiji, there are two main types of handcraft stores: Indigenous and Indo-Fijian. The reason we separate them like this is because they are both different in the way they do business. Instead of focusing on selling products, indigenous people will try to make friends with you; when they saw we were foreign, they asked us all sorts of everyday questions, and didn’t even particularly market their product. Indo-Fijians, on the other hand, proactively engage in business, and when they come in contact with foreigners, they give it their all; they say of every product that you will regret it later if you don’t buy it now! The initial price offered by the Indo-Fijians is higher, so people often pay a higher price than at the indigenous stores. However, if you bargain, you can often get things for a lower price than you would at the indigenous stores. I assume it’s because indigenous Fijians might be relatively worse at business, so if the price goes below a certain number they won’t accept the offer. Indo-Fijians always aspire to reach an agreement when doing business, even if they occasionally lose some money in a transaction.

The thing that I was most concerned about in Fiji was actually the relationship between indigenous and Indo-Fijians. Living together in the same island is just a consequence of history, but being able to interact with each other hand in hand and harmoniously, is the true road to happiness. Despite being an indigenous Taiwanese myself, I found myself sympathising more with the Indo-Fijians, who don’t have land to the point that they are often penniless, and lack support resources, in contrast with the indigenous Fijians, who have the majority of the land and benefit from welfare policies and insurance. Even though they constitute almost half of the total population, in the period of the military government some Indo-Fijian stores were destroyed, leaving the people homeless and destitute. Those that left the country and live abroad as political refugees still consider themselves Fijian above Indian, and still care about Fijian affairs. Thinking about this makes me feel sad.

In Fiji, indigenous and Indo-Fijians used to deal with each other in a harmonious way, but later the political propaganda caused problems between the two ethnic groups, including opposition for the sake of opposition. Taiwan is the same, first separating between Benshengren (those descended from people who arrived from China before Chiang Kai-Shek) and Waishengren (those who came after), and later on making distinctions between South East Asian immigrants and aborigines. There are also the current issues over unification and independence, which are all part of this political language. After this bickering, society becomes full of unrest and instability. We separate people this way and that, but are we not all just trying to grow on this land? We can be confident and proud when emphasizing our aborigine culture, but to sink to ignorant bickering, to isolating ourselves, will just cause more issues. As far as I know, the meaning of the word “yuanzhumin”(aborigine) in Taiwan is in constant evolution; it is not only defined by mainstream society, or the so-called “9 tribes” or the current “14 tribes”, how far can we keep going until we stop separating into groups? In the end, it is all to no avail.

One of the reason why culture is to be treasured lies in the fact that when you conduct cultural exchanges, you can learn the strong and beautiful aspects of each other’s culture, allowing for the culture to grow in charm and power. This process can be big or small in its scope, like when I assimilated my Fiji experiences to make them a part of me. I discovered an optimistic and leisurely people, and understood that living in this way is living a blessed and beautiful life. If, one day in the future, I become someone who can exert influence, I hope to be able to bring the charm of these people to our own culture. My ideal of culture is one that is compatible with others and grows, a heterogeneous culture. Rather than worrying about being assimilated into the mainstream majority culture, it is better to strive to develop the truth, goodness and beauty in one’s own culture, in order to influence the mainstream train of thought.

 

Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy


Wednesday, 04 January 2012 14:13

A Portrait of China Emerging

The narrative of China's emergence that has predominated in the Western press over the last decade is one of a racially homogenous economic superpower in ascendance; the West seems to characterize China simply in terms of its potential as a huge untapped market to be exploited or as a threat to Western cultural and economic hegemony. This month, eRenlai hopes to offer an alternative perspective on China's emergence, wherein the reality of China's racial and spiritual heterogeneity and multicultural legacy can be borne witness to on a level more fundamental than that of Nationalism. Away from the rhetoric and scare-mongering of politics and economics is the space where one can experience China on a more personal and experiential plane. Here, eRenlai has picked a variety of stories that span the last decade which paint an alternative picture of China in its period of rapid development, focusing primarily on rural life.

First we get a snapshot into the lives of the nomadic people who now populate the birthplace of the legendary Tibetan King, King Gesar, and the remnants of the Barge Wall and the Funeral city which once stood in Shiqu. Then we  move on to Shangri-La to experience the growth of eco-tourism in the Tibetan village of Napa. In Chengdu we hear of the hardships experienced by Yi migrant workers, faced with discrimination and being taken advantage of by employers. We then arrive in Yongren County to bear witness to the more colourful side of the Yi people, with their annual fashion show. Then on to Yangjuan village to monitor the progress of the school built there in 2000, with two different perspectives on the village and the project, one from the Summer of 2006 by Liang Zhun and the second from Father Duraud in Winter 2010. We also take a look at China's Muslim Hui people as they celebrate the feast of the birth of the prophet Muhammad in Pi County and attend the rebuilding of the Tibetan Buddhist Kangwu Temple in Muli County. We also discover how the previously thought to be defunct Tibetan Buddhist school of Jonang, turns out to be very much alive in Dzamthang.

Photo by Liang Zhun


Tuesday, 16 November 2010 15:18

Knowledge networks: diversity in the face of adversity

Benoit Vermander discusses the complexity of the the various networks and actors when it comes to global climate change negotiations and environmental issues. How can these difficulties be turned into opportunities? How can cities take the leading role on climate change?


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