UK reception for Fiji PM, Hon. Voreque Bainimarama

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Allusions to a post-ethnic Fiji nation-state were anchored by the mana-ising power of the traditional Fijian welcome ceremony and by a Catholic-led prayer, at the Fiji High Commission-hosted reception in London on Friday 28th November 2014.

It appears that Prime Minister Bainimarama has succeeded in separating ethnicity from culture in Fiji in a manner that augurs well for the indigenous Fijians, I think. The protocols and performances of the welcome ceremony remained distinctly Fijian in every aspect, but PM Bainimarama spoke of this not as an aspect of Fijian identity but of Fijian spirituality.

To speak of culture in terms not of identity but spirituality augurs well for the indigenous people. It retains their pre-eminent status in Fiji while shifting discourse from what has become a deeply political term. To speak of Fijian identity is to speak of rights and paramountcy vis-a-vis other communities; to speak of Fijian spirituality, on the other hand, carries within it a sense of the ineffable and unchallengeable.

Through its very inclusion in the event, the Fijian welcome ceremony accorded to the Hon. Voreque Bainimarama established in the minds and judgements of the invited guests a specific meaning and place for the Fijian cultural self in the matrix of the country’s identity and future. This extended to the closing prayer offered by Canon Davis, a subtle indication of the relative fortunes of the Catholic and Methodist churches in the ‘new Fiji’, which despite this confirmed the centrality of the church to Fijian identity (or spirituality?).

The PM went on to speak of a ‘Fiji for all Fijians’ and proclaimed through this the country’s post-ethnicity, whose significance lies not in what it may seem to take away: Fijian rights and security; but in what it adds: a viable foundation for the creation of a nation-state. President Kagame of Rwanda is proceeding along similar lines, in a bid to overcome the terror of the genocide against the Tutsi and moderate Hutu and the ethnic divisionism through which that was achieved.

The will to become is strong in Fiji as it is in Rwanda. This becoming is clearly founded on the geopolitical interests and gains that accrue from being accepted into the pantheon of nation-states, and thence to wield regional influence and secure the kind of investment and aid that can make these countries feel they are part of the twenty-first century in argentine ways.

However, given the way in which last night’s reception (was planned) and unfolded, Fiji’s transformation into a nation-state and the post-ethnicity that seems necessary to the fulfilment of this ideation are anchored by the mana-ising effect and power of indigenous Fijian practices and performances.

The future of Fiji, then, is one in which every citizen has the right to bear the name ‘Fijian’ and in which the special place of the indigenous Fijians is tantamount.

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