Saturday, February 04, 2006
Relationships with neighbours
Many people ask me if the Fijians in Labasa get along with their Indian neighbours and I always say - well, we call our place the Friendly North! These examples demonstrate the relationship between some tenant Indian families and the Fijian landowning family.
I. My eldest brother, Laisenia and his family lived at one time at Nukutatava and he was head of our clan, respected by the neighbours. Because of his calm and stable nature, the Indian farmers approached him to solved some of their problems, particularly disputes within their own families. The men involved would go to Laisenia's house and he would mix a bowl of yaqona. The men would sit together and discuss their differences until a settlement was negotiated. This was the Pacific way in action, to come to a consensus through patient discussion. After the 1987 military coups the tenant farmers felt their future in Fiji was insecure. A group of men from Vatuadova and from Labasa town came to Laisenia and shared their fears with him. He said the local tenants in Vatuadova could stay and be his family. When Laisenia died in 1992 the funeral was held at Nukutatava and many hundreds of Fijian and Indian men and women came. To accommodate them all, a large shelter had to be built and the neighbours brought the corrugated iron and put this up. At times of crisis and rites of passage such as weddings and funerals the neighbours give and take according to their skills.
II. My youngest brother Irimaia had three small dwellings on his property. Due to family mobility, one house became empty so Irimaia gave this house and some gardening land to a homeless young Muslim couple and their three children. They were very poor and alienated from their relatives. Irimaia invited them to alive at Vatuadova and the man assisted on the cane farm but was given access to the fruit trees such as the coconut trees to make oil to sell.
III. My daughter Ulamila and her husband lived on a small cane farm before moving to the developing village. She has had secondary education and a course in women's craftwork but many of the neighbours have had only minimal schooling. Three of the Indian neighbours need help with their financial records and bookwork about their sugarcane payments so they ask Mila for assistance and entrust her with their bankbooks and financial transactions. Ulamila's land is used b by neighbours for agistment for their cattle.
These stories are not unusual in sugar-cane areas and the ordinary people cannot understand the unrest and suspicion and the politics that go on in Suva city! In Labasa many people speak some Fijian, some Hindi and some English.
Unfortunately the coup in 2000 did a lot of damage to relationships even in the so-called Friendly North because there was a soldiers' mutiny in the barracks there and in July 2000 there was a lot of fear among the people at that time. Let's hope that now relationships are back to normal with kindness and accepting one another!