Saturday, November 03, 2012

About Ratu Joni

from w
Crosbie Walsh in New Zealand has a point of view that I don't always agree with, but here he writes very succinctly about Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi who has been appointed as a consultant to the Constitution Committee and apparently disturbed one of our current leaders when Ratu Joni was part of a delegation from Bau with a position that contradicted the 'secular' state proviso.

• Inappropriate and Appropriate Models for Fiji by Croz Walsh
Two lawyers: Ratu Joni and Prof Yash Ghai

Much has been made of the presence of Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi at the presentation of the Bau submission to the Constitution Commission which urged making Fiji a Christian State. The suggestion is that Ratu Joni supported each and every part of the submission. I do not think so. I think he was present as Roko Tui Bau, the leader of his vanua who, having explained his position, abided by the majority decision of others, while keeping his musket dry for other opportunities to influence opinions.

Rishab Nair, writing in the Fiji Economic Forum on Facebook is of similar opinion but is disappointed Ratu Joni appeared to support all the Bau submission. He writes: “Somehow I think that's not his own personal feelings. He was after all the most liberal [of people] and someone I looked up to. Well, not anymore.”

I think Rishab judges too soon. Ratu Joni does not have knee-jerk reactions to situations. He is a learned, thoughtful man with a long and enviable record of good works seeking tolerance and understanding between Fiji's several communities. I have little doubt he has tortured himself on how best to react to the many divisive issues that have buffeted Fiji in recent years, and particularly on how to moderate the largely unwarranted fears and extreme opinions of some of his own people. My assessment is that his presence at the submission showed he was more concerned about the the outcome of the war than on the short term outcome of the battle.

Ratu Joni is a deeply committed Christian who, conceivably, has "gone along" with the Christian State proposal because he thinks it will not infringe on the religious rights of non-Christians. But I doubt this is his reason.

I believe I am supported in this view by  the main message of most of his recent speeches. Whatever the gathering or occasion, he has spoken of the need for respect and tolerance between ethnic groups and  religions, and on some occasions he has been outspoken in his opposition to the proposal to establish a Christian State. 

I cite three examples from Wikipedia. In March 2005, speaking to the Lautoka Rotary Club, he said the proposal would hinder a "correct relationship" between the overwhelmingly Christian ethnic Fijians and the mainly Hindu and Muslim Indo-Fijian community, and could lead to  division and conflict. 

Speaking  May 2005, he said the proposal had its roots in the initial conversion of chiefs to Christianity and in the Deed of Cession, in which the chiefs ceded sovereignty to the United Kingdom in 1874.  He considered that in a multi-faith country like Fiji, it would not be wise to establish any one faith. 

In an earlier address to a Hindu gathering on 28 March, he criticized government politicians for couching pronouncements in purely Christian terms. "When national leaders address the people of Fiji in specifically Christian terms, whatever the occasion, nearly half of our people are excluded," he said. "When prayer in mixed company is uttered in terms of a purely Christian God, we unintentionally omit and diminish others present of different faiths. When we use Christian symbolism to promote reconciliation, forgiveness and unity, we discount the contribution and equally rich traditions extant in other faiths and cultural traditions." 

I am confident that Ratu Joni's presence at Bau's submission to the Constitution Commission was out of respect for the views of many of his vanua. He has often said chiefs should listen to their people.  He was listening, and he was present, as protocol required, while others presented the Bau submission,  but I am quietly confident he was not in  agreement with this particular proposal.

 In my copy of A Personal Perspective: The Speeches of Joni Madraiwiwi he wrote:

 “Professor Walsh, Perspectives about life and about my country. The more I reflect about Fiji the less I seem to understand! But the love of homeland encompasses its bright and darker sides as well as in between. Warm regards, ni moce mada.
                                                                                           Joni and Lusi, XII.XII.MMVIII.”

Here is a short address he made to St Agnes Parish in Suva in September 2003. Read it, and then tell me this man wants a Christian State imposed on Fiji.

On Being a Good Neighbour: A Personal Perspective

Christ simplified the Ten Commandments into 'Thy shall love the Lord God will all thy strength and thy neighbour as thyself.'

While the Commandment to love the Lord with all they strength is absolute, our human weakness seeks to limit it — to restrict that love to our own kind or to those we are comfortable with. The Gospels make so such distinction: Indeed they place a particular emphasis on the poor, weak and disadvantaged. So, we have little choice if we are to be faithful to our Lord's Commandment. However, to do it on our own is impossible, we need divine assistance.

As a Fijian, I am secure about my rights in this country. I believe they are adequately protected by the Constitution. No one can take away our rights unless we allow them to. Our rights are an issue that can only be protected by a determination to incubate those values within ourselves and to hand them on to the next generation.

Too often we blame other communities for the plight of the indigenous Fijians. But we Fijians own 83% of the land in this country, and out leaders have led Fiji since independence except for the year when Mr Chaudhry was in government. We are largely responsible for our own situation and need to accept that fact. No one seeks to take anything from us. Indeed there is much goodwill from other communities. Yet we continue the debate as if no one else matters.

I was blessed with two wonderful parents. Our home in Levuka was open to everyone. But my parents were not unusual. When children are nurtured in such an atmosphere, they take it with them as they grow into adults—because what they learn is that, while people may have different ways of doing things, they are still human beings, with a need for love, friendship and social interaction.

When you are blessed with friendships in all communities, you realize how wonderful this country is. Our differences become a matter for celebration and not division. The glue that holds this country together is not our leaders but you, the ordinary, decent God-fearing folk of all ethnic communities and faiths. Your compacts with each other every day make the connections and ties that unite us. Please go on doing that. For I have very little hope that our politicians will do likewise.


Anonymous said...

I like the chief’s (Ratu Joni) dig at the end at the politicians. He’s a man with rank, education and religion (Christianity). A man for all peoples. And for our time perhaps. I think his time will come.

However the ball is in the court of the religious leaders. And since Christianity is the predominant religion then it is the Christians decision that will amount to much. And as Methodists are the biggest group of Christians then it is they who need to get it right for the sake of all others. More rests on the church president’s head than he may realize in my opinion.

The present noises coming through the media are promising. He is calling for Chistian state yet acknowledging the pluralistic society that Fiji is. From an article I read somewhere, he does not appear to be intimidated by the state. So things look hopeful at this point.

The only negative I see in the latest gathering of religious leaders is that its ‘in front of the cameras’ so everyone may be on best behaviour. But who knows, perhaps they have been meeting regularlay already on a less formal basis away from the cameras. Yes Babasiga, a dialogue. To fight the common enemy.

- God Is Not Always Correct

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

I doubt if there has been much interfaith discussion in Fiji over the years - it's something that has been avoided I think. I enjoyed the interfaith group in Geelong that I was a member of, but I did have to be careful, tactful, and hold my tongue at times because I am convinced that my 'religion' is the way to go Yet I love the music of some other faiths, e.g. Sufi, and have met some gorgeous people such as friends who are Bahai.

Anonymous said...

I think there was a dialogue of sorts following the first coup. But the events of the enusuing years give an indication of its success. So now 20 and 5 years on they get around the table again. Better luck this time hopefully.

- God Is Not Always Correct

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Now I am embarrassed to have quoted Crosbie Walsh because it is clear that he kowtows to the regime; He even writes this:

The Ministry of Information paid my travel costs, five days accommodation at Holiday Inn, they provided a vehicle to take me around, and gave me the temporary use of a tape recorder and a “dongle” to avoid the hotel's high charge for internet access. Vinaka, Sharon, Sharleen, Don and the three drivers, especially Freddie.

Anonymous said...

He like everyone else interested in a brighter future for Fiji has to make his choice on what ground to make his stand. He sees it the way he does and openly discloses it. Fair enough, but his decision not to meet with certain leaders because their views were already known to him is weak. Not if he want's to retain some integrity.

- God Is Not Always Correct