Saturday, October 11, 2008

“A Birthday Wish for Fiji”

Published in The Fiji Times as "Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan" Wednesday 8th October, 2008, page 7

The long weekend is approaching. Well for you in Fiji anyway. Friday 10th October, being Fiji Day will be a public holiday and apart from the usual official events many will take the opportunity to enjoy an early start to the weekend. Around the world, however, many Fijians will take the day off or get together on the weekend to renew their friendships and remember their homeland.

The United Kingdom is no exception. The Fiji High Commission will celebrate Fiji Day on Thursday the 9th with a reception complete, according to the coconut cellphone network, with a lovo. Many Fijians living overseas use this day to get the underground oven, which some times ends up being an over ground or even kitchen oven (depending on relevant laws) fired up. Considering that the Saturday (4/10) Daily Telegraph newspaper announced the arrival of winter with cold and rainy days forecast, those who brave the weather to the sake of tradition will end up being the heroes of the day.

In the desert heat of the Sinai Peninsula, the men and women of 2FIR “Fiji Batt” of the Multinational Force and Observers at the MFO Headquarters at El Gora will have a delayed Fiji Day celebration which includes the different songs and meke performances for guests from among their colleagues at MFO. This event, complete with lovo and special Fijian gifts for guests, is considered by the organisers to be a way of promoting Fiji and the 2FIR's contribution to tourism.

It will be a special week for me as the Fiji Day reception in London coincides with my older sister Lois's birthday (very convenient as it saves on a party, whichever way you look at it). The actual Fiji Day of 10th October is marked by a special Evensong service at Westminster Abbey. I fondly remember my last Fiji Day in London in 2000, when amidst the post May 19th crisis those of us gathered in Westminster Abbey to pray for our nation and our families.

This year again many, both home and away will pray for peace and harmony in Fiji. Despite the accents and different patterns of speech, the different styles of dress and customs we adopt, we Fijians are a patriotic lot. And not just when the Flying Fijians (7s or 15s) take the field or Vijay Singh hits a hole in one. While the debate continues on a common name at home, those of us abroad find ourselves being called or calling ourselves Fijian. Somehow Fiji Islander, even a brand I used to promote, does not have the gravitas that being a Fijian bestows.

In the days leading up to both my eldest sister's birthday (this year also coinciding with Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement) and Fiji Day on the horizon and being away from home, I have been reflecting on what Fiji Day means to us, given the long and winding road we are trudging along.

As a local television and radio producer, I have covered many Fiji Day events around the country. I find it rather disappointing that of the many re-enactments of the Cession of 1874, I have yet to see a re-enactment of the 1970 Independence ceremony. While we have countless young Fijian men happily donning cotton-wool beards to play the part of Ratu Seru Cakobau, or suit to portray Sir Hercules Robinson and others present; no one seems to be interested in taking up the role of Prince Charles or Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Even the Instruments of Independence, so formally presented by the Prince of Wales to then Prime Minister Mara have been mislaid. It seems that we have as much chance of finding it as the US Forces have of finding Osama bin Laden.

So we celebrate our independence by remembering our cession. The official documents of independence are missing. Is it any wonder why we are in the situation we are in today? We romanticise the past and look suspiciously at the future. Many will pray and fast on Fiji Day and then ignore the voice of God in their hardened hearts. Thirty-eight years since ostensibly being given control of its destiny Fiji continues allow itself to be dictated to by countries whose foreign policy is and will always be the benefit of itself and its people, not ours. Over the last twenty one years Fiji has given them every excuse and opportunity to do so.

Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese warrior-philosopher wrote that, "When the leader is morally weak and his discipline not strict, when his instructions and guidance are not enlightened, when there are no consistent rules, neighbouring rulers will take advantage of this." (Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 500BC)

How do we make our nation stronger? How do we as a people, as a country withstand the onslaught of globalisation through the homogenisation of culture, the promotion of individualism, materialism and the consumer mentality, which looks good from a capitalist point of view, results in economic and social disaster as the current financial crises of the United States and Europe plainly show us? How do we protect our country from moral decay and corrupt leadership? How do we as a people achieve the task received thirty eight years ago to be a nation that stands united, that honours and defends the cause of freedom ever? How do we march onward together?

I don't have the answers. I wish I did but I don't. Not all of them. But many of us have and continue to seek these answers, trusting in our intellect, the lessons that have been learnt throughout history, the mistakes of ourselves and others and trusting in the grace of God.

Let us share the answers we find. Let us listen to one another. Let us work together as a people, a nation. Let us celebrate our commonality and our desire for peace and brighter future.

That's the best birthday present we could give our country this year.

Happy Birthday Fiji!

May the rest of your week and your Fiji Day weekend be blessed with love, light and peace!

Reverend James Bhagwan is an award-winning radio and television producer and writer. He is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with. Email:

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