Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How can you know where you're going, if you don't know where you've been?

Published in the Fiji Times as "Remembering the intersections" in Off The Wall With Padre James Bhagwan, Wednesday, May 30, 2012

As part of my service to my host church in Seoul, I teach an adult Conversational English class. Last week, we were discussing two sentences, "I think we're lost." and, "I know where we are!" As we discussed the context of this conversation, my students made two observations:
“Men don't like to admit that they are lost,” and “Women, however do not hesitate to ask for directions”.

I know this is a generalisation (even though it may hold some truth) but perhaps it is something that is part of the human condition.

Some of us when visiting a foreign country, or even town only go where our hosts or guides take us. We don't even bother to look at a map to see where we are in relation to where we have been or where we are going.

About six years ago, my wife and I took our two infant children on a trip to New Zealand's North Island. We had saved up for this trip as a celebration for my graduation from the Pacific Theological College and as a reward for my wife's support while bearing two children, teaching and completing a post-Graduate certificate.

The fact that we flew out a few days after the December 2006 Coup d’├ętat raised some eyebrows, which rose even further when we actually returned home after our holiday. 

It was a short trip so we could afford to hire a car once we realised that catching a bus for everywhere we wanted to go with a 2 year-old and a nearly 1 year-old in tow was going to limit us.  We travelled around using a street and road map.  The few times we took a wrong turn weren't too bad as, being on holiday; we made each detour into an adventure.

On our way back from Rotorua, my wife remarked that if we had not had the map we might have just sat around waiting for people to take us places and not have experienced all that we did.

I was reminded of this experience as one of my younger i-Taukei Face Book-friends made the comment that she realised she was not aware of some important events in our country's history, and the deeply moving experience of becoming aware of the path of our nation.

My friend's "moment of awakening" came when in her research she came across then-Leader of the Opposition, Jai Ram Reddy's historic speech to the Bose Levu Vakaturaga / Great Council of Chiefs. It was the first time an Indo-Fijian had addressed this i-Taukei institution. Given its current status, it was probably the only time this would happen.

Jai Ram Reddy with the late Sir Paul Reeves (head of the commission
that developed the 1997 constitution)
She writes, “I read his speech with an emotional journey through time as the Hon. Jai Ram Ready started his speech. I felt that I was thrown back during Ratu Seru Cakobau’s era, ceding our Islands to Queen Victoria and then fast forward back to the moment he was delivering his speech, I felt I was in that conference room with our respected Chiefs. My vision starts to blur as I felt tears streaming down my face, I was so moved with enormous emotions. I was in High School when he delivered this speech; I was too young to understand the importance of his speech. How can a great man humble himself to the very ground that we stood on and how he understood the importance of this Great Council. I couldn’t finish his speech, I was too emotional, after the submission of my essay, I will definitely finish the Hon Jai Ram Ready’s speech...but I will leave you with what he said and I quote:

“ Ni sa tiko saka na Turaga na Peresitedi, na i liuliu ni noda Matanitu, na Gone Turaga na Tui Nayau, na Sau ni Vanua ko Lau, Ni sa tiko saka na Turaga nai liuliu ni Bose levu Vaaturaga , nai Talai ka Prime Minister ni noda vanua, Ni sa tiko saka na Turaga kei na Marama Bale , lewe ni Bose Levu Vakaturaga, Ni sa tiko saka na Turaga kei na Marama lewe ni bose ni veika Vakaitaukei, Nisa tiko saka na Turaga keina Marama lewe ni Matabose e cake, i Seneti. 

Today I come before you deeply moved by what this moment means-to you, to me and to all the people of our motherland. In a time which future generations will as a defining moment for this country, the grandson of an indentured labourer answers the call of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga.

And together we have an appointment with History.

Never before has an Indian been invited to address this august body. I am honoured and humbled to be the first. And I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you in person. I have made many speeches, in many places and on many high occasions. But what I have to say this morning is for me the most important of them all”......

“Our Ancestors came to this land in search of a better life, in search of a future they dreamed of for their children and their children’s children. Though they travelled to these islands long, long after your ancestors, surely the dreams and hopes of those who landed from the Leonidas were not different from those who came ashore after the epic earlier voyages from the West.

Let me affirm that we honour your place, and the place of your people, as the first inhabitants of Fiji. We recognize, and have always recognized the unique and special role of this council, we seek not domination indeed we cannot dominate we are not the majority ethnic group in this multicultural nation; you are.

What we seek is partnership.

We seek a country whose children of all races grow up with deep understanding and respect for each other’s cultures languages and traditions. We seek a country which encourages the best and the brightest indeed encourages all its people of all races to work together.

We seek not to threaten your security; but to protect it, for in your security lies the basis of our own.”

I responded by saying that that was how many of us felt in 1997 when the new constitution was enacted. We are all members of one extended family. History is the path that brought us here. We would do well to remember our wider history and our commonalities rather than focus on our more recent divisive events.

You see, history, which is often dismissed as being "old news," or simply "the past," in our desire to move forward, is a map. It shows us where we are and where we have been, where others have been and helps us figure out how to get to where we need to go.

Often we are so confident or perhaps stubborn about the direction we are going in that we fail to pay attention to our surroundings, we are not mindful of the path we are taking to get to where we think we should be. In doing so, we neglect to heed the signposts telling us, for example, that the bridge ahead has already been burned, or washed out.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.”

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