The founder of modern Fiji, former prime minister, president and statesman Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, asserted time and again that the strength of The Republic of Fiji lay in “Unity in Diversity,” a term he borrowed from Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister.
Mara was referring to the diverse backgrounds that comprise Fiji’s cultural heritage. The inhabitants of modern Fiji are of indigenous Fijian background, as well as of Indian, Chinese and European ancestry. These varied influences shape the nation into a unique admixture of cultures – sometimes a salad bowl, sometimes a melting pot. The blending of cultures can be seen in virtually every aspect of Fijian life: food, festivals, rituals and the arts.
A street like Victoria Parade in Suva, Fiji’s capital and main metropolis, is a lovely microcosm of Fiji’s cultural heritage. The street is dotted with restaurants that offer local Fijian food, as well as Indian, Chinese, Thai and even continental fare such as pizza. The country’s calendar of holidays is also testament to Fiji’s cultural diversity. In addition to secular holidays, official bank holidays in Fiji include Christmas and Easter, as well as the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.
While the indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijians often live peacefully together, the political history of Fiji is rife with stories of animosity and discord between the two communities. Extreme forms of Fijian nationalism espoused by some indigenous Fijians have led to a racialized voting system in which politicians claiming to support indigenous interests over “outsider” interests sometimes thrive. And as the majority of land in Fiji is owned by indigenous Fijians, land disputes between the two groups also abound.
The Fiji Arts Council, established by the Department of Culture & Heritage in 1964, works to preserve Fijian heritage by promoting the works of local visual and performance artists and by creating a market for Fijian art by running competitions and festivals. The Council also organizes the widely celebrated holiday, “Fiji Day,” which falls every year on October 10, but which locals spend up to one week celebrating. A different theme is chosen each year for Fiji Day (such as the 2009 theme, “Educating Fiji towards Change, Peace and Progress”), and local artists and performers are given an opportunity to showcase their work and talents.
The Fiji Museum and the National Trust of Fiji (NTF) are other governmental organizations that are charged with promoting the nation’s cultural and natural heritage by preserving and presenting for public view historical artifacts and documents, as well as living flora and fauna that symbolize Fijian life. The NTF protects 14 heritage sites throughout the islands, five of which are community conservation projects, demonstrating the involvement of local Fijians in heritage preservation.