Category Archives: Fiji

The culture of culture

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IF you think about your culture – REALLY think about it.

Remove your emotions, those rose tinted glasses, all the romanticism you feel toward it and just look at it from a detached point of view- would you be able to identify issues with it?

And would you have the courage to speak out about it- not just to your friends and peers- but to your society as a whole.

I ask this question because in my travels through Australia- I’ve been confronted with this question and I’d be lying of if I didn’t admit that much of my free time is consumed turning the idea over in my head- like a baker kneading dough trying to find just the right consistency.

I’ll explain a little bit about myself though, I’m a 24-year-old Fijian male, 6 foot, blonde hair blue eyes- ok so i’m lying on that bit- I’m actually 23 lol.

My culture is something I am immensely proud of- even though I may not be as familiar with it as I should be.

Just the fact that I know I have an identity, a place, just the knowledge that my grandfather  and his grandfather before him all practiced and passed down the traditions that I am blessed with today.

And the cultural effects from mining is what I’m currently soaking up.

As part of this Mining, Media and Development Fellowship with the APJC- we are required to look at all the effects of mining- environmental, business, political and cultural.

And after a few sessions hearing from different speakers on the cultural effects of mining I started to think- Is my culture robbing women and young men of their voices when it comes to deciding whether or not to allow mining on indigenous land.

For those of you who don’t understand, let me explain.The Fijian culture is patriarchal.

The men make the decisions, their voices carry weight in village discussions. They sit at the top of the table and they drink the first bowl of Kava in formal ceremonies.

Women and young men- to put it politely- do not carry as much weight with their opinions.Unless of course they are chiefs in their own right.

That’s the way it’s been since the time of my grandfather and his grandfather before him.

Now when the newest mine in Fiji began to seek landowners approval for use of their land- the decision making process went straight to the Mataqali- or land owning units which of course are headed by men.

And two days before I came to Australia I listened to a panel that was convened to talk about mining in Fiji, one of the speakers presented a few statistics on the new mine.

The statistics showed how young men and women were marginalised when it came to the decision making process for giving mining companies permission to mine on THEIR land.

A survey conducted on a portion of the community showed that a staggering 76 per cent felt they were not included in the process- even though the mining operations would affect all in the area.

A further 15 per cent of 500 villagers surveyed had no idea what an EIA was.

Add to this the fact  that Indians -who had also settled nearby and would feel the effects just as equally-were not consulted- simply because they were not part of the landowning group.

Now back then it didn’t seem that wrong to me- I remember thinking ‘Well tough luck guys but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

But now I wonder- can the mining consultation process with a community actually be participatory when the culture present in the community is the exact opposite.

And this thought occurred to me during an APJC organised excursion to the Melbourne Writers Festival to catch a session on Tradition and Development.

They were talking about including the views of a community when deciding about aid for development- yes I know it’s not mining but the same principle applies.

Basically can we justify a development decision that includes the views of an indigenous community when the culture present is not a consultative one to begin with?

Am i making sense here?

With regards to our culture- have we gotten so used to doing things one way that we are actually passing off the injustices that arise because of it- as acceptable?

And to go even further do we know the finer details of why our culture is as it is? Or are we practising our culture for culture’s sake?

I’ll be honest I don’t know the answer to ALL the questions I’ve raised here – my feeling is that if we concede on on aspect of our culture then we place ourselves on a slippery slope.

And also these damn rose tinted glasses refuse to come off.

But then are we risking destroying ourselves as a society- from the inside out by not conceding on the negatives?

For my grandfather and his grandfather before him- I hope we find our answers very soon.

Personal experience APJC AusAid ALA Fellowship


Photo provided by VR

I am priviledged to be part of the APJC reporting climate change and the environment fellowship from October 24 to November 25, 2011.

At first I thought the five weeks would drag but it certainly passed by so fast that we are now on the final week_ hooray! The friends and exposure I have had during this time cannot be measured by money and I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this program.

It is indeed a valuable experience for me and a great boost to my career as a journalist as I walk away here better informed and with a wider knowledge about Climate Change. I have in the past been involved with climate change writing but this specific training opportunity will certainly enrich my writing skills on the subject.

Speakers like reporter Joe Chandler of the Age who were able to relate climate change to her experiences in countries like Afrika, PNG and Afghanistan, the visit to CSIRO and the talk with scientists was very engaging. Special thanks to Torrey Orton for personal development training_ it was good to know that stress levels of journalists from th Pacific, Inonesia, East Timor and our good frond from Papua were at explosive levels compared to journalists based in Australia! Climate change is a critical subject for journalists like me in the region as we struggle daily to adapt to its effects unfolding right bfore our eyes and to tell our stories an.

It’s not new and my colleagues will agree that our traditional farmers back home and our fellow villagers know that changes are occuring all around them. In fact with warming temperatures and extreme weather conditions this is a daily topic of discussion around the yaqona tanoa back at home.

They can tell you stories about sea level rise and the changes to the traditional calendars as clearly as scientists do except that they do it in simple terms and relate it to their daily simple experiences!

I must mention that I enjoyed all aspects of the training in Australia and found it to be a learning experience both in Melbourne and Tasmania. The trip down to Tasmania was especialy exciting and eye opening.

The visit to the Styx Valley, Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park,Port Arthur Historic Site, Environment Defenders Office, Austraian Antarctic Division, The Mona Museum as well as the Symposium on Environmental Politics and Conflict in an Age of Digital Media were all a breath of fresh air and an experience in itself.

Such refresher courses and attachments out of the normal newsroom atmosphere back in our home countries helps journalists lift their level of understanding and in turn writing on such complex topics like Climate Change to another level. I believe neighboring countries like Australia should also take time out to learn about the effects of Climate Change in countries in the Pacific so it can make their mitigation experiences more real.

It is only when they take time to learn what is happening in the Pacific and how these small economies are struggling to adapt will the message flow and others around the world will realise the importance of reducing emissions!

The keynote address by Senator Christine Milne of the Australian Greens at the Environmental Politics and Conflict Symposium was touching.

I admire the way she acknowledged indigenous people, how they were marginalised all over the world and also how they were the very population affected by Climate Change.

I must say it was warming to know that at least someone in the Australian Parliament bothers to know what is happening to the people in the Pacific and that countries like Australia she says needs to do more to help our region adapt to Climate Change.

Thank you APJC for the great learning experience and I hope AusAid gives you more funding to train journalists in the region who are feeling the direct impacts of Climate Change so they can do a better job raising awareness as their communities struggle with adaptation policies.

After all it is through the media that our people would be able to tell their stories and make a difference in this global village we share. Once again Vinaka Vakalevu to John Wallace, Alex, Catherine, Putri, Budi, Laura,Gee, Philip and all those that made this experience a memorable one.

Sea level rise in Fiji


Picture by bzarrhands

Sea level is expected to continue to rise in Fiji and coastal communities including resort owners need to adapt to this.

Scientists from the Pacific Climate Change Science Program in Melbourne Australia on their latest report on Current and Future Climate of Fiji told regional journalists currently in Australia for leadership and Climate Change reporting that the rise is predicted to be 3 to 16 cm.

The sea-level rise combined with natural year to year changes will increase the impact of storm surges and coastal flooding in the country.

As there is still much to learn, particularly how large ice sheets such as Antarctica and Greenland contribute to sea level rise, scientists warn larger rises than currently predicted could even be possible.

The predictions say that the acidity level of sea waters in the Fiji region will continue to increase over the 21st century with the greatest change under the high emissions scenario by 2030 affecting the fish and sea life negatively.

The impact of increased acidification on the health of reef ecosystems is likely to be compounded by other stressors including coral bleaching, storm damage and fishing pressure.

On a global scale while projections indicate there is likely to be a decrease in the number of tropical cyclones scientists predict an increase in the average maximum wind speed of cyclones by between 2-11 per cent and an increase in rainfall intensity of about 20 per cent within 100 km of the cyclone centre.

In the Fiji region projections indicate a decrease in the frequency of tropical cyclones by the late 21 century and an increase in the proportions of the more intense storm so more cyclone proof building will have to be constructed to withstand these weather changes.

Projections for all emissions scenarios indicate that the annual average of air temperatures and sea surface temperature will continue to increase.

By 2030 under a high emissions scenario this increase in temperature is projected to be in the range of 0.4 to 1.0 degrees Celsius placing a higher risk on the health of the population.

Increases in the average temperature will also result in the rise in the number of hot days and warm nights meaning a significant decline in cooler weather.

Villagers in Fiji affected by Climate Change

Fiji known as “Paradise in the middle of the deep blue sea” made up of 322 islands and 522 islets is like many countries in the Pacific facing the implications of climate change in a big way.

So the Government for a population of just over 800,000 people is trying its best to raise awareness on the subject as communties that heavily rely on agriculture experience the serious reality of climate change.

Climate change adaptation and food security project coordinator Doctor Jimaima Lako willingly shared some light recently on the subject to The Fiji Times.

She says on Totoya in the Lau Group alone there a lot of coastal degradation, while rivers were becoming shallow due to constant flooding.

The situation was so bad in Ketei Village that families have been forced to create outlets in their homes to channel floodwater out whenever it rains.

She said there were so many factors to consider when talking climate change which includes the causes and effects.

Sea level rise, Marwa Morgan

It is obvious that implications of climate change does not happen overnight and the lack of understanding often adds to the drastic effects to the environment and sustainable livelihood and development of communities.

CAUTION: You’re blogging in Fiji

Tech tip for Fiji Bloggers: Safer to use a typewriter

If you’re the political type and love to blog about the human weaknesses in those running democratically elected governments, Fiji is not the place for you.

Blogging there can be dangerous. Unless you go anonymous.

The country’s military regime is heavy on media censorship.

To say  anything “negative” about those in power is to risk being taken to the military camp and interrogated.

“Negative” of course is loosely defined by the censors.

It can be anything from “what you think is harmless but is perceived by them as NEGATIVE” to “what you think is negative but write in such a way that they think its harmless.”

The mainstream media there have already been slapped with restrictive legislations designed to keep them in line.

Anti-government commentators have also been pushed underground following intimidation attacks by the army.

The crowd of online anti-government commentators has thinned over the years as a result.

I can go on but this is a class exercise that has a potential to land me in jail as soon as I go back to Fiji on May 21st!

Suffice to say that there is hope for bloggers in Fiji.

How would you rate the safety of blogging on politics in your country?