Fiji stretches across nearly 100 inhabited islands, with most of the population of about 750,000 concentrated in the cities, towns and villages on the two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. The many smaller outer-island communities are typically rural villages ranging in size from one to four hundred people.
From 1874 to 1970, Fiji was a British colony, and during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the British brought indentured laborers from India to work the large sugar cane plantations. The descendants of these workers, as well as subsequent immigrants from India, now make up about half of the population of Fiji, indigenous Fijians make up about 46%, and persons f European descent (especially from New Zealand and Australia), other Pacific Islanders and people of other cultures make up the rest. This population mix raises profound and complex problems, especially between Indigenous Fijians and those of Indian ancestry. Through their system of communal landholding (about 90% of all land in Fiji), which does not allow property to be sold, Fijians own almost all of their land (80%). But the land that is presently most capable of producing income, including urban sites, airports and commercials hotels is either owned or operated on long-term leases by others. The commercial lifeline of Fiji is in the hands of outside interests, especially from New Zealand, or Fijians of Indian ancestry, who are especially dominant in smaller commercial enterprises. Indigenous Fijians blame their exclusion from the contemporary wealth of their nation on Fijians of Indian ancestry. As one Indigenous Fijian elder says:
“Everything we Fijians believe in, they destroy. Where we share, they hoard; where we are quiet, they are loud; where we are respectful; they are aggressive; and where we are humble, they are arrogant.”
From Fijians of Indian ancestry there are also complaints. For them , the “hoarding” shows good business sense; Indigenous “quietness” and “humility” are interpreted as timidity and passivity. With the values of each transmuted into an eerie negative reflection, the gulf between the two seems insurmountable. Indigenous Fijians have applied constant pressure to solidify their political control of the nation as they drop in number. This has led to several coups, the last one in 2006. While this has caused some unfavorable coverage in foreign press, it is part of long reconciliation process that needs to brings both groups closer together as their both depend on each other’s strengths.
Nearly all Fijians are practicing Christians, and missionaries have been very successful since their arrival in the 1830’s. There are a few Catholics, but most are Methodist.
The Straight Path is an engrossing story. Katz reveals not only those aspects of life essential for the Fijians as they struggle to hold onto their identity, but also what is of importance to all of us who seek to retain our humanity Order now!