Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 5. 1966.
Fiji — island where thousands need food, work
Fiji — island where thousands need food, work
A Slightiy-Built 15-year-old Fijian lad, dressed in immaculate schoolboy's white uniform, suddenly unfolded his hands and waved my borrowed Volkswagen to a screeching halt.
"Can You please give to me a ride as far as the market, Sir?" (The cringing, subservient manner in which this word "Sir" is used by the downtrodden of Fiji is on my list as a "custom" which I shall do my utmost to destroy.)
"Yes. certainly, hop in. My name is John, what's yours?"
"What school do you go to. Filive?"
"No school, Sir."
"Please don't call me Sir. My name is John. Why aren't you going to school, Filive?"
"Because … Mr. John … the headmaster he told me don't come back because you over-age to go to secondary school and last year your father never pay all the school fees."
"Do you work somewhere near the market, Filive?"
"No, Sir … I mean … Mr. John. I got no job. I try everywhere, and my father he try everywhere, but still no luck. Mr. John, you think you can fix one job for me? … If you fix one job for me, I do anything for you."
"What kind of job would you like. Filive?"
"I want to be a mechanic, Mr. John, but I can do anything," he replied, full of boyish enthusiasm and confidence in his own ability.
The Volkswagen bumped along the patched-up Lami-Suva highway, flanked by large, luscious tropical palms, shrubs and blooms, not quite hiding the bungalows and carports with their Fiats, Falcons and Fairlanes.
Filive unfolded his life-story with much coaxing from "Mr. John." His father worked as a labourer earning between three to four pounds a week. (The price of one mullet, 31b in weight. is 8/-in the Suva market, while the root crop, taro, sells for almost 1/- per pound.) They lived at the back of an Indian man's house in a roughly constructed hut. Other relatives lived with them also because they came from their villages to look for work in the town; their mataqali (family land unit in the village) was not large enough to support the family. The mother was at the Suva market trying to get some food. The father did not go to work that morning because of illness and would receive no sickness benefit.
"Suva City Welcomes You" read a beautifully constructed sign. I thanked Suva for its welcome, in spite of the fact that the sign is almost in the grounds of the Suva cemetery.
The first building that looked like a mechanic shop was also my first stop.
"Why did I want to see the manager?" I was rudely asked.
"It's none of your business!"
I produced my printed name card. That did the trick. Now I was at least of some consequence in the eyes of the clerk, in spite of my ordinary shirt, khaki shorts and cheap pair of jandals.
I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw that the manager was a European: at least I would get a straightforward, coherent answer for a change.
"This is my friend Filive: he has Just left primary school and wants to be a mechanic. Can you help him?"
The manager leaned on his desk, supported his head with his left hand, and shook his head from side to side.
"Cases like this come up day after day. They come from the Labour Department. They come from the villages. And they come from the suburbs. I'm over-employed as it is."
"Do you know of any other firm which might be able to employ Filive?"
His head wobbled from side to side again. No, he didn't know of any firm, or of any organisation, or of any individual, or of anything. His ignorance was matched only by his complete lack of interest in Filive's plight.
"Vinaka, vaka Ievu (thank you very much), Mr. John," said Filive as he alighted from my vehicle outside the market.
"Vinaka vaka levu" is used as often as possible by the Fijians, usually accompanied by a broad smile of apprecation. The Fiji Indians also have similar words: dhanya bad, shukriya, etc.: but they are seldom used. The benefactor is left guessing as to whether the recipient is grateful, indifferent or downright resentful.
At the crack of dawn the next day I met Filive's father emerging from the door of his hut. I wanted to be sure that Filive's father approved of my attempts to find a job for his son.
"Vinaka, vaka levu. for trying to help my son. But we can do nothing in return for you," said he, with a grateful yet somewhat suspicious look on his face.
"I do not want anything from you or Filive. I only want to help the boy. I want to see that he becomes suitably qualified to look after himself and shoulder his responsibilities to his kith and kin."
"My God." I said to myself. "Has the relationship between the Indians and Fijians deteriorated so much that any offer of help must be looked upon with suspicion or with thoughts of imperative reciprocation?")
An old friend
The manager of Fiji's largest bus company knew me as a teenager. He knows my parents. He knew my grandparents. He greeted me very cordially, setting aside his work at hand, but informed me that he had 80 working under him and was, in fact, over-employed.
This man is a philanthropist. He helps the destitute. So I told him about Filive's father. I told him about Filive's mother and her efforts in the market. I told him about the shack they lived in. Then I told him about Filive.
Indians love long stories. They love tragedies, comedies and pathos: my long story about Filive was a combination of all these three. But the Indians also love the "lived - happily - ever - after" ending. This, I pointed out to the manager, was where he fitted into the story.
The manager put his elbows on the desk, supported his face with both hands and nodded twice.
"Thank you, very much." I said. "I will send the lad in tomorrow. If after three months' trial he doesn't do his part I shall hold no grudge against you if you sack him. I'm sure Filive will be thrilled with the £2/10/- he'll receive each week."
Filive was thrilled. He wasn't disappointed when asked to mop the office floor—I had warned him about that.
I saw Filive again before I left Suva. He was covered in grease. trying to undo the wheel-nut of a large transport bus. At last he had been given an opportunity to prove his worth. I left him, still struggling with the nut. I said a hurried goodbye to Filive: it was needless for me to ask if he [unclear: we] happy in his work!
Sunsets in the tropics are [unclear: new] as brilliant as those depicted [unclear: the] postcards sold in Suva, [unclear: photographed] usually by an America with a Japanese camera and [unclear: processed] in Honolulu. I was [unclear: admiting] one of these not-so-[unclear: brilliant] sunsets from my little piece [unclear: land] when a cheery "Hello, [unclear: Mr.] John" broke the silence.
Filive had brought his [unclear: two] friends, Luke and Jone, to [unclear: me] "Mr. John."
Luke was the spokesman. "[unclear: You] must be a very lucky man, [unclear: Mr.] John, to fix one job for [unclear: Filiy] You think you can do same [unclear: for] me and Jone and I know [unclear: plen] boys on the other side of [unclear: the] river who got no job."
Unemployment amongst [unclear: juveniles] is not something new in [unclear: Fiji] Observant New Zealanders a also aware of this, but they [unclear: st] insist on sending [unclear: university] students to plant rice there, [unclear: an] intend "travelling throughout [unclear: F] Islands, testing and [unclear: vaccinas] schoolchildren, working in [unclear: the] Fiji archives, indexing and [unclear: preparing] new collections of [unclear: bool] and helping the Fiji Museum [unclear: the] Sigatoka archaeological [unclear: cavations] where ancient [unclear: livi] sites are being unearthed."
One of these days someone [unclear: w] come up with the brilliant idea [unclear: recruiting] and training the [unclear: lot] unemployed youths to do the [unclear: various] jobs.
While New Zealand students [unclear: to] Fiji to work on various [unclear: project] the youth of Fiji travel to New page 7 Zealand to work on projects of [unclear: their] own. Fiji Indians have been [unclear: erstaying] their three-months holiday" permit, in order to [unclear: retain] in some sort of employment, [unclear: there] is nothing for them back [unclear: ome]. Fijian labourers, on the her hand, do not usually have [unclear: the] air fare to come to New [unclear: Zealand] and hence they cause little double to the New Zealand Immi-gration Division.
At present there are some 150 [unclear: young] Fiji Indians who have over [unclear: ayed] their "holiday" permits by [unclear: two] months. Some have been [unclear: re] illegally from two to three cars changing their hairstyle, rowing moustaches, conforming [unclear: the] Maori mode of dress and [unclear: litating] their accent, all in order [unclear: avoid] detection by the over-[unclear: worked] New Zealand Police Force, no have enough on their hands forcing archaic liquor laws and [unclear: controlling] the over-enthusiastic tiling Stones fans.
A government official in Fiji formed me "confidentially" that [unclear: 1st] year 11,000 children left [unclear: school] (a large proportion [unclear: involuntliy]) and 9000 of these will not [unclear: able] to find any employment [unclear: is] year.
"This, of course, is crude data [unclear: and] you must treat them with [unclear: ation]," I was patronisingly [unclear: in-] med."But if you go to [unclear: Government] Official A he will be [unclear: to] give you all the data [unclear: you]. But really why do you want [unclear: pursue] this any further? If you start writing about this problem, you'll only create an emotional atmosphere and people will unjustly point an accusing finger at some department or the Fiji Government itself, and we're doing everything with the amount of money we have available. After all, we have unemployment problems in Britain also you know!"
It was difficult for me to convince this individual that while I am concerned about unemployment and poverty throughout the world, including Britain, my immediate responsibility lies in Fiji.
No doubt I am "emotional" when it comes to dealing with the "damned of the earth." How can one remain unmoved when young people come to you begging for an opportunity to learn to take care of themselves? What does one do with one's emotions when he sees his own family suffer as a result of unemployment?
I went to Official A, who sent me to Official B, who in turn advised me to see Official C or D. Official C sent me to Official D. The latter informed me that the matter hardly concerned him and expressed great surprise that Officials A, B and C had not been able to supply me with the information I needed. Letters to departments bring little satisfaction, that is if one is fortunate enough to elicit a reply.
Has the Fiji Education Department a Vocational Guidance division where I could send Luke and Jone?
An emphatic "yes" was the telephone operator's reply and I discovered that Mr. R. P. Hedley, the educational officer for overseas students was also in charge of Vocational Guidance. How did Mr. Hedley combine two such onerous tasks? The answer came from Mr. Hedley himself while visiting Wellington: vocational guidance took little of his time since there were hardly any jobs where children leaving school could be directed.
In view of this one finds it extremely difficult to understand the action of the Suva Rotary Club, who approached Mr. A. Taylor, former president of NZUSA. with a request that the New Zealand students "prepare a vocational guidance booklet for students leaving school in Fiji." (Fiji Times 31/12/65).
"Waste of time"
Next day, I advised Luke, Jone and Sukhueo (a newcomer) to go to the Labour Department. Surely tills department could do something for the lads.
"It's a waste of time, Sir," said Sukhdeo. "They give you a little ticket and you spend a whole week walking here, there and everywhere, but you can't get any jobs."
The government realises the gravity of the unemployment problem and the ineffectiveness of the Labour Department. In the Colony's Annual Report (1964) the section entitled 'Unemployment" (p. 14) is quite illuminating:
"Although the Labour Department operates an employment service and provides facilities for persons to register for work, comparatively few persons register themselves as unemployed, principally because of the few vacancies notified to the department … During the last six years the number of persons who have left school is more than 56,000: whilst some of these school leavers may have obtained work on family holdings or may be self-employed in fishing or agriculture, etc., it is reasonable to assume that a considerable proportion of them must, of necessity, seek paid employment. If a normal wastage of approximately 1.000 a year has taken place in the labour force employed for wages it may also be assumed, taking into account the total numbers employed in Fiji, that the unemployment problem is greater than indicated by the numbers registering for work at labour exchanges."
In spite of the absence of reliable unemployment figures, it Is clear that large numbers who, through necessity, return to family holdings, etc., after leaving school, contribute little to the increase of agricultural produce in the colony. The 1956 census revealed that 6,000 people, or over one third of the Indian population living in the cane zone were redundant to the maximum labour requirements needed for cultivating cane on that area, using existing techniques. Similar situations are to be found on Fijian plantations and in the villages. The 1966 census will be awaited with eagerness by all interested in the affairs of Fiji, but of one thing we can be sure, the numbers of redundant labour force is unlikely to show any reduction.
Obviously, the solution to most of Fiji's problem lies in the wise use of "filthy lucre." and most of this must come from the pockets of overseas investors.
"There is a screaming need for investment of New Zealand development capital, particularly in agriculture but also in minor industries and other fields." uttered one visiting politician from Fiji. But he and his visiting colleagues need to be reminded that investors from New Zealand will not invest in Fiji simply because Fiji needs their money. Concrete examples of the type. "there's gold in them thar hills" need to be placed in the hands of investors, before they will risk their wealth. The visiting politicians' press statements and their one pathetic interview over the NZBC gave little indication of such examples.
The Governor of Fiji (Sir Derek Jakeway was a little more forthright. (Evening Post, 26/2/65). Said he, while visiting Australia, "The average person in Fiji believed that Australia did pretty well in terms of jobs and profits, and that it would not do Australia any harm to put some of it back." This type of statement, blunt, precise, and one with which I heartly concur, is again unlikely to bring much result. However Sir Derek was more to the point when he directed attention to two fields for investment: "One obvious field would be in the meat and fish canning industries, because Fiji imported £400,000 worth of each of these commodities annually. Another field which has barely been scratched was timber, which had most attractive potentialities."
But little follow-up of these proposals have been forthcoming. A 23-page booklet entitled "Investment in Fiji" and issued by the Government of Fiji appears to be designed to attract tourists rather than investments. Pretty pictures of the "Hibiscus Festival" and tourists soaking up beer beside a swimming pool catches the eye: timber, meat and fish hardly receive any mention in this booklet, and yet these are the resources whose wise exploitation could provide employment for the hundreds leaving school each year.
So Luke. Jone and Sukhdeo. till "the powers that be" carefully study and face the problem of juvenile unemployment realistically, your potential talents must lie dormant and your intended service to the colony must remain unrendered, unless, of course, your paths may cross that of another "emotional" individual who knows a philanthropist.
Letters To The Editor In This Issue Are On Page Four