Monday, June 23, 2008

Tradition and choices

Tradition and choices
SWANI MAHARAJ - Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A traditional yaqona ceremony ... tradition applies to a very wide range of practices the time honoured ways and observances of a community
Over the past few days some so-called community leaders have gone into a frenzy to prove that I have stated that Fijians must get rid of their culture in order to succeed in business.
Firstly, this is impossible there is no such thing as a community without culture. Culture' is a very wide term, applying to the entire way of living of a people and including its arts and crafts, values, belief systems, artifacts, etc. Tradition' applies to a very wide range of practices the time honoured ways and observances of a community.
Secondly, I am in no position to destroy' Fijian culture, I have no desire to do so, nor anything to gain from it.
While every human community treasures its culture, culture is not something that is inflexible, static and unchanging. In fact it is quite the opposite - every culture changes in order for the whole community to adapt to changing circumstances so that the community:
survives physically, and
is able to retain its core values.
We live in a world where fast paced technological innovations demands immediate adaptation and change at the personal and social levels. In its endeavour to survive, every community discards customs, practices and beliefs that become meaningless and onerous. If it doesn't, the community cannot cope or survive.
Let me give an example from Indian culture. In the past, the woman's dharma was to look after her family, learn the appropriate arts of housekeeping, etc., and learn religious/ traditional values and observances for culture transmission. Girls never stepped out of the house or spent a night anywhere. The man's sacred duty was to provide and protect his joint family.
As the world changed, we started sending our girls to school, then to university- while parents worried about their safety far away from parental care. When needed, women started earning, complementing the man's income. Once, a large family was a blessing, but now we choose smaller families in order to provide essentials such as education, house and health care.
Not everyone succeeds in making the correct choices at the correct time for example even today there are people who, desiring a male child, have numerous daughters whom they may not be able to feed, clothe or educate.
These choices are always painful and traumatic but they have to be made. Traditions and ways once held sacred and beautiful must be shed to cope with the demands of a harsher reality.
I know a Brahmin who worked as a sweeper in town, while being a part-time pundit. Traditionally they are keepers of sacred knowledge and the thinkers of society, who do not take up menial or physical tasks. This may have been a painful option but it was one he had to make given the changing world around him.
There is a misconception that every Indian is rich statistics prove otherwise. Nor is every Indian a successful businessman.
Also, the Indian business success stories are founded on generations of toil, perseverance, tremendous self-denial and 20 hour work days, seven day weeks for years on end.
Culture and business
These choices have also been made by the Fijian people their culture today is not what it was at the time of contact.
Those who have jumped at my throat calling me egoistical, insensitive, etc., actually expose their own ignorance since many Fijian traditional practices have been abandoned.
These uptight critics who twist my words and ignore my constructive suggestion in order to make out that I am insensitive to Fijian culture are nothing but mischief makers. They are engaged in an unoriginal attempt to perpetuate the propaganda that Indians are insensitive, ruthless and self-seeking.
They have taken up this selective and blinkered bias to appear' as protectors of Fijian culture. To cover up for the fact that they are not doing their fair and enlightened share to help their own community to cross the bridge from a traditional subsistence economy to this fast paced modern one.
The report clearly quoted me as saying, They have a traditional thinking of giving and it will be difficult for them to refrain from this tradition and I believe that business is for those who have the conviction and the drive to make it in the business world'.
What sane individual would interpret these words as a demand to abandon Fijian culture? Or as arrogant and egoistical? In a non-judgmental manner, I am merely stating a fact that Fijians have a certain culture of sharing and compliance to requests.
The same report carries Ratu Joni's comment which states the same fact while Fijians wished to participate in the commercial world, they are simply reluctant to abandon the costly rituals and obligations that are such a part of the Fijian social life' (Fiji Sun, 17.6.08, pg 2).
I wonder why those who jumped at my throat did not say a word about Ratu Joni's comment.
One wonders at this warped response, especially when Ms Samisoni herself admits that some of our habits are without doubt, completely antithetical to sound business practice'.
Culture and conflict
Business has not been a part of Fijian culture as it has been of Indian culture. Indians have the oldest tradition of accounting and probably the world's oldest economics text the Arthashastra'.
I had given an example about the types of challenges that Fijians may face in business because of their collectivist' culture as Ms Samisoni calls it. But the news report omitted it, so I will give it now.
I had said that if one had a thousand dollars at the end of the day one would know that only so much is the profit and the rest must go back into costs. Now if a request was made for $500, the business person would have to refuse, which is not very acceptable in Fijian culture. This creates a dilemma cultural expectation versus business necessity.
Or take the case of a farmer: say it is vital for him to immediately attend to his crop when he is informed that there is some traditional obligation to which he will need to commit the next few days. Again the dilemma should he refuse? Dare he refuse? Should he risk losing his crop and the months of labour, and the profit which he desperately needs in order to pay his children's fees, buy food, medicines, books etc?
Guidance by Fijians
Ms Samisoni refers to the Japanese economic miracle who doesn't know that story? But why has she omitted the base upon which this was achieved their phenomenal work ethos, dedication to the organisation, amazing discipline and zealous national pride?
Ms Samisoni is a wonderful success story herself. She and others like her would be the best people to mentor Fijians venturing into business, as well as in developing the Fijian equivalent of the Japanese Kaizen' so that the baby is not thrown out with the bath water.
Also, not every Indian is a successful business person kismet, chance and personal abilities are variables beyond anyone's control.
Being a shrewd business person does not automatically mean one is heartless. The numerous successful business people in Fiji, Indians and non-Indians, are some of our finest citizens who are the most generous donors for any worthy cause.
The chamber has undertaken the mentoring role and an award was given to the company that was most successful in mentoring Fijians in business.
But the Indian business person cannot dictate to the Fijians what cultural changes they must make in order to succeed. This can either come from the individual himself/herself or from the guidance of successful Fijian business people.
In this regard the hysterical, shallow and prejudiced comments that have appeared in the dailies recently have simply whipped up a maudlin fear of culture loss and anti-Indian sentiment. They have not contributed anything positive. In fact they have probably frightened many who may be thinking of stepping into uncharted waters.
This country belongs to all of us and Fijians must be equipped to take the reins of its economy in their own hands.
This cannot come from abusing Indians but from some honest soul-searching and wise and constructive decision making.
These are the personal views of the writer.

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