Article Discussed: Miyazaki, H. (2005). From sugar cane to ‘swords’: Hope and the extensibility of the gift in Fiji. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 11(2), 277-295.
Miyazaki’s (2005) article discusses the evolution of Fiji’s approach to foreign tourists during the colonial period, to independence, to inter-coup Fiji. The article highlights that during the colonial period the tourist sector was highly regulated in a way that limited the interaction between western tourists and itaukei Fijians. Fijians were prohibited to sell souvenirs to tourists as it was argued this interaction may cause Fijians to adopt the more casual manner of the western tourist. This protectionist approach echoed other colonial policies at the time, such as restricting itaukei Fijians to their villages, to preserve Fijian culture and morality.
Since Fiji achieved independence 1970, there has been a reversal of this colonial approach. Fijians are now explicitly encouraged to engage with western tourists. The phrase of “BULA!” became a sign of welcoming and hospitality in advertisements directed at western tourists. Similarly, pictures of itaukei Fijians offering a bowl of kava as a sign of cultural exchange were also prominent in tourism advertisements. It was envisioned that Fijian people could profit from and celebrate Fijian culture through this capitalization of cultural engagement . This vision, however, has not always been fulfilled seamlessly. Miyazaki (2005) explains how “sword-sellers” from Suvavou engaged with western tourists with the emblematic “BULA!” and friendliness, but in ways that appear to manipulate tourists into buying dubious cultural objects that they never intended to buy. Such descriptions by Miyazaki (2005) seems to imply that the decision towards commodifying culture in the tourism industry has potentially led to the unintended consequence of tarnishing what Fijian culture “is”.
Miyazaki’s (2005) argument is not so simple however, as the “sword-sellers” of Suvavou may not be so passively corrupted as this narrative implies. Rather this method of engagement by Suvavou sword-sellers may be their way of reclaiming agency over Fijian identity and tradition which was taken away by the government in the colonial period. The people of Suvavou argue that they are the original inhabitants of Suva and that they were subsequently alienated from its land when the colonial capital was cleared and built. The act of “sword-selling” according to their interpretation of Fijian exchange principles, and their ambivalence towards government efforts to bring a halt to the way they conduct this activity, may be a form of resistance against a government that has failed to protect their claim to tradition embedded in the land of Suva. The reading group discussed this argument in length despite Miyazaki (2005) only briefly alluding to this point in this article. The group suggests reading Miyazaki’s other scholarly works to make further deductions on this argument and its intricacies.