Colour, Class and Custom

Preface to the 1998 Web version

Although Rabuka's take-over remains the most significant event in Fiji politics since independence, it has itself been overtaken by subsequent events. Fiji today has a new constitution to replace the 1990 product of the post-coup regime, and will soon conduct elections where at least some seats will be voted for on an open roll. This is a hopeful time for Fiji, although the looming crisis over the great unresolved issue of Fiji politics—land leases—makes it a fearful one for many Fiji Indian farmers.

Given that Fiji has moved on, why revisit the drama and trauma of 1987 by republishing this 1992 paper on the Web?

One reason is simple enough: the original paper has been out-of-print for two years, yet remains in modest demand. Publishing on the Web is a straightforward way to meet that continuing demand. At the same time, this paper will boost substantially the amount of academic analysis of the Fiji coup available to Web users. At present, a search for 'Fiji and (coup or coups)' on the major search engines yields only modest summaries of Fiji politics at best, and incidental mentions at worst, though a few academic papers that deal directly or indirectly with the subject are uncovered by adding 'Mara' and 'Rabuka' to narrow the search.[1] I hope that this site can steer a few more Net-surfing students and academics to the wealth of information on the coup available in print, as well as provide a useful initial exposure to the issues involved.

The site contains a page for each section of the original paper. Notes are contained on a separate page, with links to and from each note reference in the text. Note numbers here do not correspond exactly to those in the original paper, which contained some errors in endnote numbering. Otherwise, the text is virtually identical to the original print version, to the extent that some notes on the location and occupation of particular authors are now out-of-date.

My 1992 caveats (below) about holding academics to their every word of earlier years are even more relevant today, six years on. Even I would not wish to be held to every word that you see here—written mostly when I was a 22-year-old honours student in 1990, although the final chapter was expanded during my first six months as a PhD student in 1991. (My much more developed thoughts on the issues raised in that final chapter are given in my book, Changing Their Minds: Tradition and Politics in Contemporary Fiji and Tonga, published in December 1998 by the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies of the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.) But, as before, I do not wish to disown the basic thrust of this paper, which captures well a particular moment in the academic study of Fiji's politics.

To my earlier thanks, I would like to add thanks to Ron May and Ben Kerkvliet of the Department of Political and Social Change, RSPAS, ANU, for permission to republish this paper on the Web, and to James Cotton for permission to place it on the School of Politics website at University College, UNSW.

Rory Ewins
September 1998

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Preface to the 1992 edition

This paper is concerned with the dramatic events surrounding the 1987 coup in Fiji. In this respect it is hardly unique: although the coup occurred only five years ago, hundreds of thousands of words have already been published concerning its possible explanations. Rather than attempt to compete directly with those many books and articles, I seek to explain the explanations by surveying the key works on the coup that were available up to late 1990, categorizing the major explanations they give for the coup, and offering my own opinions as to which explanations are the most valuable.

Newer works on the coup will, of course, present somewhat more sophisticated explanations than were offered in the months of confusion which immediately followed May 1987. Readers of this paper should keep in mind the time during which the works surveyed were written; some explanations given weight during 1987 and 1988 are held in considerably less esteem now. I certainly do not wish to suggest that the writers discussed herein should be held to every word they wrote three or four years ago; I imagine, though, that they would continue to defend the broad thrust of their arguments, just as I defend those that I have given here.

Thanks are due to several people who were involved in seeing this paper through to its present form: Richard Herr, who supervised the original honours dissertation and suggested its publication; Trevor Sofield, for extensively discussing the coup with me in late 1990; William Sutherland, for many helpful and interesting discussions about the 'politics of tradition'; Brij Lal and Stephanie Lawson, for their specific advice about this paper and possible areas for its improvement; and Ron May and Claire Smith for their editorial help. Finally, thank you to everyone in the departments of Political Science, University of Tasmania, and Political and Social Change, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University.

Rory Ewins
September 1992

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