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State of Suffering

State of Suffering: Political Violence and Community Survival in Fiji

Susanna Trnka
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    State of Suffering
    Book Description:

    How do ordinary people respond when their lives are irrevocably altered by terror and violence? Susanna Trnka was residing in an Indo-Fijian village in the year 2000 during the Fijian nationalist coup. The overthrow of the elected multiethnic party led to six months of nationalist aggression, much of which was directed toward Indo-Fijians.

    In State of Suffering, Trnka shows how Indo-Fijians' lives were overturned as waves of turmoil and destruction swept across Fiji. Describing the myriad social processes through which violence is articulated and ascribed meaning-including expressions of incredulity, circulation of rumors, narratives, and exchanges of laughter and jokes-Trnka reveals the ways in which the community engages in these practices as individuals experience, and try to understand, the consequences of the coup. She then considers different kinds of pain caused by political chaos and social turbulence, including pain resulting from bodily harm, shared terror, and the distress precipitated by economic crisis and social dislocation.

    Throughout this book, Trnka focuses on the collective social process through which violence is embodied, articulated, and silenced by those it targets. Her sensitive ethnography is a valuable addition to the global conversation about the impact of political violence on community life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6188-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. 1 Violence, Pain, and the Collapse of Everyday Life
    (pp. 1-30)

    On May 19, 2000, armed gunmen led by indigenous Fijian businessman George Speight burst into the Fiji Parliament and took hostage forty-four members of Parliament, including the prime minister. They sought to over-throw the democratically elected Labour government and remove from office Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji’s first, and to date only, Indo-Fijian prime minister. For the next six months, Fiji was plunged into turmoil. Crowds swept through the nation’s capital, looting shops and businesses. Schools were shut down. Indo-Fijian homes and Hindu temples were set alight. Like most of the political rhetoric that accompanied the coup, much of the violence targeted...

  4. 2 The Coup of May 2000—An Invitation to Anti-Indian Violence
    (pp. 31-62)

    On July 8, 2000, a number of Indo-Fijian wedding guests from neighboring towns and villages traveled to a wedding in Korovou Town in Tailevu, about thirty miles north of Suva. As bad luck would have it, the wedding took place on the same day that Korovou Town was overtaken by rebels. According to newspaper reports as well as accounts told to me by residents of Darshan Gaon where one of the wedding party lived, the van in which the wedding guests were traveling was stopped by a group of Fijian men with cane knives. The passengers were ordered to hand...

  5. 3 Living in Fantastic Times
    (pp. 63-86)

    “We live in unusual times, almost like Alice in Wonderland, where things are seldom what they seem or are claimed to be,” stated newspaper columnist and legal scholar Sir Vijay Singh in the midst of the chaos of the 2000 coup (2000b, 7). Indeed, the events following George Speight’s overtaking of Parliament opened up a time unlike any other in the nation’s history. Across many parts of Fiji, the crisis that began that day stripped away the familiarity and comprehensibility of daily life, plunging people into a space in which it was difficult to differentiate between rumors and reality, where...

  6. 4 Looting, Labor, and the Politics of Pain
    (pp. 87-116)

    On the same morning that George Speight and his gunmen broke into Parliament, crowds of indigenous Fijians broke into Suva’s shops and restaurants. In the capital city and later in nearby Nausori Town, the looters began to help themselves to a variety of merchandise. Along with a handful of Nausori businesses, it is estimated that 167 businesses in downtown Suva, most of which were owned by Gujaratis, Indo-Fijians, and foreign firms, were looted that day.

    The looters were Fijians of all ages. They included youths, elderly women, middle-age men, and women carrying infants. Some of them were violent, leaving behind...

  7. 5 Fear of a Nation Returning to Jungli
    (pp. 117-140)

    While Indo-Fijian political leaders and community spokespeople were busily promoting a vision of the Fijian nation as built on the cooperative and harmonious endeavors of Fijians and Indians alike, for many grassroots Indo-Fijians this image was shot through with racial divisiveness. Most of Indo-Fijians’ discussions of local history, national belonging, and national development invoked pride in what Indians have achieved in Fiji, but did so on the basis of making negative comparisons with what they depicted as indigenous Fijians’ inability to undertake sustained, systematic labor or to discipline their spending. In these discussions, it was Indians alone who were portrayed...

  8. 6 Victims and Assailants, Victims and Friends
    (pp. 141-173)

    In mid-July 2000, after spending the morning cooking together, Devi and I sat in her kitchen drinking tea. As it was on most days following the coup, her radio was playing continuously in the background. We were only half-listening until we heard what sounded like a class of Hindi-speaking schoolchildren reciting the final phrase of a chant or poem. “This is our country [Yeh desh hamārā hai],” they droned, again and again. When they finished, I repeated the phrase. Devi quickly and firmly corrected me, “This country is also ours [Yeh desh hamārā bhī hai].”

    We quietly finished our tea....

  9. 7 Restoring “Normalcy” in Postcoup Fiji
    (pp. 174-186)

    By late August 2000 the security situation across Fiji had settled down. The interim civilian government had been in place since the end of July. There had been mass arrests of the rebels after they quit Parliament as well as crackdowns on various rebel groups around the country. Speight and twelve of his leading men were ensconced on the newly created “Alcatraz” of Fiji, Nukulau Island. They were alternatively described as living in extremely Spartan conditions, suffering from a deluge of dengue-ridden mosquitoes, or as having an extended holiday on an island that had long been a popular picnicking spot...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 187-190)
    Susanna Trnka
  11. References
    (pp. 191-206)
  12. Index
    (pp. 207-214)