When culture and restorative justice values collide: Do you have suggestions?
Feb 24, 2010
A request for ideas from Dan Savou of Fiji:
I have tried in the past year to use the talking circle in restorative justice practices with my nieces and nephews and also with my siblings but I am posed with a challenge and that is how do I get people to talk when there is a culture of silence.. The problem I have is that in our Fijian culture, ‘silence’ is the norm.
In Western society it is considered rude to look down when someone is speaking to you while in our Fijian culture it is considered a mark of respect. In the Western culture it is considered normal to have both parties engaged in a typical conversation while in the Fijian culture the older or those who have a higher social standing is the one doing most of the talking. In my context, I am the eldest in my family and my father is also the eldest child, so I hope you can understand my predicament. Most of the time I am the only one doing the talking.
This is what one normally has to deal with in Fijian culture and my request to restorative justice practitioners is ‘are there options available which have worked which can bring people out their shells?’
The indigenous Fijian struggles to live to within three different worlds. That of the Fijian culture, Christian ideals and modern society with its capitalistic and democratic demands. His behavior needs to change since each community’s demands are at times conflicting in nature.
When at home or the village he needs to adhere to the Fijian culture of silence and respect to be considered a part of Fijian society. He complies unquestioningly to his various traditionally defined obligations and responsibilities. His actions are usually focused on service to others. He achieves respect, acceptance and recognition within his group for being attentive, complying and respectful to those who hold traditionally defined authority over him. He should be one who is humble and not arrogant.
When he goes to church he is expected to fulfill his Christian obligation which includes taking part in church activities and giving financially.
When at work he is expected to be a capitalist and compete with with others, where to maintain his culture would mean being satisfied with the status quo even if others continue on to higher achievements. At school students are expected by parents to gain the highest possible marks. This can send conflicting signals to children, for to maintain his culture would mean to be satisfied with whatever grade is given at school and not aspire to higher grades unless one was higher up in the social order.
One also needs to note that throughout these three different communities there are many similar characteristics and it is only the contrasting ones that I am highlighting. Could this be the underlying reason that a high number of school dropouts are indigenous Fijians? Could this also be the reason that ninety percent of the prison population consist of indigenous Fijians? Are indigenous Fijians confused because they have to wear three different hats in order to adapt to society’s demand?
The biggest question that arises now is whether or not restorative justice is relevant and does it have a place in modern Fijian society. Presently Fiji is going through a difficult time, socially, economically, religiously and politically. There are broad socio-economic forces that affect individuals which need to be addressed and this needs to be linked to how the indigenous Fijian has or has not adjusted to social change. Positive experience from countries where restorative justice has worked serves as an encouragement that Fiji can develop a model of its own that will be unique to its multicultural and diverse background.