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Book Examines Impact Of Fiji Coup Pain And Terror

New Book Examines Impact Of Pain And Terror During Fiji Coup

How do ordinary people respond when their lives are irrevocably altered by terror and violence?

University of Auckland anthropologist 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 her new book, State of Suffering Political Violence and Community Survival in Fiji (Cornell University Press, 2008), Dr Trnka shows how Indo-Fijians' lives were overturned as waves of turmoil and destruction swept across Fiji.

The book describes 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. The book also reveals the ways in which the community engages in these practices as individuals experience, and try to understand, the consequences of the coup.

"In the face of pain and terror people use a variety of forms of expression such as jokes and rumours to help them get onto seemingly solid ground, in order to understand and survive in times characterised by a profound lack of normalcy. In that sense, terror and pain are shared experiences, as people try to make sense of what is going on in their daily lives," says Dr Trnka.

The Senior Lecturer in the University's Department of Anthropology also 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.

Dr Trnka notes that in Fiji, where tensions exist between indigenous and non-indigenous communities, there is a marked difference between the way different communities use expressions of pain to emphasise their national and cultural identity.

"Indo-Fijians, for example, use pain as a way to express their rights to citizenship—they describe how they have worked, toiled and bled into the land as evidence that they belong in Fiji. In contrast, indigenous Fijians refrain from such a metaphor-- they talk instead about their history, their long-standing relationship to the land, as the reason they belong on the island," says Dr Trnka.

Throughout the book, the author 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.

State of Suffering Political Violence and Community Survival in Fiji (Cornell University Press, 2008) will be launched at the forthcoming Ownership and Appropriation conference will be hosted by The University of Auckland's Department of Anthropology 7-12 December. For conference and registration details visit

Susanna Trnka is co-author of Young Women of Prague and editor of Bodies of Bread and Butter: Reconfiguring Women's Lives in the Post-Communist Czech Republic.


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