Bula Vinaka and happy Fiji-50 Day.
I began our 50th Anniversary celebrations in Levuka, Fiji’s first capital under the colonial government. There I journeyed through history, visiting the 1874 Deed of Cession site, speaking with those who lived through our independence in 1970, and spending some very happy time with Levuka’s children –– just some of the young Fijians who will forge Fiji’s future. All the while, it was pouring rain on the island. And when it came time for our tree-planting ceremony, it was still coming down hard.
No matter –– we headed out into the downpour to kick-off our Fiji-50 celebrations with smiles on our faces. We knew the rain could dampen our celebration, but never our spirits –– nothing ever could.
My fellow Fijians, the challenge of this year has been more serious than any bout of bad weather. Even though Fiji may be the safest place in the world from COVID-19, the closure of our borders has made the pain of this pandemic personal for all of us. But today is our day–– our Fiji-50 Day –– and no virus, no once-in-a-century crisis can temper the love we share for our nation, our people, our home.
We are keeping COVID-safe, so we will not be breaking any attendance records at the RFMF parade in Suva’s Albert Park. Indeed, most of you are watching this from home among friends, family, and neighbours, perhaps with a Fijian flag flying from the roof of your home, held in your hand, or draped around your shoulders, with a lovo or curry cooking in the back. Some may be mixing kava.
No –– this Fiji Day will not be remembered for being lavish. But it will be remembered. History will tell that today, despite the great adversity we faced, our spirits were not broken. In good spirits and good health, Fijians in every city, town, community, including our most rural and maritime regions, proudly celebrated our 50-year journey as a nation.
Together, over these five decades, Fijians have risen to heights some never imagined, but which we always saw for ourselves. We are a major contributor to peacekeeping in the world, and a world leader in the fight to combat climate change and protect our oceans. We are the economic hub of the South Pacific, the leader in aviation, finance, telecommunications, and technology, trade, and commerce. We have vastly expanded our networks of infrastructure. We have put the ills of the past behind us. Today all Fijians share common and equal citizenry and equal votes of equal value, along with a vast array of political and socioeconomic rights in our Fijian Constitution.
Our ruggers have come home from the Olympic Games with gold around their necks. We have played host to major international meetings and sporting events. While our borders may be closed today, we are still one of the world’s most desirable tourist destinations.
Our success is not owed to luck or chance. It has come because our people, with their diverse strengths and skillsets, have together propelled Fiji forward, both knowingly and unknowingly. Because we have united, because we worked hard, and because we have pooled our talents, we have built a great nation; we have defined what it truly means to be a Fijian. And what is that? To be a Fijian is to have courage and optimism. To be a Fijian is to love this country, love your neighbours, and look after your fellow citizens, irrespective of their background. Because to be a resilient people, we must be a strong people, a caring people, and a united people. Together we have done great things, and together we will do more great things in the next 50 years.”
Nowhere is that hope for our future more visible than in the aspirations of the youngest among us. That is why, this year, we asked the students of Fiji to tell us: “What makes Fiji Special?”
We asked, and the bright, hope-filled children of Fiji gave us wonderful answers: Our many languages. The many ways we worship God. Our many proud traditions. Our love of sports like football, netball, and, of course, rugby. Our untouched reefs, beaches, forests and waterfalls. Our rights and freedoms as Fijians. Our Fijian Constitution. Our music. Our sugar. Our fruits and vegetables. Even our lovos and our curries.
But my favourite answer came from Alexandra Surendra and Ana Maria Tovate from the Saint Joseph’s Secondary School. They told us that regardless of our country’s spectacular scenery and our exceptional experiences, it is the Fijian people who together make our journey complete.
My fellow Fijians, Alexandra and Ana Maria were right, and are clearly wise beyond their years. The past 50 years have proven that it is our people who, together, have made Fiji the most special place on Earth.
No matter how we arrived here, no matter who our ancestors are, we all make Fiji special, we all make Fiji stronger. When we stand together, as friends, as family, as fellow Fijians, there is no challenge we cannot overcome, there is nothing we cannot achieve. So, to every Fijian, wherever you are, however you are celebrating, I thank you for all you do to make Fiji special, and I wish you a very happy Fiji-50 day.
God bless you.
Bula Vinaka and happy Fiji-50 Day.