Towards a Generative Politics of Expression: Re-Negotiating Identity in the "Traditional" Dances of Fiji and Fiji's Canadian Diaspora
Kelly, Evadne Emily May
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Recent performances of the “traditional” Fijian song-dance practice called meke indicate a re-negotiation of identity amongst Fijians living in Fiji and Canada. Post-independence Fiji has had a tumultuous history with four coups d’etat since 1987. Governance in that time, impacted by close to a century of British colonial rule, has been centred on a biopolitical terrain occupied by firm categories of race, ethnicity and culture. The politics of negotiating identity in post-independence Fiji have created ethnic tensions that have divided dance forms (Hereniko 2006). However, in light of Fiji’s most recent 2006 military coup in the name of multiracial harmony and anti-racism, there has been a re-negotiation of “Fijianness” in performances of meke that sometimes blurs boundaries formed by categories of race, and other times sustains race-based boundaries. These political and historical contexts are elements of what is being re-negotiated for members of Fiji’s disparate Diaspora in Canada that has grown significantly due to the coups (Lal 2003). In the context of shifting biopolitical terrains of power, my research asks: how does expressing movement-based affects (as relational feelings/sensations of intensity) activate and transform political tensions and identifications with nation, ethnicity, and culture for practitioners of meke in Canada and Fiji? The findings of this research are based on original dance-based participant observation fieldwork and archival research conducted in Western Canada and Viti Levu, Fiji between 2011 and 2013. I argue that meke in Canada and Fiji enables a re-negotiation of identity through experiences and expressions of powerful feeling states that generate and are simultaneously generated by movement. These affects enable Fijians to de-centre and strategically deploy discourses of multiculturalism in Canada and multiracialism in Fiji that divide Fijians by treating them as “ethnically” homogenous yet distinct groups. In addition, while haunted by felt intensities that migrate from Fiji, Fijian migrants in Vancouver generate new articulations of identity expressed through meke that emerge from new connections to place. I examine examples of Fijian dance that show how movement-based affects go beyond merely reflecting or representing culture and ethnicity, and instead expose how dance actively generates culture and identity.