Preparing for fieldwork in Fiji

I thought I'd take a break from posting about my fieldwork in Hawaiʻi and give a little bit of information about what it takes to prepare for my research in Fiji. But before I go on, I should give a bit of (read very limited) background on the country of Fiji as well.

 

Home to around 900,000 people, Fiji is composed of atleast 300 islands, not all inhabited. As the hub of the South Pacific, Fiji's population is also extremely diverse, with people coming from all across the Pacific to work, study, and find refruge (for example from environmental/climate change and destruction). There are three primary and official languages spoken in Fiji, the standardized indigenous Fijian language (na vosa vaka Viti), Fiji-Hindi, and English. 

The history of European contact is extensive, varied, and deeply tied to the language situation today. While I won't delve into it extensively here, the British are responcible primarily for the introduction of the English language, as well as indirectly responcible for the use of Hindi today. After Fiji was ceded to the United Kingdom by the (then) Chief of Fiji, Ratu Cakobau, the British began building a major sugar industry in Fiji that remains to this day. However, the British also brought over indentured laborers from India to work on the sugar cane plantations at this time. Although the laborers had the option to return to India after their period of labor, most stayed in Fiji as they had already built families, communities, and had access to land, things that would not be available to them in India or possible for them to return to India with. Because of this, Hindi, which later developed into a special Fiji-Hindi, is now heavily spoken in Fiji, especially in city/town centers and in agricultural areas such as Nadi.

 Main road in Nadi town, Fiji. Photo courtesy of FijiOne.

Main road in Nadi town, Fiji. Photo courtesy of FijiOne.

Preparing for your own project can be significantly more difficult than preparing for your fieldwork duties as part of another group's projects. As I start to get things together for my research in Fiji, I am reminded again of how much work it is to put together and execute fieldwork, especially when interdisciplinary, and even more so when it's in a foreign country.  

First on my list of things to do was to find another research assistant to help me in the field and for planning the trip. Last year I was extremely fortunate to have Mesulame Tora and Rosi Batibasaga help me in my first field season. These two were (are) invaluable and pivotal to the current success of the project, I am so grateful for their time and input (and again, read more about them here!).  

 Original team photo from 2014. Pictured from left to right: Mesulame Tora, Natalie Kurashima, Rachel Dacks, Shimona Quazi, Rosi Batibasaga, and Una Vuli. Photo credit: Rachel Dacks

Original team photo from 2014. Pictured from left to right: Mesulame Tora, Natalie Kurashima, Rachel Dacks, Shimona Quazi, Rosi Batibasaga, and Una Vuli. Photo credit: Rachel Dacks

With the same tone of gratitude, I am excited to announce that Una Vuli will be (re)joining the project for the 2018 field season. Una, like Mesu and Rosi, was a part of the project from the beginning in 2014, before I officially joined. I will be updating the People page in the coming months to reflect the new team member addition. 

With this critical step figured out, I now need to renew my research permit for Fiji. Research permits in Fiji are not given for more than 6 months at a time and only can be renewed twice – for a total of 18 months allowed in country. However, before even getting to this stage, a new researcher needs to get an approval letter to conduct their research from the Ministry of Education to submit to the Immigration with their visa application. And in order to get this letter, letters of approval for their research must also be obtained from the Permanent Secretaries of any of the ministries the Ministry of Education deems relevant to your research. In my case this was the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Forests, and the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, again the multitude of ministries involved in my research is a reflection of the interdisciplinary nature of the work.  

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With these letters of approval, and a support letter from the Ministry of Education that includes my additional field seasons, I will be submitting my research visa application soon and hopefully it is approved again.  

Once I reach Fiji, I will begin to liaise with the villages to organize when Una and I can travel and stay in each village. Una is critical to this as my Fijian language abilities are not strong enough to communicate formally with elders. I will also purchase all the necessary supplies for the field, which ranges from first-aid kit supplies to drinking water (to not exhaust local resources). Thankfully for this stage of the research, I do not need to purchase or transport the larger equipment used in the agroforest surveys.  

My plan is to spend about one week in each village and finish this stage of the field season by September. This will give me enough time to process some of the data, prepare for the final stage of the fieldwork, and complete my comprehensive exams (which I had to postpone).  

I am still in the re-planning stages at current, but the field season is soon approaching and other important tasks also need to be completed, such as preparing presentations for people in the villages, as well as in government and academia in Fiji. I look forward to updating you all on this progress as I check off the various boxes. But until then, happy April!