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Unpublished Paper
A Community of Sentiment: Indo-Fijian Music and Identity Discourse in Fiji and its Diaspora
  • Kevin C. Miller, Pepperdine University

Through an historical and ethnographic account of Indo-Fijian music and related cultural practices, this dissertation examines the co-implicative relationship between music making and collective identity formation. Indo-Fijians, who compose about 37 percent of Fiji’s current population, descend primarily from colonial-era Indian laborers. Specifically, I interpret discourses about music and discourses of music to query three broad intersections of musical performance and “community”: 1) the “subethnic,” in which the heterogeneous “Indo-Fijian community” negotiates internal difference; 2) the national, in which fraught social and political relationships between Indo-Fijians and indigenous Fijians—the majority population—inhibit their co-authoring of the nationstate; and 3) the transnational, in which global media and diasporic movements engender new points of attachment and concepts of community. As a point of focus, my ethnography explores the folk-based devotional music repertoire performed by Hindus, the majority Indo-Fijian religious group. This dissertation rests on the claim that musical performance offers an ethnographically distinct site of cultural production, constitutive and revelatory of multiple points of suture that inform an individual’s sense of self in society. As a discursive practice, music signals difference, but it also harnesses the sentiment of attachment to concepts of time and place and points imaginatively at other possibilities for being. Both in Fiji and in locations of “secondary migration” in Pacific Rim metropols, musical practices contribute to the internal constitution of communities and the mapping of their borders. In the context of Hindu practices, this process is interconnected with a local discourse that places various musical elements into a hierarchy based on religious efficaciousness (and perceived cultural worth) that I call “viable authenticity.” The three primary discursive sources for viable authenticity in Indo-Fijian music-culture are “rural memory,” which valorizes performance elements associated with the (indentured) past; “Bollywood,” which draws on aesthetics and ideologies associated with a modern but imagined India; and classicization, which simultaneously claims the superiority of an ancient Indian past and a global affinity with the standardized, “elevated” practice of semiclassical and classical Indian music.

  • Music,
  • Hinduism,
  • identity,
  • folk music,
  • classical Indian music,
  • diaspora,
  • transnationalism,
  • Fiji,
  • Fiji Indians,
  • Indo-Fijians,
  • ritual,
  • gender,
  • ethnicity,
  • performance,
  • singing,
  • New Zealand,
  • California,
  • Bollywood,
  • Hindi
Publication Date
A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in Ethnomusicology, University of California, Los Angeles.
Citation Information
Kevin C. Miller. "A Community of Sentiment: Indo-Fijian Music and Identity Discourse in Fiji and its Diaspora" (2008)
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