Fiji is going for the big three and it’s not lions, tigers and bears. It’s firewalking, water, and casinos.
The government of Fiji recently advertised for “expressions of interest” in the development and operation of its first casino (Economist Nov 13). According to the ad, the government seeks to engage “internationally successful full-casino developers/operators who would enhance Fiji’s brand.”
So now entire countries, perhaps especially small ones, must have a brand.
And the Fijian route to creating a brand is to look both inside at “traditional” cultural practices that are economically profitable and outside to the global marketplace. Cultural anthropologists have insights on the Fijian “big three.”
On firewalking and the branding of Fiji, read a journal article entitled “We Branded Ourselves Long Ago: Intangible Cultural Property and Commodification of Fijian Firewalking” by Guido Carlo Pigliasco of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Pigliasco writes about how Fijian firewalking has managed to indigenize the power of the foreign though a Maussian principle of the social gift: “The gift of firewalking has allowed its custodians to locally sustain their community, to gain a reach and respect across the nation and beyond, and to intensify the group’s social sentiment and social capital.” In other words, so far, firewalking is maintaining its value to Fijians as more than just a revenue earner.
On Fijian water, read a journal article entitled “Fijian Water in Fiji and New York: Local Politics and a Global Community” by Martha Kaplan of Vassar College. Kaplan discusses how Coca Cola first came to Fiji with American soldiers during World War II, and how Fijian water now flows out. Starting with a case study of local water bottling company in Fiji, she traces the changing commodity career of Fijian water.
On casinos: As Fiji invites the arrival of casinos, it should consider seriously what cultural anthropologists have learned from their studies of casinos elsewhere in terms of how to steer benefits to the local people and protect local people and their culture from possible negative effects. For one, Kate Spilde Contreras has written extensively on the economic and social impacts of American Indian casinos in California. There are lessons to be learned in the anthropological literature.