Collective vis-à-vis Individualistic Approach: Seeking Solution

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The phenomenon of collective vis-à-vis individualistic approach has been broached in some of my earlier posts. In Dravuni – Rural Village Economy, for example, I mentioned that the pursuit of individual employment in Kokomo Resorts has reduced the amount of labour available for collective tasks in the village. In Recalling When Copra was King, I discussed that both collectively-owned (through the cooperative) and individually-owned domola (copra dryers) were in existence at the time and both operated complementarily. In the latest DDC Update (2017), I referred to the work of the Dravuni Development Committee that has lapsed and that its role has been taken up by its sub-committees plus one or two new collectives that have been established through economic empowerment of individuals within those collectives.

By way of a trend, it can be said that there is an increase, over time, in individualistic approach; and this has negatively impacted collective interests to some extent.

The collective approach, in the context of Fijian culture and tradition, is the natural starting point; and from here, there have been initiatives that have tended to evolve toward an individualistic approach. Social scientists will probably put that down to the impact of factors relating to modernism and post-modernism. Empirically, it can be said that the trend towards an individualistic approach has been evident for sometime but it may have speeded up with the onset of economic activities, as described in Dravuni – Rural Village Economy.

By way of illustration of such a trend, I consider the following:

  1. The solesolevaki (mobilization of collective labour to address tasks that benefit principally individuals within the collective, as against use of collective labour for the collective interests, such as cleaning of the village) used to be quite common in earlier days on Dravuni. This has changed somewhat. A recent example of solesolevaki in Dravuni was in 2015-2016 when the Soqosoqo Vakamarama (women’s group) attended to weaving a mat for the Dravuni – Sivia yani na Vunilagi: Beyond the Horizon Exhibition.
  2. The cruise ships/tourist project (see Dravuni – Rural Village Economy) involves both collective and individualistic activities. The same individuals comprise both groups. What has been evident is that the collective tasks are those that have been increasingly overlooked in favour of individual initiatives, such as cleaning the village, assembly and disassembly of the landing pontoon and meke performances are collective activities that have suffered on occasions in favour of the management of individual stalls and other individual initiatives; and
  3. In Dravuni – Rural Village Economy, I also talked about the impact brought on by individuals wanting to build their residences outside the existing village boundary. This is a matter with serious implications, the consideration of which has been suspended to allow consultations relating to the expansion of the village boundary to be concluded.

Given the collective cultural and traditional framework of the community, and given that such a framework is not necessarily going to be drastically modified in the near future, there are some concerns about the erosion of the collective interests through the relative influence of individualistic approach to be expected. These concerns have become more poignant recently.

The question is thus raised as to what can be done. Intrinsically, there would be a natural tendency to endorse the collective approach. On the other hand, it is singularly acknowledged that any collective is comprised of individuals; and the interests of the individuals can be the same as or similar to those of the collective. Apart from greater clarity of the situation we face here, what is also evident is that we have complications in trying to seek for solutions.

Thus in seeking a solution or solutions, it may be prudent to set down some guidelines, the observance of which can facilitate the task. I propose three guidelines, viz: (i) Avoid wider discussions of the concepts of collectivism and individualism, and hone in only on the approaches to executing tasks as offered by the collective approach as against the individual/ individualistic approach; (ii) avoid regarding the two approaches as mutually exclusive; and (iii) benefits must be ensured for individuals in the collective.

Apart from the factors mentioned above, we can also learn from the cultural practice of solesolevaki. This requires mobilization of collective labour for individual benefit. The individual beneficiary returns some of the benefit accrued to him by such as feeding and entertaining the collective labour force. Both entities gain.

By implication, if any collective approach that only benefits the collective, it would necessarily mean that the collective needs to transfer some benefit to the individuals, who are members of the collective. This example relates to the meke performers and the men engaged in the assembly and disassembly of the pontoon.

For the meke performers, an allowance (incentive) could be paid to them after each performance since it transfers benefit from the collective to the individuals.

For the men engaged in the pontoon assembly and disassembly, an allowance could also be considered if it can be afforded. Alternatively, a credit/debit account can be established – credit for being present and debit for being absent. These can then be totaled at the end of the year and monetized appropriately.

There are cases where collective labour results in a mix of collective and individual benefit. This relates to village cleaning. The village gets cleaned as well as family-owned compounds. No incentive may be required here. The Turaga ni koro (administrative head of the village) should ensure however that the benefits are equitably distributed. Cleaning of tracks outside the village boundary for tourists can be incentivized to benefit individuals.

The question remains on what to do with essentially individual approaches for individual benefit. This relates, for example, to individuals running their own stalls or own recreational services when tourists visit. There is no collective labour involved here. However, the individuals are engaged in a collective effort, without which they would not be here participating. On the basis of the guides we have established above, it is therefore incumbent on the individuals to transfer some benefit to the collective. This can be done in a number of ways, viz: charging a fee for stall-owners; and/or setting down standards (regulations) to be met with the aim of raising the ranking of the project nationally – a collective benefit.

Applying the same guide to those wanting to build residences outside the village boundary, the following can be considered:

  1. Impose a fee that will act to discourage in the interest of the unity and solidarity of the collective, the village; and
  2. Clarify the guiding regulations that residences are to be built within existing village boundary, the extension of which remains a topic of discussions in the Bose Vakoro.
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