I started reading Stop Over on Thursday September 6, the day that martial law was declared in Fiji. Again. Although the multiple coups and various suspensions of democracy perpetrated against the people of Fiji since the Rabuka coup d’état in 1987 cannot help but play a role in any book about the country, Bruce Connew’s photographic documentary of the lives of the Indian-Fijian cane field workers avoids overt political discussion and instead presents a raw and forthright series of images.
This is hardly surprising, as Connew, an established local photographer, has reported widely from around the world and New Zealand, detailing the lives of the disaffected from many areas. In the case of Fiji, he has a close familial connection with the country, as both of his daughters are married to Fijians.
The differences in the accounts his two sons – one indigenous, the other Indian-Fijian, – had given of their country inspired Connew to go and explore the “two countries” that make up modern Fiji.
The powerful series of images he returned with detail the lives of the Indian-Fijian men of the Vatiyaka III cane cutting gang, their friends, and their families, and were all taken between 2000 and 2003.
Many members of their families have since migrated to locations as diverse as Canada, Australia, the USA and New Zealand, and the book ends with a series of home photographs sent back to Fiji by these émigrés.
As well as the moving photography the book also features the story ‘Mr. Arjun’, by Brij V Lal, a Professor of Pacific and Asian History at the Australian National University. This story is a brief but powerful account of Arjun Kaka, who was one of the last links to a previous generation of Fijian-Indian farmers, many of who have émigré children. The story details his voyage to Australia to be reunited with his children and visit his former plantation overseer.
Equal parts documentary, artwork and memoir, Stop Over is a beautifully presented, affecting, and informative book.