Brij V. Lal

Brij Lal, who died on Christmas Day 2021, was an enormously prolific historian of the Pacific Islands, especially of his birthplace Fiji. The 18 ANU Press titles below – variously written, edited or contributed to by Professor Lal – constitute a fraction of his published output. Not only was he an outstanding academic and journalist, commenting perceptively and knowledgeably on every Fiji election since 1982, as well as on the shifting waves of Fiji politics, he also acted as one of the three commissioners who drew up a draft of the new Fiji constitution in 1997 and, in addition, wrote about the global Indian diaspora, especially in the West Indies. Considered persona non grata in Fiji in recent years, he wore his expulsion as a tribute to his dedication to liberal democracy, and greatly valued his Australian citizenship.

Levelling Wind »

Remembering Fiji

Authored by: Brij V. Lal
Publication date: October 2019
‘What I have sought to do in my work is to give voiceless people a voice, place and purpose, the sense of dignity and inner strength that comes from never giving up no matter how difficult the circumstances. History belongs as much to the vanquished as to the victors.’ — Brij V. Lal ‘Professor Brij Lal is the finest historian of the Indian indentured experience and the Indian diaspora. His Girmitiyas is a classic.’ — Emeritus Professor Clem Seecharan, London Metropolitan University ‘Brij Lal is a highly respected, versatile and imaginative scholar who has  made a lasting contribution to the historiography of the Pacific.’ — Dr Rod Alley, Victoria University of Wellington ‘Professor Brij Lal’s life is a remarkable journey of a scholar and an intellectual whose writings are truly transformative; a man of moral clarity and courage who also has deep pain at being cut off from his homeland.’ — Professor Michael Wesley, Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University ‘Brij Lal is a singular scholar, whose work has spanned disciplines – from history, political commentary, encyclopedia, biography and “faction”. Brij is without doubt the most eminent scholar in the humanities and social sciences Fiji has ever produced. He also remains one of the most significant public intellectuals of his country, despite having been banned from entering it in 2009.’ — Emeritus Professor Clive Moore, University of Queensland ‘Brij Lal is an accomplished and versatile historian and true son of Fiji. Above all, there is affirmation here of the enduring worth of good literature and the value of good education that Lal received and wants others to experience. The world needs more Lals who speak out against ruling opinions and dare to stray into  the pastures of independent thought.’ — Professor Doug Munro, historian and biographer, Wellington, and Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland

Political Life Writing in the Pacific »

Reflections on Practice

Publication date: July 2015
This book aims to reflect on the experiential side of writing political lives in the Pacific region. The collection touches on aspects of the life writing art that are particularly pertinent to political figures: public perception and ideology; identifying important political successes and policy initiatives; grappling with issues like corruption and age-old political science questions about leadership and ‘dirty hands’. These are general themes but they take on a particular significance in the Pacific context and so the contributions explore these themes in relation to patterns of colonisation and the memory of independence; issues elliptically captured by terms like ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’; the nature of ‘self’ presented in Pacific life writing; and the tendency for many of these texts to be written by ‘outsiders’, or at least the increasingly contested nature of what that term means.

The Coombs: A House of Memories »

Edited by: Brij V. Lal, Allison Ley
Publication date: September 2014
The Coombs Building at The Australian National University is a Canberra icon. Named after one of Australia’s greatest administrators and public intellectuals—‘Nugget’ Herbert Cole Coombs—for more than forty years the building has housed two of the University’s four foundational Schools: the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies and the Research School of Social Sciences. This volume of recollections is about the former. It looks at life in the building through the prism of personal experience and happenstance. Part memoir, part biography, and part celebration, this book is about the people of Coombs, past and present. Through evocative and lucid reflections, present and former denizens of the building share their passions and predilections, quietly savour their accomplishments and recall the failings and foibles of the past with a kindly tolerance.

The Boy from Boort »

Remembering Hank Nelson

Edited by: Bill Gammage, Brij V. Lal, Gavan Daws
Publication date: July 2014
Hank Nelson was an academic, film-maker, teacher, graduate supervisor and university administrator. His career at The Australian National University (ANU) spanned almost 40 years of notable accomplishment in expanding and deepening our understanding of the history and politics of Papua New Guinea, the experience of Australian soldiers at war, bush schools and much else. This book is a highly readable tribute to him, written by those who knew him well, including his students, and also contains wide-ranging works by Hank himself. –Professor Stewart Firth, ANU.

Mr Tulsi's Store »

A Fijian journey

Authored by: Brij V. Lal
Publication date: March 2013
Professor Lal has been remarkably successful in combining scholarship with autobiography in Mr Tulsi’s Store. In the essays which cover the author’s childhood and education up to university, diligent scholarship combines with evocative autobiographical details to reveal a philosophical pattern that encompasses the experience of the descendants of all Indian indentured workers everywhere. Professor Frank Birbalsingh York University Canada

Turnings »

Fiji Factions

Authored by: Brij V. Lal
Publication date: March 2013
Through Dr Lal’s refreshingly clear and powerful prose and sharply observed stories, we enter the inner world of Indo-Fijian feeling and aspiration. One universal that emerges with particular clarity in the Indo-Fijian experience is the ceaseless struggle to find community in a changing world, balancing the beauty of ritual and tradition against the transcendent value of education and modern rationality. The volume poses the question of how people draw upon historical memory and immediate circumstances to create a social world, and how that world can be shared with others in multicultural society. The answer seems to lie somewhere between history and poetry, as in Dr Lal’s ‘factions.’ Andrew Arno University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu

Fiji before the storm »

Elections and the politics of development

Edited by: Brij V. Lal
Publication date: December 2012
A racially-weighted Constitution, promulgated by decree in 1990, divided the country and invited international condemnation, and the economy suffered from the collapse of institutions of good governance. In 1995, an independent Constitution Review Commision appointed by the Fijian parliament, recommended wide-ranging changes to the Constitution. Its report formed the basis of a new Constitution promulgated, after wide-ranging consultation and debate, in 1997. Two years later, Fiji held a general election under it. This collection of essays looks at the politics and dynamics of that momentous event, and the role of key individuals and institutions in producing an outcome that, a year later, plunged Fiji into its first major crisis of the twenty-first century. The essays look at some of the key political and development issues on the eve of the crisis, but the relevance to the current debates about the nature and meaning of politics in Fiji remains. All the contributors are recognised and longstanding specialists in their fields. This work, originally published by Asia Pacific Press, is reproduced here in the interests of maintaining open access to high-quality academic works no longer in print.

Electoral systems in divided societies »

The Fiji constitution

Edited by: Brij V. Lal, Peter Larmour
Publication date: December 2012
Elections can increase tension in ethnically divided societies, like Fiji. The way constituencies are drawn and votes counted can also affect the result. First-past-the post can deliver lopsided results, while proportional representation may give excessive influence to small, fringe parties. Fiji’s Constitution Review Commission believed a system of alternative voting in ethnically mixed constituencies would encourage politicians, and parties, to take into account the interests of other ethnic groups. This book assesses their recommendations, looks at alternatives, and considers how they might work in Fiji.

Chalo Jahaji »

On a journey through indenture in Fiji

Authored by: Brij V. Lal
Publication date: December 2012
“It is a milestone in subaltern studies, a biographical journey penned by a living relic of the indentured experience and a scholar whose thoroughly interdisciplinary approach is a good example for the anthropologist, the sociologist or the economist who wish to see the proper integration of their disciplines in a major historical work.” — Brinsley Samaroo, University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, Trinidad “Professor Lal has made a most distinguished contribution to scholarship on Indian indentured labour in Fiji. His research is characterised by the use of new methodological approaches to the study of history, and by a comprehensive consideration of both quantitative and literary sources. In beautifully written articles, he has arrived at fresh and novel findings.” — Ralph Shlomowitz, Flinders University of South Australia “Professor Lal has produced a body of work which makes him the premier scholar of the Indian diaspora. His meticulous research, the depth of scholarship, the empathy, and the elegance have earned him great respect among Indian diaspora scholars. The themes covered in this book are relevant to other overseas Indian communities; and they are handled with such mastery that his reputation is secured.” — Clem Seecharan, University of North London “Brij Lal’s Chalo Jahaji is an intensely personal journey through his life and that of the 60,000 Indians who became girmitiyas in Fiji. The intricate history is measured, but Lal reveals himself and his family in a way historians seldom do. This proud grandson of a girmitiya is equally a proud son of Fiji. Chalo Jahaji is Pacific history at its best: rigorous and critical, informative and involved.” — Clive Moore, University of Queensland

Intersections »

History, Memory, Discipline

Authored by: Brij V. Lal
Publication date: November 2012
“A wonderfully rich, insightful and personally touching collection of essays by the Pacific region’s most prolific and engaging historian. Brij Lal writes eloquently and poetically about his professional and political journeys, and the many different people and worlds he has encountered on the way. Readers will be inspired by this collective account of a courageous life committed to the achievement of democratic freedom and social justice. What shines through these pages is Lal’s love of and commitment to Fiji, from which he has been painfully exiled.” — David Hanlon, Professor of History & Former Director of the Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa.  “Intersections is a compilation of Brij Lal’s essays where academic knowledge combines with life world experience. The voice behind these essays is always courageous and the writing itself indicative of a highly disciplined mind. Read this book with an open mind as Lal explores with sensitivity a country he loves intensely and as he reminisces on the vocation of a scholar. Savour the book’s historical insights, enter into its subaltern worlds, debate and challenge its findings, and in that moment of engagement shed a tear for a country which has lost its memory.” — Vijay Mishra, Professor of English, Murdoch University  “Brij Lal is a master craftsman and all his skills are on display in this fascinating work which blends autobiography with social, political and historical analysis to produce a work of impeccable scholarship. Lal emerges as much more than a historian as he reflects on the discipline of History, the changing nature of academic life, the challenges of the Indian diaspora, indenture and his travels. He may be banned from his homeland, but somehow one gets the impression that his influence is alive in Fiji, his adopted Australia and across the world. True to his indentured roots, he is still digging, still writing, and still making history.” — Goolam Vahed, Associate Professor of History, University of KwaZulu-Natal 

A Vision for Change: AD Patel and the Politics of Fiji »

Edited by: Brij V. Lal
Publication date: November 2011
‘Dr Lal’s book is more than an eloquent account of the political struggle of one of Fiji’s outstanding leaders. It is a timely reminder that the process of constitutional change hangs in the balance, as it did at the time of Mr Patel’s death. I hope his example will inspire future generations in Fiji to realise the vision articulated by a brilliant and courageous advocate of democracy, and a loyal son of Fiji.’ Late Adi Kuini Bavadra

A Vision for Change: Speeches and Writings of AD Patel, 1929-1969 »

Edited by: Brij V. Lal
Publication date: November 2011
“This collection of the writings and speeches of one of Fiji’s greatest statesmen, the late Mr AD Patel, points to a different future which, if allowed to come to fruition, would have spared Fiji the fate it later encountered in its postcolonial journey. As a leader, Mr Patel was unmatchable in intellect and oratorical brilliance, glimpses of which we see in this volume. Dr Lal deserves to be congratulated for his patience and perseverance in completing this project. This book will find an honoured place among others on Fiji’s complex and contested modern history.” Harish Sharma Former Leader of the National Federation Party and Deputy Prime Minister of Fiji

In the Eye of the Storm »

Jai Ram Reddy and the Politics of Postcolonial Fiji

Authored by: Brij V. Lal
Publication date: November 2010
To read this evocative book is to be thrust into a Fiji that has, for the moment, been snuffed out by military might: a Fiji of political parties, parliamentary politics, elections, manifestoes, campaigns, democractic defence of interests, party manoeuvres, and constitutional protection of rights and freedoms. It is a comprehensive and eloquent re-telling of the story of Fiji politics from independence in 1970 to 1999 through the perspective of Fiji’s greatest living statesman, Jai Ram Reddy, by one of the world’s most distinguished scholars of its history and politics.

The 2006 Military Takeover in Fiji »

A Coup to End All Coups?

Publication date: April 2009
This book explores the factors behind – and the implications of – the 2006 coup. It brings together contributions from leading scholars, local personalities, civil society activists, union leaders, journalists, lawyers, soldiers and politicians – including deposed Prime Ministers Laisenia Qarase and Mahendra Chaudhry. The 2006 Military Takeover in Fiji: A Coup to End All Coups? is essential reading for those with an interest in the contemporary history of Fiji, politics in deeply divided societies, or in military intervention in civilian politics.

Coup »

Reflections on the Political Crisis in Fiji

Edited by: Brij V. Lal, Michael Pretes
Publication date: December 2008
May 19, 2000. Fiji’s democratically elected multiracial government is hijacked by a group of armed gunmen led by George Speight, and held hostage for fifty days. Suva, the capital, is torched and looted as Speight’s supporters gather on the lawns of the parliamentary complex, dancing, cooking food, celebrating the purported abrogation of the constitution that brought the People’s Coalition government to power. The country is plunged into darkness yet again, enduring the pain of three coups in a period of just thirteen years. The process of healing and reconciliation, symbolised by the enactment of a new Constitution, unanimously approved by Parliament and blessed by the powerful Great Council of Chiefs, lies discarded, as winds of ethnic chauvinism sweep through the countryside, damaging the fragile fabric of multiculturalism that was carefully constructed by so many over many years. The economy is on the brink of collapse, investor confidence has vanished, and the best and the brightest are seeking succour on other shores. Fiji falls victim, yet again, to the prejudice and greed of a section of its people. This book gathers together a handful of memoirs of those tragic events in Fiji. They were written while the gun was still smoking; personal, anguished reactions of people from all walks of life, concerned about a country they all love but deeply distressed by the developments there. They are first reactions. They will in time become essential building blocks for a larger interpretive framework of academic analysis about origins, processes and impacts. Straight from the heart, these memoirs will be remembered as the people of Fiji and their friends elsewhere contemplate the wreckage and ruin brought about by that act of madness in the month of May 2000.

Telling Pacific Lives »

Prisms of Process

Edited by: Brij V. Lal, Vicki Luker
Publication date: June 2008
How are Pacific lives imagined, written and read? How are they refracted through prisms of process? From legends about culture heroes to biographies of national leaders, from tales of ancestors to stories of contemporary men and women, from lives told of both the famous and the nameless, this collection of essays — by historians and anthropologists, Islanders and Island scholars — probes questions of personhood, identity, memory, and time across the sweep of the Pacific, as well as practical issues of research and writing.

A Time Bomb Lies Buried »

Fiji’s Road to Independence, 1960-1970

Authored by: Brij V. Lal
Publication date: March 2008
A Time Bomb Lies Buried discusses the debates which took place in Suva and London as well as the politics and processes which led Fiji to independence in 1970 after 96 years of colonial rule. It provides an essential background to understanding the crises and convulsions which have haunted Fiji ever since in its search for a constitutional settlement for its multiethnic population.

Islands of Turmoil »

Elections and Politics in Fiji

Authored by: Brij V. Lal
Publication date: August 2006
“It is not so much whether things are not as bad as they ought to be or could have been. It is, rather, whether things could have been much better”. By rights, the island nation of Fiji should be thriving. It is easily the most developed country in the South Pacific; it is a hub for regional transportation and communication links, the home of international diplomatic, educational and aid organisations, with a talented multiethnic population. Yet, since its independence it has suffered two military coups in 1987 and an attempted putsch in 2000, resulting in strained institutions, and disrupted improvements to essential infrastructure, and to educational, social and medical services.