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Fiji Time: 10:11 PM on Wednesday 16 April

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Flawed engineering

Alisi Daurewa
Saturday, August 14, 2010

THE proposed village by-laws by the Ministry of i Taukei must be examined carefully to take into consideration, the impact of the Vola ni Kawa Bula (VKB) on Fijian society and its 'snowball' effect of chiefly and land disputes, on community development.

Otherwise, the inability of village leaders to manage change and development may transform from the 'frying pan into the fire'.

The VKB is an import from post colonialism.

It is a register of indigenous Fijians maintained by the Native Lands Commission (NLC).

It was introduced by the colonial administration to determine land ownership.

In the 19th and early 20th century, when Fijians were selling land for others who couldn't defend themselves or, out of attraction for firearms, there was so much confusion over land rights that traditional practices were abandoned.

In response, the Colonial Administration registered land ownership by 'mataqali' or sub-clans.

Ratu Savenaca Seniloli, a Baun chief who recorded boundary claims in 1903 appealed to the Governor against the 'mataqali' because it was a western concept and that the 'tokatoka' or household was more appropriate. (France, 1969).

Furthermore, the VKB, as noted by Fijian writers like the late anthropologist Dr Rusiate Nayacakalou and academic Dr Alumita Durutalo brought rigidity to a Fijian way of life that was traditionally mobile and a chiefly system that was earned and not inherited.

Some members of Fijian society have benefited from the VKB by an elevation from 'lesser to higher role'. Others had to abandon their traditional roles because they did not meet the VKB criteria of seven social task roles of chief, spokesperson, carpenter, fisherfolk, warrior, priest and administrator.

Therefore, those who belonged to the Melanesian characteristic tribe of elders were conditioned by the process of VKB to fit themselves into the polynesian hierarchical system of local governance which was prevalent in Eastern Fiji and adopted social task roles mentioned above that were not traditional.

The following is a present day consequence of the 'one size fits all' concept of the VKB;

Earlier this year, I learnt of a village dispute where some elders argued over the order in which the ceremonial cup of yaqona should be consumed.

The assistance of the NLC was sought and officials visited the villagers to facilitate discussions.

During the meeting the officials based on information recorded in the NLC asked the villagers as to who held the positions of chief, spokesperson, priest and warrior.

There was confusion over these roles and sitting arrangement so that by the end of the day after the meeting, the villagers were more confused than before the arrival of the officials from the NLC.

Traditionally, the village was a tribe of elders with a spokesperson whose social task role was called the matanivanua.

This role changed to chief under the VKB registration in the 1920s.

The demarcation of household sites in the village today indicates a circle of tribal elders while the spokesperson and adopted households sit outside the circle.

The question I would ask the proposers of the village by-laws to ponder is: "How can I best apply justice to a people who are victims of social engineering by a foreign system that their leaders have failed to address in line with change and development?"

nThese are the personal views of the author.