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Fiji Time: 3:29 PM on Wednesday 17 September

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Fijian origins

Dr Christopher Griffin
Saturday, January 19, 2013

Recent discussion on the origins of the first Fijians following upon Margaret Wise's Fiji Times (8/12) coverage of a presentation to lawyers at Natadola by Alisi Daurewa have been a little confusing, to say the least, especially the alleged connection between Lapita culture and Tamil Nadu. I am not alone in thinking so.

Correspondent Malani (F/T Letters 12/12/12) politely observed "the archeologist's spade has not told us much about this fascinating people and their early society… To this day, we do not understand the arrival and interactions with other people who were in fact the early iTaukei".

In reply Ms Daurewa's oral testimony recalls the Vuda arrival story (F/S 27/12 and contrasts it with the "bastardised" colonial version.

Doing so she calls on iTaukei to make a "concerted effort to reassemble the pathways of our ancestors", however imperfect, and repeats it in a feature article (F/T 29/12) the same day that Kolinio Meo's letter appeared.

Meo (F/T 29/12) sets out the Tanganyika origins argument, already known to generations of older Fijians. Based on scant evidence and much credulity I'll return to him in a moment.

Meanwhile Daurewa's article that day (F/T 29/12) roamed across a swathe of matters: lawyers' failure to be "holistic"; USP politics; Maori; Paul Geraghty on the Lutunasobasoba fabrication; and her own version of the latter and Lutunasobasoba's encounter with the Lutumailagi people.

Once again she asks for a "concerted effort to reassemble the pathways of our ancestors… some semblance should be sufficient". Why such a semblance would be any more "sufficient" than previous "bastardised" versions and therefore helpful to the young one is left to guess.

In a second letter Meo (F/T 31/12) refers to a text titled Viti Makawa that I admit I am not familiar with but seems no less a "fabrication" than his Tanganyika idea (F/T 29/12). It doesn't help that his two letters also fail to connect his two most arresting ideas: African origins and the migrations of Lutunasobasoba and Tura his father.

To throw light on these matters (and so flesh out my concerns) by way of the scientific literature -to which neither Meo nor Daurewa refer, let me now proceed as systematically as possible.

However I should emphasise I am not an archaeologist, historian, or pre-historian. Nor am I up with the latest research on Lapita pottery in Fiji. I am a social anthropologist whose interests primarily lie in contemporary society. However because today's social processes fast become history they become important later to understanding that 'present'.

In this regard my earlier interests I've in migration, cultural identity, and development continue to be relevant.

First, as Gasawai notes (F/T Letters 29/12/12) Daurewa's mention of a south Indian i-Taukei origin Tamil origin based on research at the East-West Centre, demanded full references and explication. The suggestion Fiji's Lapita people may have come from Tamil Nadu is not spelt out.

Second, though I was not at the Natadola convention and so may have missed something, in none of the press articles does Dauewa mention archaeological research on Lapita pottery in Fiji, published in scholarly local and international journals.

Thus while lauding scholarship at USP (F/T 29/12/12) she never mentions the publications on Lapita sites in Fiji by Professor Paddy Nunn (formerly at USP) and colleagues there like Roselyn Kumar, as well as others like Ethan Cochrane of the Archaeological Field School at the University of Hawai'i.

Several of their articles were printed in Domodomo, The Journal of the Fiji Museum (e.g. Vol. 17, 1 & 2, 2004 and Vol. 19, 1 & 2, 2006). No mention is made either of the opinions of staff at the Fiji Museum.

Third, to raise the possibility of a link between ethnic Fijian and south India without mentioning the ideas along those lines of the historical anthropologist and linguist A.M. Hocart (1883-1964) who worked in Tamil Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in charge of monuments before coming to Fiji to do ethnographic fieldwork, is another problem.

Archaeologists who have studied Lapita pottery in Fiji have, by contrast to Hocart, have never made no Fiji/south Asia connection.

That is not to say there is none -there are some interesting parallels, it is merely to say that there are none the material evidence of Lapita allows them anywhere near making.

What archaeologists and anthropologists interested in cultural evolution do agree on is that the furthest west Lapita pottery has been found is in PNG'a Bismarck Archipelago.

The excavations of Nunn and colleagues further suggest Lapita people entered Fiji approximately 1000 BC, settling first at Boulewa and Rove near Natadola, before spreading further afield. Later settlements include Moturiki, Yadua Island, Natunuku, and Naigani (Domodomo, Vol.19,1&2,2006). They were almost certainly Fiji's first inhabitants.

* CONTINUED NEXT SATURDAY

Dr Christopher Griffin once taught sociology at USP. He has a first degree in sociology and doctorate in social anthropology. Before retiring to Fiji he lectured at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia, where he is an Honorary Senior Fellow.