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Fijian origins

Dr Christopher Griffin
Saturday, January 26, 2013

DAUREWA'S presentation to lawyers and policy-makers convened by the Attorney-General, at Natadola close to the first Lapita settlements in Fiji, suggests her purpose was not so much to present her own research findings as gear a semblance of loosely connected fragments to the incendiary matter of contemporary identity-politics.

She tells us that the origins thesis was only "a small part" of findings deriving out of her research on the impact of the People's Charter on provincial councils. In short, we observe a huge leap into ideological waters.

Fourth, gossamer references to Tamil Nadu and Lapita people infused with oral history on Lutunasobasoba are anything but clear.

Considering also the first migrants according to Nunn and others settled here some 3000 years we must always be sceptical about oral history.

Above all myth must be distinguished from history.

That is not to say myth never contains elements of historical truth or is culturally unimportant but like the Tanganyika story mythmakers, narrators and their audiences invest in good stories, for good reason, no matter what the provenance.

Fifth, if Geraghty (F/T 11/12/12) says the Lutunasobsoba story originated with European missionaries as Daurewa acknowledges (F/T 29/12/12), that's good enough for most of us.

When Meo asks what authority Dr. Geraghty has to say this, the answer is obvious: his linguistic expertise, reputation as a lexicographer, and breadth of reading. Yet Meo hints Geraghty may be no less a fabricator than other colonial experts. Incidentally neither Daurewa nor Meo, named any of their colonial culprits or their texts.

Derrick (1968) said "tradition holds" (i.e. oral history) that Lutunasobasoba landed at Vuda and stayed there when others along with Degei moved to Nakauvadra. It is not his own claim.

He also recalls the first Native Lands Commission finding Fijians could trace their ancestors back eight to ten generations, which allowing 30 years per generation means some 300 years to the 1500s, a small fraction of the islands' 3000 yrs of human habitation, but considerably longer I suspect than current or near-recent oral testimony allows.

Archaeologists and historical linguists also agree the first settlement of Melanesia and Polynesia by Lapita people between 1300 and 900 BC began some 5000 years earlier in Taiwan.

Here in what was formerly Formosa are found nine of the ten main branches of the Austronesian family of languages from whence modern Oceanian languages derive.

They also generally agree that the early Formosans descended from of people who left south China 2000 years earlier, which is to say around 8000 years ago. Interested readers wishing to know more should consult Peter Bellwood's work.

Now to the Tanganyika story, a myth of European origins myth despite everything Meo suggests (F/T 29/12) on the basis of apparent conversations and hearsay of Fijian soldiers, a government minister, and a Fijian diplomat, as well as an old Tanganyikan "fable".

By now some of you must be thinking I am using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. However, in defence, I'd say this nut has been very slow to crack and Meo's reiteration only serves to harden it. The time has come to split it.

Consider: (i) how until 1961 Tanganyika came under the protection first of a British League of Nations mandate (1922-1946), before becoming a UN trust territory in 1946.

It become the independent state of Tanganyika in 1961 and later changed its name to Tanzania. Then as today its population comprised numerous tribes and ethnic groups.

According to Meo (F/T 29/12/12) Tanganyikan troops fraternizing with Fijian soldiers during the post-war Malayan emergency told of a "tribe" closely resembling the Fijians who left Lake Tanganyika many centuries earlier and never returned.

All well and good perhaps but what Meo never considers is the possibility that it was possibly the Fijians themselves, familiar with the Methodist missionary myth, who first raised the subject and in their Tanganyikan comrades (for it is quite possible Tanganyikans were among men of the King's African Rifles who served in Malaya), found people individuals only too willing to explain the two's apparent affinity of 'black men' fighting together in a white man's colonial war.

What could be easier than latching on to the lost-tribe story and possibly some coincidentally Fijian sounding words?

(2) It is a fact as some of the myth recalls that the area around Lake Tanganyika has over many centuries experienced devastating draughts.

In consequence lake-dwellers were almost certainly forced to migrate at different times.

However who these tribes people were, how far back anyone can be sure of it, where they moved to and where eventually their descendents ended up are other matters entirely.


* 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.

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