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A special day for Fiji

Dr Sushil Sharma
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fijian independence came at 10 o'clock, October 10, 197 — exactly 96 years after Fiji had become a British Crown Colony in 1874 at the behest of the debts that Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau owed the Americans. Cakobau was a Fijian chieftain and warlord who claimed kingship over Fiji in the 1850s.

However, he was not accepted as king by competing chieftains, and engaged in 19 years of bloody struggle to assert his dominion.

This period also saw the rise of Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau as a great warrior and warlord, who forged the first nation state covering all of modern Fiji (except the island of Rotuma) in 1871. Cakobau attempted to cede Fiji to the British Empire in exchange for their covering a debt to the US owed by Fiji of about $US$44,000 ($F89,949).

The US threatened intervention after a number of incidents involving their consul, John Brown Williams, whose trading store had been looted by Fijian natives following an accidental fire, caused by stray cannon fire during a Fourth of July celebration in 1849. When his Nukulau Island house was subjected to an arson attack in 1855, the commander of the US naval frigate USS John Adams demanded compensation.

Hoping that the US was only lying, he refused. However, reality began to catch up with Cakobau in 1858, when the USS Vandalia sailed into Levuka. Unable to pay his debt and faced with increasing encroachments on to Viti Levu's south coast from Ma'afu, Cakobau approached the British consul with an offer to cede the islands to the UK, if only they would assume responsibility for his debt in return for 5000 square kilometres of land.

His insistence, however, on being allowed to retain his questionable title of Tui Viti proved unacceptable to the British Government, which turned his offer down after four years of consideration in 1862. This followed a report from Colonel WJ Smythe, who had come to the conclusion, after interviewing every paramount chief in Fiji, that Cakobau's title was self-assumed and by no means universally accepted by his fellow chiefs, and that he did not have the authority to cede the islands.

However the Fijians, through Cakobau, officially ceded leadership of their islands to Great Britain in 1874, which marked the beginning of British colonial rule.

The chiefs who officially signed the Deed of Cession on October 10 1874 at Nasova, near Levuka, the old capital city of Fiji, were Cakobau, Tui Viti and vunivalu, Maafu, Tui Cakau, Ratu Epeli, Vakawalitabua Tui Bua, Savenaca, Esekele, B. V. Tui Dreketi, Ritova, Katonivere, Ratu Kini, Matanitobua and Nacagilevu.

Research shows that Saturday, October 10, 1874 started with heavy rain which persisted throughout the morning.

Therefore the ceremony, which was to have started at 10am, was postponed to 2pm. Shortly after 1pm, the weather cleared, and by 2pm about 200 sailors and marines had landed from the warship, Pearl, at Levuka.

At 2.15pm, Sir Hercules Robinson and Commodore Goodenough left the Pearl, while the sailors manned the yards and ships fired a salute of 17 guns.

The party was met at landing stage by Captain Chapman (of the Pearl) and Mr Layal and as they crossed the grass to the King's room the British and Fijian armed forces saluted.

On entering the room, Sir Hercules and the commodore were then directed to seats at the table, taking their places on the King's right, the rest of the company, both British and Fijian continued standing throughout the event.

The Deed of Cession was then recited, in Fijian, for the advantage of those chiefs who had not heard it earlier. Before the signing, the King asked that Mr Thurston might read a paper, which he (Cakobau) had given to him that morning. Sir Hercules agreeing, Mr Thurston recited:

"Your Excellency, before finally ceding his country to her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, the King desires, through your Excellency, to give Her Majesty the only thing he possesses that may interest her.

"The King gives Her Majesty his old and favourite war club, the former, and until lately, the only known law of Fiji."

In abandoning club law, and adopting the forms and principles of civilised societies, the king laid by his old weapon, which became the mace of the Parliament of Fiji, decorated with the symbols of peace and friendship.

On the table was placed the Deed of Cession and an exact copy, one of which was to be retained in Fiji and the other sent to England. Sir Hercules then signed both copies after the chiefs had signed.

October 10, 2017 marks exactly 143 years from the date of the Deed of Cession and 47 years from the date of our independence on the same date in 1970.

As we celebrate Fiji Day this year, it is good to reflect back to 47 years ago when our young nation was given liberation from being a British empire crown colony status, to that of self-determination and a new 1970 Fiji Constitution to help us navigate its future course.

As representative of the Queen of the British Empire, Charles Philip Arthur George (often affectionately called Prince Charles) Prince of Wales, born November 14, 1948 and only 21 years 10 months and 26 days old at the time, being the eldest child and heir apparent of Queen Elizabeth II, was sent to Fiji for the official handing over of the Instruments of Independence.

The royal plane carrying the dignitaries arrived at Nausori Airport on Friday, October 9, 1970. Prince Charles greeted by dignitaries on the airport runaway, inspected the Fijian troops while being given a cannon salute in his honour.

He was driven to Albert Park in a Rolls Royce straight from the airport, where he presided over formalities at the welcoming and the independence ceremony, which took place at Albert Park in Suva, on October 9 and October 10 respectively. In the following days, he took a tour of the islands.

On Friday, October 9, 1970, as he arrived at Albert Park, the British flag, called the Union Jack was flying, with words "Independence for Fiji" superimposed on it. Prince Charles mounted the steps to the royal box, where he was welcomed by Fijian chiefs and warriors, and was offered kava, which he drank in a gradual, smooth, and honourable manner.

The arena below his grandstand had another lower stand in front right of him, covered fully with gifts from the tribal chiefs, including many scores of slaughtered pigs, wrapped culturally with their feet facing aloft and the heads facing the chief guest, live turtles, a huge freshly dug

Kava plant, with the roots and soil in it facing the chief guest, and mountains of produce and other wooden artefacts such as the tanoa.

An Indo-Fijian procession with a welcoming ceremony was also done for the young Prince, who was garlanded by an Indian woman. After the welcoming ceremony, Prince Charles made his welcoming speech, which was reciprocated afterwards by the tribal chief in response in their own iTaukei language.

After these events, the Union Flag was lowered. The Prince officiated in helping take the Union Flag down, as part of the ceremonies, which flew on a mast in Fiji, for the last time on that eventful Friday on October 9, 1970. At the same time and day, Sir Robert Sidney Foster was sworn in as the resident governor-general of Fiji.

On Saturday October 10, 1970, the Prince together with all other dignitaries was ushered into the Albert Park ground where he was greeted by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

He was escorted into the royal box for the Fiji Independence Day ceremony, where he read a message from the Queen, followed by the speech of the new and first prime minister of independent Fiji.

Prince Charles handed the documents of independence to the new Fijian prime minister, in a moving ceremony in front of a very large, well organised and enthusiastic crowd. As the Government Building clock chimed 10 o'clock, the hour set for Fiji's independence, the Fijian flag was slowly raised for the first time in new independent nation of Fiji.

The Fijian flag reflected the Union Jack in the top upper left section, representative of the country's long association with Great Britain. The flag's blue field was symbolic of the surrounding Pacific Ocean. The coat of arms displayed a golden British lion holding a cocoa pod, as well as panels displaying a palm tree, sugar cane, bananas and dove of peace

The crowd went ecstatic and clapped hands and there was a loud roar from the very enthusiastic crowd. Various proceedings took place at the stadium, while the military band played "God Save the Queen" to the delight of the audience.

In my opinion, there can be no question whatsoever that symbols on our present flag are obsolete as far as our nation is concerned. Fiji has moved on from 1970 and this needs to be reflected in our flag.

It is time that we fully recognise that the symbols in our flag do not represent Fiji's status as a truly independent and sovereign nation and at the same time allude to Fiji still being a crown colony or dependency of the British Isles.

This notion has to be obliterated for ever from our mind. It is my opinion that with a positive frame of mind and with a sense of national duty and pride, we should forge ahead with patriotism towards this great task for our people.

The constructive efforts of at least one citizen will become the flag for all Fijians and will be unfurled gracefully on the anniversary of Fiji's Independence Day one day in the future, as many of us supported recently, when this issue was placed before the nation by our leaders.

As a nation we are still trying to find our way out of the maze, labyrinth, web, confusion, muddle, mess, jumble, whatever description you like.

With patience, perseverance, persistence, peace and prosperity in mind, our small nation can slowly find our way provided our leaders have a mission and vision to unite the nation and work together as a people in unity and harmony.

* Dr Sushil K. Sharma is an associate professor of meteorology at FNU. Views expressed are his own and not of this newspaper.

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