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Sukuna and native land

Sunday, May 27, 2007

NI sa bula. This weekend we remember the life and contribution of the most illustrious son of Fiji, the late Ratu Sir Josefa Lalabalavu Vanayaliyali Sukuna.

Tomorrow we observe the national holiday set aside by government to commemorate his life and time.

Unfortunately, because of the situation we are in, and the resultant economic climate, we are unable to celebrate in any joyous manner.

But, it is still possible to quietly focus on his achievements and endeavour to emulate his deeds, and his love for his nation and its people.

This is also as good a time as any to try and put him and his great ability to objectively gauge situations and be forthright about pragmatic approaches to the problems he faced in his time to our time and situation.

We have all been told about Ratu Sukuna.

Of noble chiefly birth, he was sent to an Indian school in Ra for his primary education and was tutored by an Anglican priest.

Although he was well received in Oxford University, he was not allowed to enlist as a soldier of the British Army.

Privately tutored and sheltered as a prince, he elected to join one of the world's toughest and roughest units of the allied forces, the French Foreign Legion. Amongst the toughest, he was singled out as a hero.

Rejected by the British Army, the Crown turned to him to raise the colony's contribution to the Allied Forces in Europe in the First World War and for the Pacific in the Second World War.

A chief well rooted in the richest Fijian customs and tradition, he nevertheless pioneered new ideas in Fijian men's wear, particularly the buckled pocket sulu and sandals.

He was equally comfortable in the most formal of English attire and social gatherings as sitting cross legged on a mat in a Fijian bure, drinking yaqona or engaged in an informal veitalanoa with visiting subjects.

He indeed was "a man of two worlds". Ratu Sir Lala is best known for his work in relation to native land.

This work clearly demonstrated his ability to live and think in "two worlds" by how he attempted to ensure the Fijians not only survived but also thrived in a bicultural society of indigenous rights and non-indigenous needs.

The establishment of the Native Land Trust Board and the work he did for the Native Land Commission vouch, not only for his concern that native rights are preserved, but also that non-indigenous needs are addressed in a mutually beneficial and symbiotic relationship.

Ratu Sir Lala understood but did not articulate specifically that land and property ownership is a prerequisite for economic development.

Fijians today deliberately or unknowingly say that his contribution in the formulation of land and native titles laws was to "perpetuate" Fijian rights, period.

In his 2000 exposition titled The Mystery of Capital why capitalism triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else, Hernando De Soto of Peru elucidates the relationship between ownership, development and wealth.

That the Fijians as a group are the wealthiest in terms of land ownership has never been questioned, but it has never been reflected in modern capital terms.

The Times, in its review of De Soto's book applauded it as giving the idea that land and property ownership is a prerequisite for economic development and that revolutionising and modernising national laws to realise this fact is "no less than a blueprint for a new industrial revolution that will mobilise the entrepreneurial vigour and hidden wealth of the poor and tear up the conventional wisdom of the development debate in the process".

It adds that all it needs is "political will".

Ratu Sir Lala laid the foundation for the classification of land for tribal use and those outside that for development for the willing.

Fijians' problems in the past and now arise from jealousy when the non-indigenous user of native land soon reaps bounteous returns from that land.

There is still plenty of land that can be used but getting the tribal consent has always been the problem, and tribal successors always felt their predecessors had not decided wisely.

These have kept away developers, more and more of whom, now, are native land owners.

Giving natives bankable titles immediately puts them into the arena of the modern day capital market.

Now that Parliament is dissolved and the Great Council of Chiefs suspended, the interim Government may wish to study De Soto's book and tailor Ratu Sir Lala's ideas to realise his dreams of a vibrant and prosperous Fijian race and not only cement his legacy as a man of two worlds but project him also as a traditional modernist.

Have a great Sunday and a happy holiday enhanced by the boys' performance in England.

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