PART Two of Decolonising the colonial ghost continued from yesterday:
The different tribes knew the names of these men where they landed and the route they followed in making their way inland...In retrospect, while the Polynesians introduced the chiefly system of hierarchical rule to Fiji, in practice it was prevalent only in some eastern parts but not in the majority of the islands and the hinterland where Durutalo (1997) noted a chief only became prominent during wartime.
So where did Degei's group come from? I like to hypothesise that Degei and Lutunasobasoba were Polynesians who might have lived in Kermadec islands, a summit of large volcanoes. Kermadec lies between Tonga and New Zealand and is annexed to New Zealand. Early settlement suggests it was periodically occupied by Polynesians on their ocean voyages but was vacant by the time of the first Europeans arrival in the 18th century (www.thekermadecs.org.island) Russell (1961:8) observed that in Polynesian society, the Maoris and Marquesian were blatant cannibals.
Latter arrivals in the 18th and 19th centuries of European shipwreckers, traders, planters, missionaries, and others introduced the Fijians to Christianity, capitalism, alcohol and a different style of trading culture. Narayan (1984:21) observed that land and labour and not capital were the cornerstones of the pre-Imperialist Fijian society and that any major interference with the traditional organisation of land and labour would have repercussion on the indigenous social structure. He added and as further described by Nicole (2011), the capitalist planters succeeded in doing just that.
By the 19th century, three governments were already established before the Deed of Cesssion in 1874; the short-lived Cakobau government (1871-1873), and, the 10 year old governments of; Ma'afu's Lau government and Vakawaletabua's Bua parliament which a missionary hailed as the most successful (France, 1969).
This immediate pre-Cession period also ended any threat of a Fijian takeover by Tongan Ma'afu when Golea of Cakaudrove with assistance from a Catholic priest who gave him a cross, finally killed Wainiqolo (Ma'afu's henchman) and 83 other men in a battle. It is said that the priest's assistance was conditional on Golea not eating his victims at war. But on a count after the battle, two bodies were missing from the supposed 84.
For the Catholics, the death of the dreaded Wainiqolo saw an end to his gruesome treatment of any Fijian who refused to embrace Wesleyanism (Archives of the Archdiocese).
When the Council of Chiefs was formalised in the 19th century via Native Ordinance 1876 as the pinnacle of a hierarchical governance system for the Fijians, its conical structure was not only similar to the Polynesian but also the Scottish feudal system which Spate (1959) observed bore the mark of Sir Arthur Gordon, Fiji's first governor after Cession, who was a Scottish noble. This structure became the implementing arm for expansion of profit to self-sustain the new colony as expected under the British Empire.
The Fijians were mobilised into working groups which included women and children to plant a chief's garden on a grand scale in order to meet the tax-in-land which was seen as the immediate short-term solution to the new colony's revenue deficiency (Mcnaught 1982, Knapman 1987).
There are several accounts of their mistreatment by the chiefs who had acquired new roles under the Administration. This introduced administration disrupted the people's age-old social organisations and caused further confusion, as Qalo (2008) noted.
For example, Durutalo (1997) explained that the regulated lives of the Fijians which necessitated this new demand opposed their traditionally mobile disposition. Furthermore, it introduced new types of chiefs, "...the commoners became chiefs and traditional chiefs became state chiefs..."
The Colonial Administration was totally dependent on the chiefs for the success of this new system and Knapman (1987:33) noted that it was successful. He explained that when tax receipts were low in 1876, the Native Administration raked in much desired income. This increased rapidly the Colonial government's coffer from 1877 to 1879, to a level almost equal to import duties and thereafter, held steady in the range 17,000 to 20,000 pounds until the 20th century.
The arrival of Indians in 1879 to provide labour for the Colonial sugar industry further expanded the colony's profits. Similar to the Fijians who were isolated to their villages, not so much to preserve their culture as Post Colonialism appears to have convinced most of us, but to maintain plantations to economically sustain the colony.
The Indians also were isolated to their sugar cane farms and their sufferings are well documented by their descendents. Systematically, these two diverse cultures were discouraged from interacting by the Colonial Administration.
Under this new order of indirect rule, chiefs were the economic directors and molders of a new social structure (Dias, 1977:17) which formalised the seven social task roles of turaga (chief), sauturaga (executive director/ambassador), bati (warrior), bete (priest), gonedau (fisherman), mataisau (carpenter) and matanivanua (spokesperson).
But this was only prevalent amongst those who worked closely with the Colonial Administration and further confused those whose governance system was simple much like the original inhabitants of the land. Furthermore, the Fijians were faced with demand for their various resources from different quarters.
There was the plantation tax quota to meet for their district, failing which they were fined. In addition, absentism and having too many children were also punishable by fine or imprisonment (Durutalo, 1997).
Furthermore, as part of a system for labour control, the Fijians in various provinces who reacted against this system were punished under the law. In Vanua Levu, a tyrannical Roko Tui invited the wrath of the Seaqaqa hill tribes who reacted against him by cannibalising officials of the provincial office (Archives of the Archdiocese of Suva). Knapman (1987) observed that all governors between 1897 and 1942 shared the belief of Governor O'Brien (1897-1901) who defined the Native Administration as "...the governing of the natives through the chiefs and for the chiefs..."
In 1915 to 1926 there was a temporary abolition of the Fijian Administration (Knapman,1987) and Nayacakalou (1975) had earlier observed that Gordon had always intended the system to be a temporary measure and his policies confirmed this. However, Bole (1969) noted that Ratu Sukuna felt the best form of government for the Fijians was indirect rule and as conceived by Governor Mitchell and Ratu Sukuna, the Fijian Administration was set up in 1945 and changes were made in relation with the central government.
When we achieved independence in 1970, the process of decolonisation such as those in countries like India and Samoa which demanded nationalism did not apply to Fiji because we were too preoccupied with trying to impress the British with our new order of multiracialism.
There was no careful scrutiny of how the Fijians who were just beginning to recover from a 92-year (1876-1968) heavily regulated life under the Fijian Administration might be feeling. The psychological state of the iTaukei was further complicated by the 1987 coup de'tat 17 years later. And one wonders why some authors (Robertson & Sutherland, 2001, Robertson, Tamanisau &, Knapman, 1988, Lal, 1992, Naidu & Norton, 2009) attribute our series of coup de'tat to our colonial past.
So in attempting to address Prime Minister Bainimarama's decision to disestablish the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), we need to be reminded that post colonialism exacerbated by post independence politicians have always ensured the GCC was exclusive only to those who supported their interests.
The contradicting stance of the GCC to the coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006 are such examples. The removal of the GCC as the Prime Minister has announced would be one of Fiji's most courageous move to decolonisation. The GCC was after all, created to accomplish British governmental objectives. It is a colonial ghost. Its role has since shifted to ensuring the good governance and well-being of the iTaukei under the Fijian Affairs Act (Cap 120). It is difficult however to measure its effectiveness in the face of a iTaukei population which continues to constitute a majority of the poor despite their heritage of a bulk of Fiji's natural resources.
To lament that the removal of the GCC will see the end of the chiefs is nonsensical. It is merely the removal of a colonial ghost. The chiefs remain only as long as the customs and practices accorded to them by the people continue. Ideally, if their relationship is co-operative rather than competitive then long may our chiefs live! But, the culture of globalisation of which Fiji is a part, is not always kind and the existence of the chiefs is really depended on the goodwill of the people.
In this Lenten season, may we be reminded of wartime leader and British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill's quote on political leadership; "...politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen..."
* This is the personal opinion of the author who is a postgraduate student of development studies at the University of the South Pacific after a collective 36-year experience of auditing, financial management, overseas development administration and as executive director of a national development NGO. She continues with voluntary work at provincial council level and other organisations.