2022 Fiji Day: Fiji’s first independence day three-day celebration

A meke performance during the first Fiji Day celebration. Picture: FT FILE

Fiji’s first Independence Day celebration was a national and historic event that lasted three days, filled with pomp, excitement and festivities.

Representing the Queen on the occasion, Prince Charles was in Suva to give Fiji’s instrument of independence and constitutional documents. He was accorded a ceremony of welcome he described as “memorable and magnificent”.

On the day he arrived – Friday, October 9, 1970 Prince Charles was behind schedule by 31 hours because his VC10 aircraft had apparently suffered an engine problem between London and Fiji. This resulted in a welcome ceremony that was shortened.

But this did nothing to deter the spirit of thousands of people who lined 14 miles of road from Nausori Airport, where he was given a 21 gun salute, to Albert Park in Suva.

Suva came to a hallowed standstill. Thousands witnessed the lowering of the Union Jack for the last time in Fiji, heralding a new page in our history.

At five minutes past six in the morning, the Union Jack was struck by Warrant Officer Isoa Vakaciwa at the climax of a British military ceremony called “Beating Retreat”.

In a masi-decorated pavilion, the figures of Prince Charles and Governor General designate Sir Robert Forster sat with dignitaries of 30 countries.

The Fiji Military Forces band played “God Save the Queen”.

Prince Charles watched an enthralling hour-long meke performed by the people of Rewa and Tailevu and flamboyantly costumed Indian women.

Chiefs from Fiji’s 14 provinces took part in traditionally welcoming the prince to our shores while various dance troupes representing Fiji’s different ethnic groups provided an ensemble of cultural performance.

The people of Fiji presented the royal with traditional gifts including one hundred pigs, more than 20 turtles and a mountain of dalo and yams.

In his pre-independence day message Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara delivered a nationwide radio message.

He said Fiji’s independence meant “responsibility, dedication, sacrifice and honest hard work”.

“Above all we must remember to make tolerance and goodwill a continuing and growing part of our lives,” Ratu Sir Kamisese remarked.

He reminisced over the Deed of Cession that took place 100 years earlier saying chiefs of Fiji must have wondered on the eve of Cession in 1874, what the future held.

“Tonight I feel confident that tomorrow we shall give those chiefs their final and definitive answer, although this answer is just the beginning of a new and exciting stage in our history.”

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