Back in History: Ratu Mara hosts chiefs

Tubou Village, Lakeba Fiji 1977. About 50 chiefs from the western areas of Fiji were guests of former prime minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara on his island home in Lau. Picture: SUPPLIED

About 50 chiefs from the western areas of Fiji were guests of then Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara on his homeland in Lau.

The event was published by this newspaper on January 20 1972.

The chiefs included some of the most powerful Fijian leaders from the West and were led by the Tui Nadi, Ratu Napolioni Dawai.

The Tui Vuda, Ratu Jeremaia Tavaiqia and Na Ka Levu from Nadroga Ratu Tevita Makutu were also in the delegation.

Mats and other traditional gifts were loaded into the chartered Fijian Princess before it took the chiefs to Lakeba, main island of the Lau group.

They were staying at Tubou, which has a population of about 2000 and is regarded as the biggest Fijian village.

Political observers regard the visit as highly significant for two main reasons.

It is an indication that the western leaders are not hostile to the Prime Minister and the Alliance Party.

It could lead also to a modification of the concept of chiefly authority.

Opponents of Ratu Sir Kamisese and his Government colleagues have been attempting to drive a wedge between the Alliance and the western leaders.

One object of the campaign appears to have been an attempt to “isolate” the prime minister by creating suspicion and disharmony among the chiefs of Fiji and by encouragement of “tribalism”.

A major propaganda effort has been directed towards claiming that the western Fijian leadership, in particular, is disenchanted with the Mara Government.

Fuel for this was provided by the decision of the western chiefs to form their own association.

An important move to counteract this propaganda was a meeting at Vomo Island near Lautoka.

At this meeting, Ratu Sir Kamisese spoke to the western leaders at a seminar, about topics such as land and its utilisation by the Fijians.

There were discussions also about the relationship between traditional leadership.

Details of the talks have been made public.

But they were undoubtedly of great importance and linked to the anti-Mara movement.

Ratu Sir Kamisese admitted afterwards that the western chiefs would be invited to Lau.

This invitation, and its acceptance must be regarded as another blow to those trying to create disunity among the chiefs.

Some of the Western leaders expressed interest in studying a committee form of “local government’ established by the prime minister at Tubou.

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