iTaukei and bylaws

THE Ministry of iTaukei Affairs plans to reintroduce the village bylaws for all villages. The ministry argues it has carried out consultations in the 14 provinces. How will the village bylaws serve the total development of iTaukei villages?

American historian Gordon Woods states: “History gives us a sense of where we have come from and how we became what we are.” He contends historical awareness gives us the best guide for shaping the present and the future.

Therefore a historical reflection on village bylaws in Fiji may help guide our decisions on this matter.

Here are some historical facts:

* the village bylaws were part of the British colonial government’s indirect rule policy. Indirect rule was the colonial native rule policy;

* through the indirect rule policy, the colonial government ruled natives by incorporating chiefs under the colonial administration. Once the colonial administration brought the chiefs under their authority, native rule was assured; and

* village bylaws: One of the strategies of indirect rule was to sanction tribal or village customs. The colonists identified the strands of power and authority in the native institutions and moulded them to serve the interest of the colonial government. The native peoples were to be ruled and led by their own leaders and customs.

Sir Arthur Gordon, the first British Governor of Fiji, introduced indirect rule in Fiji and the village bylaws. The system was known at that time as the Native Administration. During early colonial era, the Native Administration was criticised for failing to develop the iTaukei. Hence in 1916, the colonial government abolished the Native Administration and the village bylaws.

In 1945, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna returned from his studies in Britain and together with Governor Phillip Mitchel re-established the Native Administration (and village bylaws), renaming it as the Fijian Administration. Again, like the Native Administration, the Fijian Administration also failed to enhance the economic development of the iTaukei.

As a result the colonial government carried a commission to investigate the reason why the iTaukei were lagging behind in economic development. In 1959 the colonial government brought Oscar Spate, Australian anthropologist, to carry out the investigation. His findings were published as the Spate Commission.

1n 1960, the colonial government carried out another commission of inquiry to investigate land and population problems in Fiji. Alan Burns led this commission and the report was known as the Burns Commission.

The Spate and Burns commissions and academics such as Cyril Belshaw, Rusiate Nayacakalou, and Isireli Lasaqa, heavily criticised the Fijian Administration (including the village bylaws) for the economic and political lag of the iTaukei. As a result, beginning in 1967, the colonial government again gradually abolished the Fijian Administration, along with its subsidiary bodies including the village bylaws.

The Attorney-General Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum’s thesis for his Master’s Degree (Cultural Autonomy: Its implication for the nation state) concurs with the above critiques on cultural administrations such as the village bylaws where he argues that the continuation of separate indigenous Fijian administration has restricted the growth of a coherent national narrative, in politics, myth and ritual. He adds that such institutions like the village bylaws propagate communal politics. Hence he concludes that cultivating cultural or ethnic cleavages for administration and politics should end.

History tells us that village bylaws have failed the economic development of the iTaukei. History is also telling us that village bylaws are not a good option for the present and future development of the iTaukei.

Why is the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs reintroducing a failed system? How will the village by-laws develop the iTaukei? Whose interest does the village bylaw serve?

* Archbishop Peter Loy Chong is the head of the Catholic Church in Fiji. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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