‘Ratu Sukuna was a visionary statesman’ – Kotobalavu

Jeremiah College students, Ashmita Kumar, 18, and Navishka Nand, 18, looks through photos of the late Ratu Sukuna on display during the celebrations. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna’s role in initiating native land reform to benefit all communities in Fiji and the way he consulted iTaukei landowners to obtain their support has earned him the honour of being recognised as an outstanding and visionary leader, and statesman.

Renowned academic and former permanent secretary Jioji Kotobalavu said this at a Ratu Sukuna Memorial lecture in Suva yesterday.

He said in all his readings and research on Ratu Sukuna, there was one particular feature of him that stood out.

“Of all our local leaders during the colonial period, he was the first to publicly acknowledge that Fiji had become a multi-ethnic country,” Mr Kotobalavu said.

“And in particular, the rapid growth in the Indian population, and with that, the need for land.”

Mr Kotobalavu said Ratu Sukuna’s biographer, Dr Deryck Scarr, said he saw Fiji as being akin to a “three-legged stool”.

And it was this imagery he shared with the Great Council of Chiefs when he addressed them in 1936 when he convened a special meeting to seek the GCC’s support for his proposal for legislation to reform native land management.

“The purpose of the reform was to facilitate the leasing of native land, surplus to the needs of the landowning mataqali, to all citizens of Fiji who needed land for their livelihood.

“All would benefit from this: the landowners, the tenants, and Fiji as a whole in its economic progress and social stability.

“So, with this in mind, Ratu Sukuna stressed to the gathered chiefs that the Fijians were no longer the sole inhabitants of Fiji. The country now had three main communities; Fijians, Europeans and Indians.

“It was, therefore, important for the chiefs to recognise the crucial importance of promoting harmony and co-operation among these groups.”

Mr Kotobalavu said Ratu Sukuna must also be acknowledged as the principal author of the Native Land Trust Act passed by the Legislative Council and promulgated by the British colonial Government in 1940.

More Stories