Royal Visit: British rule ends, a nation was born

Prince Andrew is pictured with, then, President the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara during his visit to Fiji in November 1998. Picture: FT FILE

FIJI’S first Independence Day celebration was a national and historic event that lasted for three days.

Representing the Queen on that occasion, Prince Charles was here 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 on Friday, October 9, 1970 he was behind schedule by 31 hours because his VC10 aircraft had suffered an engine problem between London and Fiji.

This resulted in a shortened welcome ceremony.

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

Suva came to a 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 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 100 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 said.

He reminisced over the Deed of Cession that took place 100 years earlier, saying the 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.”

Fiji’s new flag is raised

On Saturday, October 10, again a strong crowd of 20,000 people thronged to Suva’s Albert Park to witness the raising of Fiji’s new flag. Prince Charles read out a personal message from the Queen, who wished Fiji progress, prosperity and good fortune.

“I have no doubt that if you continue to seek solutions to future problems in the same spirit in which you have faced and overcome those of the past, the years ahead will be bright and prosperous,” the Queen’s message reads.

“My husband and I have the warmest remembrances of our happy visits to Fiji….may God bless you all.”

This was followed by a program of fanfare and merrymaking that was never seen and experienced before. Four British paratroopers dropped from the sky in spectacular fashion much to the crowd’s approval and excitement.

At 12,000 ft, they jumped out of their Royal Air Force aircraft before their red and blue parachutes blossomed out at 2000 ft, bringing gasps and cheers to thousands of onlookers below.

Bua cattle farmer Josese Masivivi, 52, was one of the most famous and envied local on the day.

During a tour of Albert Park in an open Landrover, Prince Charles spotted three polished service medals on his shirt and walked over to him.

Prince Charles reportedly asked him a number of questions including whether he was ever taken as a prisoner of war.

He said no. Mr Masivivi, a former policeman, who owned a cattle farm in Verata, Tailevu, served in the Fiji 3rd Battalion which took part in the Solomons’ campaign against invading Japanese.

Nation united in thanksgiving praise

On Sunday, October 11 during Prince Charles visit here in 1970, all religions joined in an ecumenical service of praise and dedication.

It was described as something that united all people of Fiji.

The weather was a bit overcast but this did not stop thousands of people from flocking to Albert Park where leaders of major religious communities in Fiji took part in celebration.

Prince Charles and Governor- General Sir Robert Foster were received with a fanfare of trumpets.

The national anthem, Blessing grant o God of nations, was played by the Fiji Military Forces band and a choir of more than 1000 voices sang to the crowd.

Father L. Hannan, chairman of the independence service committee, opened the service with praise before there were readings from the Bible in Fijian, the Vedas in Hindi and the Koran in Arabic.

After an address by the Rev Setareki Tuilovoni, secretary to the Pacifi c Conference of Churches, Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh prayers were offered.

Later in the day, Prince Charles met members of the Suva City Council at the new Suva Town hall.

The Prince was reported wearing fawn slacks, a pair of blue sneakers and a light blue sports shirt with sleeves rolled above his elbows.

After the ecumenical thanksgiving service, he changed at Government House in preparation for a picnic during his free afternoon.

A civic reception was to have taken place on Friday afternoon after his first official engagement in Suva but this was dropped when the Prince’s arrival was delayed.

Meanwhile, in Lautoka a congregation of more than 8000 sat at Churchill Park during a similar thanksgiving service.

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