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Fijian Colonial Experience

Fijian Colonial Experience: A study of the neotraditional order under British colonial rule prior to World War II OPEN ACCESS

TIMOTHY J. MACNAUGHT
Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1dgn5tz
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  • Book Info
    Fijian Colonial Experience
    Book Description:

    Indigenous Fijians were singularly fortunate in having a colonial administration that halted the alienation of communally owned land to foreign settlers and that, almost for a century, administered their affairs in their own language and through culturally congenial authority structures and institutions. From the outset, the Fijian Administration was criticised as paternalistic and stifling of individualism. But for all its problems it sustained, at least until World War II, a vigorously autonomous and peaceful social and political world in quite affluent subsistence — underpinning the celebrated exuberance of the culture exploited by the travel industry ever since. First published 1982 by The Australian National University.

    eISBN: 978-1-921934-36-0
    Subjects: Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction (pp. 1-11)

    The death on 7 February 1897 of Governor Sir John B. Thurston, champion of the integrity of Fijian community life for a quarter century, closed a remarkable segment in the history of European expansionism in the South Pacific.¹ An exuberant, tumultuous, and sophisticated collection of warring Fijian societies inhabiting some eighty islands in the group had been threatened but not overwhelmed by the relentless pressures of the Australasian frontier on their land and their autonomy, even though they had ceded sovereignty to Queen Victoria on 10 October 1874. According to a cherished Fijian myth, a pleasant reduction of the tortuous...

  2. 'We are peculiarly situated here as regards natives', complained the Governor in 1907, considerably understating the differences he perceived between the powerful position of the Fijians and the more depressed situation of the aboriginal inhabitants of other British colonies.¹ The Governors who followed Gordon and Thurston viewed the system of Fijian administration bequeathed them with feelings ranging from kindly forbearance to cynical despair. Nearly all of them voiced hopes of reform, insisting that Fijians could not forever opt out of the twentieth century or the colonial version of 'the modern world'. Every address of a Governor to the Council of...

  3. On 11 October 1904, the day after he arrived in Fiji, Everard im Thurn was installed as Supreme Chief of the Fijians with ceremonies he acknowledged in his diary as 'extraordinarily interesting'. On the evening of the same day he was recovering in his office when he noticed

    something that seemed a great dog creeping up and licking my boots. It was a magnificent Fijian, an officer of the Armed Native Constabulary, who had crept on all fours vaka Viti to take the earliest opportunity to prefer some request. I was startled - and … gave him to understand that...

  4. When a newcomer such as Sir Everard im Thurn observed Fijian society from the outside, it was easy to conclude, as he did, that Fijian chiefs were bleeding their people pale. For the person of the chief was still hedged with elaborate ceremonial, deferential modes of indirect and plural address, courtly euphemisms, crouching low when he passed, the tabu attached to his clothing and food, and above all the dread fear of incurring his ancestors' curse by even unwitting breaches of his sacredness. (Even half a century later when customary modes of respect were said to be breaking down, there...

  5. The more able Fijian chiefs did not need to fetch up the glory of their ancestors to maintain leadership of their people: they exploited a variety of opportunities open to them within the Fijian Administration. Ultimately colonial rule itself rested on the loyalty chosen chiefs could still command from their people, and day-to-day village governance, it has been seen, to tally depended on them. Far from degenerating into a decadent elite, these chiefs devised a mode of leadership that was neither traditional, for it needed appointment from the Crown, nor purely administrative. Its material rewards came from salary and fringe...

  6. Until World War II more than eight out of ten Fijians were in villages - not haphazard hamlets strewn through the countryside but hierarchically structured groups of villages organized within and without by interlocking administrative, political and customary arrangements. The lines of official authority were clear and hinged on the office of Buli, the government-appointed district chief usually in charge of 200-600 people in about three or four villages. After twenty years' experience in charge of the Colo provinces, Walter Carew had argued in 1896 that the Rokos 'could be dispensed with any day without any evil results' - and...

  7. If Ratu Sukuna was to become the statesman of Fiji, Apolosi R. Nawai was its underworld hero - the only man from the ranks of ordinary villagers who rivalled the statesman for eloquence, personal mana, and a compelling vision of the future of Fijians in their own country. Ratu Sukuna's claims to leadership rested not only on his noble blood lines, but on his Oxford-given ability to hold his own amongst the most educated men in the colonial service and yet articulate a coherent philosophy of Fijian values dear to himself and inherent so he said - in the psychology...

  8. The failure of Apolosi's Viti Company to galvanize the rural economy and his own retreat into messianic delusions left something of a vacuum in ordinary village life, a loss in some places of a feeling of purpose and direction. Discontent and restlessness found several outlets: village absenteeism to escape the present, secret supernatural societies to overturn it, and modern associations to turn the existing order to greater advantage.

    Colonial authorities were poorly equipped to respond to all these phenomena, but especially the underground movements they rather too easily dismissed as transient relapses into superstition. Witchcraft was of course proscribed by...

  9. Prior to the 1 930s Fijians had not felt unduly threatened by the presence of Indians and had been content, by and large, to leave the details of their separate management to the colonial government and the sugar industry.

    From 1887, when the first indentures were expiring, until about 1910, Fijian owners were tolerant and accommodating to individual Indians who preferred to fend for themselves rather than live in the official Indian segregated settlements (on blocks of Fijian land leased for the purpose by the government or on Crown land). Ignoring government regulations altogether, it seems that Indians were able...

  10. Six decades after Cession the rationale for Britain's trusteeship was still that Fijians needed a lot of time to 'catch up'; the colonial timetable was leisurely and vague. As one Governor had put it: 'No one who has the interest of these islands at heart would unduly hasten the change in a people of whom it is literally true that less than 50 years ago they were only emerging from the Stone Age.'¹ Still, there was no dispute that ultimately Fijians would evolve, and would want to evolve, towards the liberal western ideal of individualistic, democratic man in an essentially...

  11. 'It may be that to deny the omnipotence of the great octopus of the modern world bespeaks an old-world outlook', wrote Ratu Sukuna in. 1934, 'but it is after all, of a semi-feudal, semi-self-sufficing, society that we are, in the main, treating.'¹ Six years later the war effort, the tentacles of the great octopus, drew thousands of Fijian men out of their narrow village world in response to Ratu Sukuna's own appeals. Gladly accepting a commission as Recruiting Officer with the rank of major in the minuscule Fiji Defence Force, Ratu Sukuna welcomed the opportunity to show the world and...