Concerns About Chiefs Not New

The concerns about leadership offered by chiefs are not new. They have been subject of reviews, debates and political discussion since our colonial past. The issues raised by Deputy Permanent
31 Oct 2014 10:38
Concerns About Chiefs Not New
Adi Lady Lala Mara (left), with Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

The concerns about leadership offered by chiefs are not new.

They have been subject of reviews, debates and political discussion since our colonial past.

The issues raised by Deputy Permanent Secretary for iTaukei Affairs Apakuki Kurusiga about the need to educate and train chiefs so that they could serve the people better are real. Unless this is done, the chiefs as an institution could become irrelevant. Already, the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (BLV) or Great Council of Chiefs, a creation of the colonial masters, to control the iTaukei, is no more because it had been politicised. Interestingly, one who detested the use of the BLV for political purposes was the late Adi Lady Lala Mara, older sister of Opposition leader Ro Teimumu Kepa and wife of the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Fiji’s first prime minister after Independence in 1970. Adi Lady Lala spoke out against the idea of the BLV entertaining a motion by Sitiveni Rabuka seeking its endorsement of his political party, the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT). She was overwhelmingly defeated by the male-dominated council. If they had listened to her, the ensuing events might have taken a different turn.

The involvement of chiefs in national life has been a matter of serious debate throughout history.

Author Stephanie Lawson in her political discourse titled “Tradition Versus Democracy in the South Pacific – Fiji, Tonga and Western Samoa”,  talks about the challenges that face the chiefs. She refers to iTaukei as Fijians. The old Legislative Council had commissioned two reports. The Spate Report which examined areas of Fijian developments was highly critical of the role of chiefs. It said the chiefs had “become a sheltered aristocracy, too often lack the skills or the inclination to lead in the new ways.”

“Hence, in some areas, a dreary negativism: the people have become accustomed to waiting a lead which is never given.”

The second report issued one year later echoed many of the concerns of the Spate Report. One recommendation was to give ordinary Fijians a direct voice in the Legislative Council. On the grounds that “the chiefly appointees, and the Great Council of Chiefs, which was primarily responsible for nominating them, was not fully representative of Fijian opinion.”

In the 1970s, famous Fijian anthropologist Dr Rusiate Nayacakalou was equally critical of Fijian (iTaukei) leadership. Dr Nayacakalou highlighted the opportunities missed by iTaukei, especially in terms of economic development, in clinging to a system that had “demonstrably failed to provide tangible benefits”.

“It assumed that people were bound to their chiefs and to their land in unalterable ways which were defined once and for all by their birth,” Dr Nayacakalou said.

“The Fijian (iTaukei) Administration claimed to be based on the traditional system and yet to have the aim of development into a modern institution.” He said this was a powerful idea which the iTaukei believed in.

“It seems to me that one of the greatest obstacles facing the Fijians (iTaukei) today is the failure to recognise that there is a contradiction,” he said.

“They must make the momentous choice between preserving and changing their way of life. The belief that they can do both is a monstrous nonsense with which they have been saddled for so many years that its eradication may be difficult to achieve.”

He would have been happy if he was alive today to see the changes happening in iTaukei Affairs. He was a commoner who endured professional challenges because of his views. A student of Raymond Firth’s at the University of London, Nayacakalou was the first indigenous Fijian to earn his PhD. in anthropology. He was managing the Native Land Trust Board in Fiji when he died tragically young in 1972. His reputation suffered since his death, as his untimely passing was interpreted by some indigenous Fijians as punishment for his ideas about reforms. They were mistaken as an attack on indigenous sovereignty.


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