Opinion

FOCUS: What Is The “Mace”?

Welcome back to Parliament 101. Last week we looked at how the Parliament is at its most modern as it reaches out to engage with the community.  This week we
18 May 2015 08:08
FOCUS: What Is The “Mace”?
the Mace is the symbol of the Speaker’s authority and, through the Speaker, it represents the authority of Parliament when it lies on the table in front of the Speaker.

Welcome back to Parliament 101. Last week we looked at how the Parliament is at its most modern as it reaches out to engage with the community.  This week we look back into its remote past when we ask, “What is the Mace?”

Simply put, the Mace is the symbol of the Speaker’s authority and, through the Speaker, it represents the authority of Parliament when it lies on the table in front of the Speaker.

This was not always the case, however.

To discover how this ancient cudgel changed from being a weapon of war into the symbol for law-making we have to take an excursion into history that takes us both into Fiji’s past as well as into the origins of the Westminster parliament.

A mace in ancient England was a type of war club that was used in medieval combat.  Most were just shaped wooden rods or short staffs intended to break bones.

The ones used by knights and nobles could be very ornate and often were fitted with metal spikes or knobs to make them more deadly.

Since few people could read or write in these days, the ones used by the king’s serjeants-at-arms (his bodyguards) were stamped at bottom end of the club with the royal coat of arms.

This meant the officials who carried these maces could people seize without an arrest warrant.  And so, the Mace became a symbol of royal authority.

OK so far but how did the token of royal power become a symbol of parliamentary authority?

In part, we have to go back to the first Parliament 101 where we showed that the monarch (today we say head of state) is actually included in the definition of Parliament.

By laying a mace on the table, the king signified he was at peace with the Parliament and lent his authority to its work.

Few today recognise the royal connection that the Mace represents in the evolution of the relationship between the crown (monarch) and the Westminster parliament in England.

However, there is an interesting and more recent replaying of this same story here in Fiji.

The mace in our Parliament today began its life as a royal war club.  Its name was Ai Tutuvi Kuta I Radini Bau and it belonged to Ratu Seru Cakobau.

Although it was said to have been used as a war club, Ratu Cakobau covered it with palm leaves and doves to symbolise peace after he converted to Christianity.

When he formed a Government, he used the decorated club as the Mace for his legislature.

Just before the signing of the Deed of Cession giving Fiji to the British monarch,  Ratu Cakobau had the legislative Mace sent to Queen Victoria, saying,  “The King gives Her Majesty his old and favourite war club, the former, and until lately, the only known law of Fiji.

Ratu Cakobau’s mace was returned to Fiji in 1932 by King George V to be used as the Mace for the Legislative Assembly and then, at independence in 1970, by the House of Representatives as its Mace.

Why is the Mace important?

You might think it is only a symbol and so is not very significant since it is not needed to do anything except lie on the table of the Parliament.  But, you would be wrong!

There are some scholars who argue that the Parliament is not properly constituted until the Mace is present in its position on the table in the Chamber.

This may not be legally true but it is the case that Mace signifies that the Parliament is properly in session.

It must be in its place on the table whenever the Speaker or Deputy Speaker is in the Chair.   If the Mace is not in its proper place, some business cannot be conducted.

You can see the Mace if you sit in the Stranger’s Gallery on any sitting day.  Go early to see the pageantry that goes with bringing the Mace into the Chamber.

Fiji has an official Mace Bearer.  This position is held by a police officer who, in ceremonial uniform, carrying the Mace on his shoulder leads the Speaker in procession into the House.

The Mace goes onto the table and at the end of the day’s sitting the Mace Bearer removes the Mace and leads the Speaker out of the Chamber.

The role of the Mace Bearer may be uniquely a Fijian position.  In other parliaments, it is the Serjeant at Arms who carries the Mace into the Chamber.

Fiji also has a Serjeant at Arms who, like the Mace Bearer, is police officer.  He sits at the other end of the Chamber close to the Speaker while the Parliament is in session.

In other parliaments, the Serjeant at Arms is a high-ranking member of the parliamentary Secretariat.  They often serve as a senior clerk at the table.

As their name suggests, Serjeant at Arms have a responsibility for the security the Parliament.  The Speaker can call on the Serjeant at Arms to escort persons from the Chamber if necessary to keep order.

Historically the Serjeant at Arms is the only person actually allowed to carry a weapon in the Chamber.

Even today, the ceremonial uniform of the Serjeant at Arms typically includes a sword in many parliaments.   This was to enable the Serjeant at Arms to protect the Speaker if any affray broke out in the Chamber.

In case you were wondering, the Mace is regarded only as a symbol today so it does not count as a weapon on the floor of the Parliament.

Normally, the Serjeant at Arms responsibility for security is largely an administrative responsibility.  The Serjeant at Arms coordinates and supervises the security of the parliamentary precincts.

There is an historical quirk in the way the lies on the table in Westminster and in Fiji.

In both parliaments, the ornate crown end of the Mace points to the Government side.

And, in both, this is the larger end of the Mace.

However, in Fiji the crown and cross are on the club end of the Mace but in Westminster it is on the butt end of the Mace.

The reason for the difference goes back to the earliest days in England when the king’s mace carried the royal seal.

Over the years the seal grew larger and larger with the addition of an orb, a crown and a cross while the head of the Mace became smaller.

Most people watching the Speaker’s procession in Westminster do not realise that the Mace is actually being carried upside down when they see the crown end held up!

Feedback:  newsroom@fijisun.com.fj

 




Fiji Sun Instagram
Fiji Plus
Subscribe-to-Newspaper