Analysis: iTaukei Politics And Its Complexities

The feud over the heir to the Vunivalu title demonstrates the complexity of iTaukei politics. It is deeper and more complicated than na­tional politics because it cuts through tribal and
08 Jun 2018 11:00
Analysis: iTaukei Politics And Its Complexities
Ratu Epenisa Cakobau.

The feud over the heir to the Vunivalu title demonstrates the complexity of iTaukei politics.

It is deeper and more complicated than na­tional politics because it cuts through tribal and family ties.

Alliances are forged and broken in a bid to achieve power and prestige,

When you mix national politics and iTaukei politics the product can be damaging.

If the installation of Ratu Epenisa Cakob­au was going ahead today it would be inter­esting to see which chiefs and prominent people would attend.

It would have shown who has formed alli­ances with Ratu Epenisa.

He will have people from his wife’s clan, a group from the Yavusa Ratu which will con­duct the ceremony, friends and part of the Vanua of Bau and Tailevu and the Kubuna confederacy, of which Bau is the seat of power.

Interestingly no official invitation has been received by the Tailevu Provincial Council, chaired by Police Chief Operations Officer Rusiate Tudravu.

In normal circumstances all the para­mount and senior chiefs of Fiji will attend, including Na Marama Bale Na Roko Tui Dreketi (Paramount chief of Rewa Province and Burebasaga Confederacy) and chiefs from the Tovata Confederacy and Kubuna Confederacy.

Ratu Epenisa is a known SODELPA sup­porter and critic of Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama‘s FijiFirst Government. His challenger is his half brother Ratu George Kadavulevu Cakobau, a known supporter of Mr Bainimarama,

We cannot completely rule out the possibil­ity of national politics in this row.

Why now, why not next year?

Why wasn’t it done last year?

One theory is that it would attempt to boost the chiefs’ fightback against policies that are perceived to weaken their position.

If this was true it would be consistent with SODELPA’s policies.

One aspect of this row that we cannot ig­nore is the history of the Vunivalu.

Depending on who you talk to, it is clear that there are different versions to try to le­gitimise them. One thing that we can deduce from this is that there was a lot of drama and intrigue.

There are tales of conspiracies, betrayal, coup and even murder.

If this is the history then we should not be surprised with the latest events.

The expression Vere Vakabau, which liter­ally means Bauan plot or conspiracy, depicts the complex nature of Bauan politics.

In the early years of the Vunivalu there were stories of power struggle

According to Wikipedia the Vunivalu was not always the senior chieftain in Kubuna and Bau. The title was considered subordi­nate to the Roko Tui Bau, long considered the principal chief on the island.

Power struggles between the various chief­ly households came to a head with the exile of the Vunivalu Tanoa Visawaqa in the ear­ly 19th century after a series of murders and reprisals. His son Seru Epenisa Cakobau, however, was allowed to remain on Bau dur­ing his father’s exile. Cakobau gained power by subverting the Lasakau people to plot and execute the overthrow of the ruling group, led by Ratu Ravulo Vakayaliyalo, in 1837; Seru Epenisa Cakobau then reinstated his father as ruler.

Cakobau eventually succeeded to the title himself. He created much of its prestige by styling himself King of Fiji; he led the pro­cess that culminated in the ceding of the islands to Great Britain’s Queen Victoria in 1874.

The protocol to install Ratu Epenisa now was not followed.

This was confirmed by the Roko Tui Bau, Ratu Timothy Daniel. Ratu Timothy is the head of the Roko Tui Bau clan called Yavusa Ratu, which installs the Vunivalu.

The new Vunivalu is chosen by the Tui Kaba clan unanimously.

The name is then passed on to the Yavusa Ratu.

The Tui Kaba members include the two contestants for the Vunivalu and former President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau.

The Vunivalu row is symptomatic of the chiefly disputes that have been a matter of serious concern to the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs.

The vacant chiefly titles are being linked to social problems in iTaukei communities because there is no leadership.

This latest dispute is significant because of the way Bau and the Vunivalu are being per­ceived by the rest of the Fiji as the leading confederacy and paramount chief.

The last Vunivalu Ratu Sir George Cakob­au was the first local Governor-General of Fiji. But the row could damage the dignity and respect for the chiefly institution.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the biggest threat to the chiefly system is not external, but internal. We can no longer blame the Government or the scrapping of the Great Council of Chiefs, but the chiefs themselves if they can’t put their own house in order.

The two Bau factions should sit down and iron out their differences to protect and pre­serve the chiefly system.

If they can’t unite how can they lead the iTaukei? The decision by the ministry and the iTaukei Lands and Fisheries Commis­sion to put the installation on hold was a wise move to allow all stakeholders to re­solve the dispute and preserve the respect and dignity of the Vunivalu title, its holder and its subjects.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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