Analysis

Vanua VS Politics

At the moment the lines between them seemed blurred. Can they be separated? The way SODELPA is carrying on, it will be a tough ask because all three are intertwined. It will require changing the old guard to bring about change.
25 Jun 2019 14:39
Vanua VS Politics
Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and Ro Teimumu Kepa Photo: Ronald Kumar.

Analysis:

Fiery nationalist leader the late Sakeasi Butadroka once said chiefs should get out of politics if they could not take the heat.

He later said they should hang their Ratu or Adi titles outside before they entered Parliament.

He made those remarks between the 1970s and 1980s reiterating that everyone was equal in the political arena.

When you talk about chiefs you also bring in the Vanua because the two are inextricably linked and therefore inseparable.

Can politics fit into this cultural context? Of course, it can for cheap political advantage and gains. This has been part of national politics since Independence.

But it has its own pitfalls.

The big casualties are the good governance principles of accountability and transparency. In the context of the Vanua, it is not easy to be critical of chiefs. If you do you could unavoidably offend their traditional subjects, apart from their political allies.

This is a dilemma facing SODELPA party members, especially from Viti Levu, who have questioned the wisdom of holding the management board meeting and the annual General Assembly Meeting in Savusavu because it’s a “logistical nightmare”. They argue that it would have been cheaper if it was held in Suva.

The organisers want it in Yaroi because it will be a swansong for Ratu Naiqama – to say thank you to his supporters in the heart of Cakaudrove Province, of which he is the paramount chief as Tui Cakau.

But his critics say that he should thank the people in Suva, Lami, and Nausori corridor who formed the majority of voters that put him in Parliament.

Was the same event organised for Ro Teimumu Kepa when she stepped down as party leader, to thank her supporters and recognise her contribution? She is the paramount chief of Rewa and Burebasaga Confederacy as Roko Tui Dreketi and a central figure in the rise of SODELPA.

The Yaroi Village event is a precedent. Will it now be accorded to other chiefs when they step down from their party positions?

Massive preparations are underway by the hosts to cater for and billet hundreds of delegates from Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Lomaiviti, Lau and Yasawa.

Outgoing general secretary Adi Litia Qionibaravi says in a circular to the constituencies that fares to Savusavu and bus to Yaroi would be subsidised by the party if they travel Patterson. The fare is $90 per person, but the subsidised fare is $45. Those taking their vehicle, the driver will travel free and passengers will only pay $30 return fare. Delegates pay for their own freight.

The group is scheduled to leave Suva at midday on Thursday and return via Nabouwalu on June 29.

Today, there will be a gathering to collect tabua (whales teeth)

The party is meeting the cost of the party’s Yau ni Cabe, 80 drums of kerosene and 40 bales of cloth material. The Yau ni Cabe is a gift for the hosts who will look after the delegates.

The delegates are required to prepare group gifts for specific houses where they will stay.

Adi Litia said their hosts from Cakaudrove, Bua kei Macuata (CBM) are looking forward to receive them. She asked for prayers to bless the occasion.

Some party members say the events outside of the meeting proper will place added pressure on those travelling in terms of cost.

But this is what happens when politics and the Vanua mix. The whole purpose of the meeting could be lost when it takes on a festive mood.

It will be interesting to see how much the party spends amid internal queries on the breakdown of the party spending in the 2018 General Election.

While the Savusavu meeting has been a subject of intense discussion between those who support it and others who oppose it through email exchanges, the question is whether this and other issues can be openly discussed.

Sometimes it is misconstrued as being disrespectful and prideful to criticise cultural and traditional issues particularly as they relate to the chiefs and the Vanua.

That is the challenge for SODELPA going forward – whether it can separate politics and the Vanua.

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