STORY BY RONALD GATTY
Highlander War Cry
Look out for your life!
We are standing our ground!
You are about to fall!
And you will die today!
Keitou butuka tu!
Sa na qai siri na duamu!
Na mate nikua!
“You will die today!” The highland warriors’ cry chills the blood even today on the football field where these exact words thundered warning to those who stood to resist them in 1995. Men of Naitasiri North demolished the Suva rugby team with the help of their own fans who surged out of the stands into the playing field. They make their own rules when they have to. They will not be defeated. Again, in 2004, the Naitasiri rugby team resorted to physical fighting and beat up the referee himself when the game was not going their way against Suva. Finally, in 2005, Naitasiri won actually by following the rules.
Sturdy highland folk, usually quiet spoken, shy but unafraid. These are not the blowhard big-mouthed coastal people who dominate far too much of Fiji life. Only the highlanders of Viti Levu — the kaiColo — can call themselves “the real Fijians” (kaiViti dina). We should come to understand how and why they feel themselves to be different.
In early days, these true highlanders lived in a world rather separate from Fijians of the lowlands who had been so heavily influenced from Polynesia. Language was different, their foods were different, many customs, and the very character of the people. Highlanders were of a very different culture, more Melanesian, and they lived in starkly primitive conditions, a harsh climate, with ever present violence. And they had a fierce pride of independence.
No, these are not primarily people of Nakauvadra origin. They were here much earlier than Nakauvadra immigrants who were associated with the ancestral god Degei. As reported by Ed Gifford, Sukuna’s study of official records show that not a single tribe of Naitasiri Province claimed its origin from the Nakauvadra mountain range of Ra Province, though I find several. There has been some inter-mingling.
The Four Migrations to Fiji
1. Proto-Polynesian sailors
The very first landings in Fiji were by ocean-going, seafaring sailors, originally from Southeast Asia. They are usually called Lapita people and they were Proto-Polynesians. Their traces have been noted in the western Pacific, first at Lapita, in New Caledonia. They scattered ultimately to the far corners of the Pacific.
These were sailors and fishermen and they made characteristic forms of pottery. They were traders and one might even say, pirates, never far from their boats and the sea. Only in a few places did they come far inland. They did not remain in large numbers to form any major part of the Fijian people today. Most of them travelled on, settling Samoa, Rotuma, Tonga, and on to Tahiti and the rest of French Polynesia. From there they peopled Hawaii to the north, and some of the Tahitians turned back to the south-western Pacific, to settle New Zealand. Their first arrival in Fiji would have begun some three thousand years ago and spanned several hundreds of years. In much more recent centuries, as differentiated Polynesians from Tonga, Samoa, Futuna, and from Rotuma, some moved back to Fiji. .
The early proto-Polynesians had settled firmly in a few Fiji places like Lakeba, with a major high hill fortress at Kedekede, but evacuated already a thousand years ago. They settled and fought over Matuku, Burotu Kula, leaving some legends behind of a floating paradise. Probably also, they are the ones who left behind the Levuka people, and so many place-names Levuka, Elevuka, scattered about Fiji, but also in Tonga.
2. The "real Fijians" as real settlers
Next were people who became the real Fijians, who came to Fiji in many relatively small expeditions from Vanuatu, the Solomons, and probably even New Caledonia. These were black-skinned Melanesians, and they came to settle, unlke the earlier ProtoPolynesian migrants. They were bush people, not sailors, and the boats they came in were quite likely large rafts made from the woody, very hard and thick bamboo (bitu kau) that is native to the western Pacific. They began to come here some two thousand years ago, too long to have any memory of their origins or early movement, too long ago even to have retained any legends of their earlier history. These earlier Fijians populated the western coast of Viti Levu, and especially the highlands of Viti Levu. And some had settled on the northern coast of Vanua Levu at Macuata. They were many different groups, at different times, from different areas of western Melanesia, and they brought in a variety of languages and dialects. Only since colonial days has there developed a "standard" Fijian language, mostly based on Bauan speech. Missionaries, school teachers, government officials and radio transmission all had an effect of standardising the languages into one that would be commonly understood.
For several hundreds of years, these real Fijians certainly had contact with proto-Polynesians, or Tongans, who were searching for red feathers, and also enlisting mercenary soldiers, and taking some of them back to Tonga, sometimes as slaves There was some inter-marriage but in the highlands, the two very different cultures remained separate and quite distinct. One of the few Polynesian features adopted by highland warriors was the loincloth (malo) made of mulberry bark (masi, or tapa cloth), used especially in battle, as a uniform.
3. The so-called First Landing
Hardly more than a few hundred years ago, there came a third migration of very different people whose origin is still uncertain. They came in big canoes, bringing with them Polynesian notions of aristocracy and social hierarchies. With a touch of vanity, they refer to their coming here as the “First Landing” which might better be labelled as a Later Landing. Legendary names are remembered: Lutunasobasoba, Degei, Rokomautu, Buatavatava, Kubuavanua, Daunisai. They spread out, populating the lowlands of Verata, Tailevu, Rewa. From Verata to coastal Vanua Levu, as well as Lau. Vuda, Verata, the Bua coast and Lau were all settled by these newcomers. Their culture blended closely with the Tongans who came in from the west and ultimately they came to be a dominant political force in Fiji.
4. The influx of Tongans
Beginning as early as the 1200s, or earlier, spanning several hundreds of years, Tongans came to Fiji in search of red feathers (kula), for trade to Polynesian chiefs who valued them as treasured possessions especially in Samoa. Their early focus was on Macuata (Labasa is a Tongan name), and Verata (Moturiki is a Tongan name), They enlisted Fijian mercenary warriors (some were our highlanders) for fighting in Fiji and in Tonga. There was constant traffic. The Tongans' continued search for colourful feathers is reflected still now in names of old locations such as Nasekula, Qaranikula, Namatakula. Sawanikula. The name Tonga (or Togo) became a part of some Fiji place-names, or the names of some Fijian kin-groups. We find that many of the Fiji Islands and places have a name that comes directly from Tonga: Mago, Katafaga, Kaba, Labasa, Verata, Vuna.
Finally, after most of the habitable Fiji islands had some population, there was a series of substantial migrations from Tonga. Tongans came in huge numbers, especially to the Lau archipelago, but also to Rewa, Beqa, Kadavu, the Nadroga and Serua coast, and the far western coast of Viti Levu. They were either looking for trouble and adventure, or escaping wars in Tonga from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s. These Tongans also blended into the coastal Fijianculture, often in a dominant role.
A Story to be Told
The highlanders are the genuine indigenous people of Viti Levu and they are the subject of this book. But the more recent arrivals today dominate in politics and claim primacy in land ownership and chiefly lineage that has no basis in the early history of Fiji. Even from Lau, the late Ratu Kamisese Mara Kapaiwai, mainly of casual Tongan parentage, claimed to have noble lineage dating back to Lutunasobasoba. Using a lot of imagination, he counted some fourteen generations. Such aristocratic notions are Tongan pretensions, and not at all Fijian.
The “real” Fijians have been suppressed and ill-treated by a national hierarchy of chiefs that was created by the British for the purposes of central control and easier administration. Indirect rule was a British invention making it possible for a small group of white men to govern a vast and diverse part of the Empire, as in Fiji, and as in India. They worked through a hierarchy of chiefs who were sponsored or even selected by the colonial administration. Similarly, the British invented the Council of Chiefs, powerful in politics today, but with no precedent in early Fijian tradition. Before the British came there never was at any time any assembly of chiefs. With a little grandiosity, they have since that time promoted themselves to be known as the Great Council of Chiefs.
Listen to the highlanders when they tell you:
“It is only the chiefs who are pushing us down.”
“O ira ga na turaga era tabaki keda sobu tiko.”
In days of old, there were no paramount chiefs. Aristocracy never had any role or reality in the highlands of Fiji or among any indigenous Fijians. The concept of paramount chiefs stemmed mainly from the Kubuna super-tribe. Their leading chief, the Roko Tui Bau was half-Tongan, and their Vunivalu was of Tui Kaba lineage, recently returned from many years in Tonga. (Kaba itself is a Tongan name.)
Lau and Taveuni, similarly, were early centres for Tongan penetration, again with aristocratic pretensions. Taveuni itself is a name that stems only from the imposition of Tongan influence. The title of the Tui Taveuni is really a Tongan version of the earlier, proper Fijian title, Vunisa.
Cakaudrove is headed by the chiefly tribe A i Sokula ("The Flock of Parrots") that reflects their early concern for the gathering of red feathers for their Tongan patrons, back in their early homeland of Ra, and then Verata, from whence they came to Vanua Levu.
Throughout most of Fiji, only local territorial chiefs were relevant, though some were tyrannical and omnipotent within their own very limited domain. In my own lifetime I have seen the ordinary Fijians treated as nothing more than slaves to their elders and the chiefs. That was indeed custom of the land, just an aspect of life, commonly accepted with no notion of any rights of individuals. That has been true in my own time, that spans three quarters of a century.
In the eyes of the highlanders, the “others”, the Fijians of Lau, Cakaudrove, Kadavu, the coast of Nadroga, and Bau itself were all seen as foreigners. They are coastal people, all of them. These other Fijians are not people of the rugged mountains, not “real” Fijians. ‘They smell of Tonga’, as the highlanders say. Too many of those Tongans have the face of a frog (mata boto) with eyes that bulge out of their heads. And their hair is mushy and soft (ulu wai), instead of being real crispy hair (ulu dina) which is the way hair should be. Those Tongan bodies can be tall and beefy, often fat, not compact and muscular like real Fijians.
Eight times highland fury had humbled invasions by the coastal chiefs of Bau and its allies. Our highlander heroes were subdued finally only by deception, in Colonial times, and by British-trained troops with modern rifles, led by British officers.
Final defeat for the highlanders came ultimately through a fake truce devised by Bau. The real Fijians had acted with integrity and honoured the truce. Bau, always full of deceit (vere vakaBau), then as now, won out with false promises of peace, supported by the guns of the English. Shamelessly, Bauans then enslaved for life the highland leaders while the British did nothing to restrain the gross injustice. All this was done under the guise of Victorian Christianity while missionaries pretended not to notice.
Cakobau used the British, their missionaries and mercenaries to win dominance over territories that had never been within his domain. And in turn, the British and the missionaries used Cakobau as a means to govern disparate people spread out over one hundred inhabited islands.
Too long suppressed, the highlanders of Viti Levu deserve to have their story told. Our highlanders are worthwhile to know and understand. Let other Fijians wait to have their story told. First you should understand the ”real” Fijians. They are rightfully the topic of the first volume in this series of books, the Fijian Tribes and Territories.
Highlanders Incited to Recent Violence
Violence has emerged again among some of the highlanders. They had been quiet too long. A bad example of greed and violence had been set by military traitors, by a few chiefs of Tailevu, Cakaudrove and Ba, and politicians and businessmen eager to retain power and payoffs of a previous corrupt Rabuka government. These aspirants to power had been set aside by national elections that favoured a change, deposing Rabuka and his cohorts. Then on 19 May 2000 we saw Fiji’s third military coup, with parliamentarians held hostage for 56 days. Ambitious, wannabe leaders made the coup, creating riots and looting in towns and rural farming areas that they thought would support their cause.
Rabble and the rebels formed areas of lawlessness in the lower reaches of rural Naitasiri Province and northern Tailevu. This triggered more social disorganisation in the towns, with squatters, and thugs from places like Lau and Kadavu. There are many unemployable urban Fijians who keep the nation in disarray with uncontrolled burglary, robbery and muggings. In the highlands, as a repercussion, we find our heroes making absurd land claims, with threatened or realized violence over watershed rights and mahogany forests. Social controls were released and simple villagers followed the very bad behaviour of their chiefs and leaders.
No national leaders appeared to set an example of stability and integrity. Many little people now felt that “anything goes” with very few social controls. The army and many high officers were a major part of the problem, not part of the solution. Gaols were over-crowded and the courts unwilling to convict Fijians. Long under wraps, Fijian nationalism and ethnic cleansing became rampant to protect the continued corruption and nepotism in the system. And all that continued into 2004 as evidenced in the newspapers. “Racism serious in Fiji: U.S. Study” and “US Report Criticises Justice Process” were headlines in the Fiji Times, 27 Feb 04. Nothing has changed since that time.
By early 2002 the boil had finally burst. Repressed resentments emerged. The coup d’état of May 2000, Fiji’s third coup, brought out the worst in many Fijians, including some of the highlanders. In nearby northern Tailevu and Waimaro Levulevu, the violence triggered national tragedy. Naitasiri Province and Tailevu as well as Wailevu and Macuata became hotbeds of road blocking, brutal thuggery, burglary and theft of crops from Indian farmers.
Hope was dead for a peaceful, democratic, multicultural, multiracial society that many of us had dreamed could be achieved in our time. It now seems that for generations ahead there is little hope for the nation to restore our dream.
Hardest hit were Indian farmers at Namuaniweni and Nase, (spelled Nasi by the 1996 census) especially, and in nearby Tailevu at the Nasoni Indian settlement and Dawasamu. Simple Fijian rural youths burned down Indian houses, terrorised Indian families and stole all the possessions they could lay their hands on. Good boys reverted to savagery. They turned against Indian farmers who had been their friends, and who had often helped them. Hindu temples were destroyed, and are still being destroyed by Fijian Christian fanatics, mostly Methodist extremists
The coup was much touted as a movement in favour of indigenous rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. The coup came about from the top of the ladder. It was businessmen of all races who had huge debts to government, unpaid taxes and outstanding loans. They wanted to keep their hand in the honey-pot. It was also up-scale Fijians, high chiefs and Fijian politicians, as well as soldiers who deeply resented the Labour Coalition winning national election in 1999. The old power elite had been roundly defeated in the elections.
Those who had been in a favoured position under Fijian-dominated regimes now found themselves without special privilege under the new Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry. Corruption would be exposed. Up-scale and chiefly Fijians and part-Fijians, ambitious for power and money, stirred the masses of simple Fijians to loot and clamour and commit violence.
Several quite separate Fiji factions wanted to cause civil unrest to depose the democratically elected government. But they could not trust each other and coordinate the effort. It is said though, that one main faction would force through a coup d’état on Monday 23 May 2000.
A Tailevu contingent jumped the gun on 19 May 2000, trying to restore the faded glory of Bau’s earlier chiefly hegemony. As spokesman they found themselves using a failed part-European businessman, the ridiculous George Speight. He was under bankruptcy proceedings. Previously he was implicated in a case of swindling in Australia. Sacked from chairmanship of a company that controlled Fiji’s mahogany industry, sacked from an insurance company he headed in Fiji, leaving behind a wife and child in Australia, he had returned to Fiji. Then he was dropped from the board of directors of a major financial company (Colonial). By now he had a reputation of financial misdeeds if not skulduggery. He had been a protégé and close associate of Jim Ah Khoy, which leaves a lot unsaid. And even Ah Khoy was doing his best to distance himself from the relationship.
Simple villagers were easily gulled into violence and a breakdown of law and order. Talk of indigenous rights raised futile expectations of sudden unearned wealth, encouraging looting, violent robbery and burglary that is still rampant.
Police were impotent, held back by the Fijian Commissioner Isikia Savua who was seen by many as a supporter of the riots and the rebels. He had been an army revolutionist of 1987, who had ambitions of his own. In 2002 he kept under lock and key the riot gear that might have controlled the crowds (I am informed by the officer in charge of the armoury). He restrained the Mobile Police from taking any action, and withheld firearms from them. He posted himself on sick leave and stayed aside, as if uninvolved. It was reported that the Commissioner was drinking in the Officers Club while chaos ruled in Suva City. The ordinary policemen could not take initiative without his orders. Seems it was all planned to allow the rioting to take place. Who could blame the little people?
The coup was supported by some leading Army officers, traitors to the nation, who were ambitious for higher office. The Army commander himself openly wished to include rebels leaders in an interim cabinet government. He was among those who demanded the resignation of the President. He never gave orders for the army to control the revolutionists or the riots. He is a Tailevu man of chiefly rank and he remains even today (May 2006) still in command of the army. And yet formal signed protests by three top army officers charge that their commander wanted to overthrow the government in September 2003. An investigation proposed by Prime Minister Qarase was ultimately suppressed by the President himself. Such a scandal might further unsettle the nation. The President (or those who do his thinking for him) wanted to believe the Army Commander, a view not shared by everyone. But then Qarase himself gave favoured treatment to the traitors.
In January 2006 the Commander did openly threaten to take over government if Qarase did not back down on imposing legislation that would give amnesty to criminals of the coup. He quite openly accused the Prime Minister of racism. He was right of course but he was overstepping his role as head of the military. What may have angered him most was that soldiers of the mutiny attempted to kill him and made him run for his life. Qarase was trying to impose what he called “reconciliation”, which meant taking no punitive action against the would-be assasins and the other criminals of the coup.
Chief negotiator for the army was seen by most of us to have favoured the traitors. Newspaper photos showed him affectionately hugging the spokesman for the rebels. He also had ambitions of his own, which he admitted. It was admitted that he was kept in mind by Speight to become head of the army under the new regime. It was never made public that he himself is half Indian but living life under a Fijian name. The name Taraikinikini makes him sound like a Fijian.
Most advocates of the coup are still not brought to justice and never will be. Those few who have faced a Fijian magistrate are usually given at most suspended sentences. (See “Coup advocates walk free”, a headlined article in the Fiji Times, 13 Dec 2003). The part-European chief justice was himself suspected of being sympathetic to the coup.
A glimmer of hope for the future of the judicial system came briefly in August 2004 when Vice President Ratu Jope Seniloli was convicted as a criminal, along with a few other Fijian leaders associated with the military coup. Seniloli happens to be a high chief of Bau. Because he is a chieftain, no one expected he would have to serve out his four-year prison term. And even in prison, he received his Vice Presidential salary. But supportive of the traitors and rebels, the Qarase government promptly released him from prison with the artifice of a Compulsory Supervision Order. That loophole was intended for convicts physically unable to sustain prison life. Seniloli retires a free man with a Vice President’s pension of some F$15,000 a year.
The main effect of traitors and criminals being unpunished is that simple Fijians see that there are no rules to restrict them. There is in the air a feeling that crime and corruption are normal conditions of society.
The Highlander as a Hero
One senior Fiji army officer was said to remain loyal. That was a highlander, Lt. Col. Viliame Seruvakula, stalwart of the Nasautoka tribe. He reports that he refused a cash bribe of $260,000. It had been handed to him in a paper bag to win his cooperation for the rebellion.
He commanded the main battalion of Fiji-based soldiers, the 3rd Fiji Infantry Regiment, but could not obtain authority from his superiors to act and control the situation. His superior was Colonel Iowane Naivalurua, Land Force Commander, apparently absent at the time, who failed to give permission for control of the rebels. Naivalurua was perhaps following orders of his commander, Voreqe Bainimarama who was also reported as absent at the time.
Our highlander hero Seruvakula could easily have surrounded and isolated the parliamentary complex where the rebels were concentrated. He had the soldiers, the arms, and the ammunition. They could have stopped the inflow of arms and people, cut off water, electricity, phones and food, and attacked. He was not allowed to act without permission of higher officers in the Fiji army. And they did not give permission. One surely must wonder if the superior officers were implicated in the coup d’état. His immediate superior, Naivalurua, was named as one of the high officers who demanded the resignation of the President, Ratu Mara. Even the commander of the Fiji Army Voreque Bainimarama had prior knowledge of the 19 May coup according to the late Kelemedi Bulewa (died 2004), and that he “had abrogated the Constitution . . . for his own reasons” (Fiji Sun, 6 Dec 2001). What reasons can we imagine except personal interest and ambition? Nonetheless, toward the end of his first term in office (end of contract March 2004) the Commander seemed intent of bringing to justice those soldiers who mutineed within the army. These were men who mutineed against him. And tried to kill him.
Seruvakula moved swiftly to New Zealand, to work with training the N.Z. army there. His life would have been in danger in Fiji. He has dared to testify that Rabuka himself was inciting mutiny when he tried to enlist Seruvakula to remove his commander, Bainimarama. The court case is pending against Rabuka but few would disbelieve the accusation. And few people would disbelieve that Rabuka was a key figure behand the coup of May 2002.
Behind Seruvakula's back there is at least one Fiji Army colonel who says privately that Seruvakua is lying, that Seruvakula was not even present at the time of the mutiny. Why does this other colonel not speak up publicly? Rare in Fiji to do so. And questioning for the truth in Fiji is rather like peeling an onion. But I am very much inclined to believe the highlander. It is true, though, that some of the worst rebel were former highlanders, uneducated villagers, dispaced to northern Tailevu, no longer living in the real highlands.
Rumour and newspaper stories toward the end of 2003 insisted that Government was resisting any effort to bring the criminals to justice. They wanted to divert the attention of the Commander who had focussed on the mutiny within the Army that had threatened his own authority. Government was most reluctant to renew the Commander’s contract. They were nevertheless finally pressured to retain the Commander. There was always a danger that he might talk openly about the coup and who was involved, and who picked the Interim Government, why, and with what agreements, tacit or explicit. Silence was to be preferred. The Interim Prime Minister, Qarase himself, had been chosen by the Army Commander, though he was actually their third and last choice. (A committee of ten colonels made the recommendation they tell me.)
Deposed as President, Ratu Mara saw clearly, as did many others, that Sitiveni Rabuka and the Police Commissioner Isikia Savua were implicated, and he said so on public television. (See “Ratu Mara implicates Savua, Rabuka”, Fiji Times, 30 April 2001). Both denied it but it is hard to imagine that anyone could believe them. Rabuka had already betrayed the previous President and his own military commander in May 1987. And as a military officer Lt. Col. Savua had been one of his arch supporters, chief of staff for Rabuka’s revolutionary forces of 1987, a man who had betrayed his nation once before and helped bring it to ruin while he got himself promoted to higher position.
Too many chieftains and politicians continue to set a bad example of corruption and nepotism within the self-serving Establishment.
Fortunately, as always, there are a few moments of lightness and love, perhaps a little hope for the very distant future. Touchingly, Fijian villagers at Veicorocoro took in some the Indians to protect them. Many of the threatened Indians fled safely to the west, near Lautoka, as refugees. Some people cared for them and protected them. Also, among the simple Fijian people, many remain good, steadfast and sensible.
But the little nation of Fiji is changed. Crime is rampant. No home is safe. Violent hoodlums wear balaclavas as masks, and carry cane knives attacking in day as well as night. Just a very few have guns. Even in the highland countryside, it can be dangerous for a person to travel alone. In Suva city, in March 2004, police decided to accompany visiting tourists ashore from a tourist ship, to protect them from the hoodlums and hucksters.
$52.8 Million Windfall for Highland Villagers
High-pressure Fijian lawyers have encouraged highlanders to press a case to be paid fantastic sums of money for the public use of interior forest land that they claim belongs to them. Lawyers will get rich from the fees and it seems certain that 14 Fijian clans will become fabulously wealthy for doing nothing but being listed as “owners” of this land, however dubious that claim may be. The Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA) built a dam at Monasavu to supply hydroelectric power for for the nation with water from the surrounding catchment. Now some highland clans claim they are owed a fortune.
The whole trick is based on an accident of history. Since the time of the first governor of Fiji official policy has dictated that every piece of land in the country must be assigned to some Fijians as owners, and mostly to Fijian clans as owners – unless it has been legitimately sold to private interests or to government. That was a misconception of the historical facts.
Before the Pax Brittanica, most of the land in Fiji was never inhabited. And most is still not inhabited. No one dared live anywhere but in craggy fortress cliff locations, or very small moated fortress-settlements. Even today, the interior of Viti Levu is empty of people, with villages scattered along the course of the major rivers, and resettled next to the major roads that were built by the British, or along the shores that can be reached by boat.
Assignment of ownership is all too often an error of misunderstanding and mis-assignments made by a hurried Native Lands Commission that was required to list some native Fijians as owners. Part of the Monasavu territory, for example is assigned to the the Naitasiri village of Waibasaga, but is actually far from their village. A few of these people led the forceful and illegal occupation of FEA facilities that generate electricity there, and shut down operations on 6 July 2000. This resulted in the FEA having use to diesel power at a cost of one million dollars a week.
In point of fact, these claimants are not Naitasiri people at all. They are Korolevu people from Serua.who later migrated first to Waibasaga, Navosa, in northern Nadroga Province. Then they moved to Naitasiri. Other claimants are from clan Namoriti of village Nadala, and people of village Nadrau. They claim the dam deprived them of income from forestry, but they never planted any of this land, nor managed any forestry industry. (“Dam deprived clans of income”, Fiji Times, 29 Sept 05). There was a $52.8 million compensation claim before Justive Gerard Winter in the High Court. It seems, later in 2005, that the claim has been awarded. Hard to believe but apparently true. Part of the claim, in fact, is to be awarded to clan Korolou of Tribe Nakurukuruvakatini-Vatukubu, recognized as "landowners" were not involved in the legal claims. (I find people of that clan at village Korovou (e cake), in Noemalu District.
Former chief executive of the FEA Nisam-Ud Dean testified that the FEA had bought the site where the Monasavu dam is located. Though there was an intial price of $35 to $40 per acre, the government of the day instructed the Authority to pay $400 an acre. And the FEA also paid out a royalty, according to Dean. (“Dam was a legal sale”, Fiji Times, 30 Sep 05.) In question still is the matter of a protected catchment area. Led by unscrupulous ringleaders and a legal eagle, the simple villagers are are easily roused to greed. They care little for that fact the Monasavu serves the whole nation, and that it was financed largely by foreign aid for which all Fiji residents might be grateful.
The Heart of the Highlanders
in the face of recent uprising, we can still admire the heart and feisty spirit of highlanders. For generations they lived close to harsh nature in a hard life of hills and jungles. They contested for sheer existence that builds character. Wherever they are, they are surrounded by spirits and ghosts, some from their native culture, some from Christian mythology. True, they are most extremely primitive in background, largely ignorant outside their own environment, and with very few exceptions, unable to achieve much at all in the modern world. A cleverness, yes, master manipulators of the short-term, charm at times, submission to the will of their kin-group but a feisty independence from others. Quick to laugh and quick to anger and hold resentments that will endure for decades. And still today, there is very little learning and not a trace anywhere of any intellect. No art for the sake of art or science for the sake of science. Life is more pragmatic but that is the way most of the world functions anyway. Here there are a few diplomas, specialised vocational training but nothing that can be called education in a broader sense.
The American navy commander Charles Wilkes wrote from his visit in 1840: . . .
“the native of Feejee are in many respects, the most barbarous and savage race now existing upon the globe.”
And as a sailor, he never got to visit the harsher, rougher and tougher people of the highlands.
There had been long among the highlanders a pride of independence of small groups. Now there is a repressed rage of impotence, frustration at feeling useless and powerless in their own country, out-classed by coastal Fijians, who are foreigners here, and by people of other races who cope better in commerce and in the professions. Even the deeply resented Lauans and other offshore islanders (LomaiViti, and Kadavu) out-do our sturdy highlanders in all things except war and these days, in rugby, which is a sublimation of war. There the highlanders are champions. They would be greater champions if they could maintain longer-term discipline and dedication.
The highlanders’ character was formed anciently in tribal wars, internecine violence, unrestrained aggression and fairly common cannibalism. Kill or be killed. Trick or be tricked. You can trust no one, they believe. Listen to their words as I have so often heard them: “I trust no one, especially my best friend or close relative”. “Au sega in vakabauta e dua, vakabibi na noqu i tau dredre, se dua na veiwekani vakavoleka.” Or another version: “Au sega ni vakabauta e dua, vaka tale ga kina na noqu I tau dredre.” Such attitudes persist still today. Betrayal comes from within.
There is with all of this a fierce and independent pride carried sometimes to a fault. Some highlanders have had and still have a dignity of straight dealing and straight talk unknown to their coastal cousins. There is heart and strength of character rarely seen among watered down versions of Fijians who populate the lowlands and smaller islands. There is a force of life, a vigour unknown among the softer folk who now live at the beaches and low-lying areas.
With the exception of a few isolated enclaves, we should never speak historically of gentle island folk, or peaceful, loving, people in the South Seas. That was a fiction invented by European romantics. It hardly existed in Fiji except in the minds of tourists. The Fijian smile is not always what it seems. It is often intended to disarm the stranger, so as not to give offence. Fijians themselves are sensitive to any slight and sensitive to the danger of offending others.
Everyone lived always in fear of sudden attack. Men had to go armed with clubs every time they set foot outside their fortified stronghold villages. That is why women always carried the burdens of firewood and water. Men were constantly on guard to kill or be killed. Life was brief and brutal. There were few exceptional places that were friendly and safe. None in the highlands that I know of.
A. B. Brewster came to know the highlanders well. He wrote “They harried and chased one another, frequently burning villages, which were speedily replaced by others. . . . life in the hills in the olden times was like a huge game of hide and seek.” (The Hill Tribes, p. 59). Highlanders spent much of their time and energy killing each other. They had time for little else.
In the highlands there was no art, no technology beyond a knowledge of the bush plants, no reading, no writing, no long genealogies, no pottery, no weaving, no tapa-cloth, and nothing, virtually nothing of the decorative arts.
Woodworking was the only craft, but simple, only for club or a spear, mostly a work of grinding, filing and smoothing by abrasion. There were no carved wooden masks, no totem poles. nothing but simple weapons for killing.
These were a pre-stone age people. Stone axes or chisels were unknown. Stones would be used mainly to pile up as house foundations, or as missiles to be thrown with deadly accuracy.
There was little or no music other than work-chants. No musical instruments other than a section of bamboo, held by a seated person, and banged vertically against the ground to resonate. No nose flutes. No carved wooden dance drums, so common in Polynesia and even Papua New Guinea. Just a length of bamboo served as a dance drum, beaten by two sticks. Guitars and ukuleles were brought in much later, by Europeans, and mostly on the coast. Romantic island songs? Forget it. That is all Polynesian, and actually, quite modern, not really traditional. Recent in Fiji.
Large drums to send messages did not exist. For long distance communication, three miles in the jungle, perhaps twice that in the forest, highlanders would beat on the buttressed trunks of trees to send a message or announcement. Almost always it was a message of danger.
In technology and cultural arts, these are amongst the most primitive people on the face of the earth. They make up for that in character.
Bare physical survival itself was a virtue and bred a character that marks these people of the mountains. Dense jungle with deep ravines and precipitous heights made life difficult at best. The climate has extremes of burning midday sun, or pounding torrential rain and even hail. Fog and mist come with chilling humidity and streams that are icy cold in winter. Highlanders lived in most extremely primitive conditions in the harsh climate of the highlands, their lives in constant danger from their greatest enemy – their fellow man.
Trickery, cheating, lying, stealing and killing were natural means of survival. There was no compunction, no personal conscience, no embarrassment even at being caught red-handed, just the danger of revenge and counter-revenge. Guilt feelings have been unknown. That Judeo-Christian concept itself was never a part of this culture. Social shame is conceivable only within the immediate kin-group, and then only when imposed by a peer group, or significant elders. Today, of course, those elders and local chiefs have much less power except in a few isolated villages. The result is a severe decline in social controls.
Christian sects have greatly affected the local power structure, and ritual ceremonies. There is now no cannibalism and less deadly violence. But the fundamental psychological outlook has not changed greatly.
Treachery and plotting with self-interest has been a way of life, not just in the highlands. It persists in subtle ways still today, as in politics, especially evident in the series of military coups that began in 1987.
If Bau has dominated in Fiji, it was from being masterful in treachery. Bauan treachery is a common idiom (vere vakaBau) to explain typical Bauan behaviour. They were better at it than the real Fijians are. They have been more duplicitous, more scheming, manipulative, and deceitful.
One must not exaggerate the differences. Highlanders can be as deceitful as anyone says one of the elders of Waimaro. He speaks of Waimaro treachery (vere vakaWaimaro) and he should know. He has only a tenuous right to the chiefly title that he holds. Also, I have heard a Waimaro man admit openly to me “You should know that a Waimaro will always begin with a lie” (“Mo dou kila na Waimaro e na dau lasu e liu”). He laughs but there is some truth to what he says.
Besides the human enemies, dangerous spirits were everywhere, and overwhelmingly powerful, especially at night. That is still the case. Although the outward violence is now restrained, suspicion and superstition have hardly been touched by foreign influence. If anyone is ill, it can only be from witchcraft by an enemy. And that can carry into death. There is no such thing as a natural cause. Witchcraft and fear of witchcraft is a strong and basic grip on all the people. It can and does often kill people. I am talking of today.
Remember though, the hill tribes have fortitude unknown to other Fijians. They can show real courage, and a simple dignity that can include integrity. But like many other Fijians, they also have a joie de vivre, living for the moment without thought of the past or regard for the future. And here in the highlands, that famous Fijian smile can sometimes be spontaneous and genuine. One can admire the strength of character and sense of survival of a people hardly ever defeated in war. Highlanders have a dignity, pride and spirit that set them off from other islanders.
Here, the men are men. The women stand by the men. These are real people. They and only they are the “real Fijians”. Fijians on the coast, and Fijians on the smaller islands, are virtual foreigners to our hill tribes of Viti Levu. To highlanders, these others are not Fijian at all.
About this Book
This volume is the first of a series called Fijian Tribes and Territories. Each book covers one or more of the 14 provinces of Fiji, telling some stories of the people, giving a few facts and a little background of human geography.
The territories, tribes and villages are listed with a few notes about each. This is a reference book for each geographical area and its different people. All Districts (Tikina) are listed, and within each District, the villages, often with the number of people, and number of households, from the 1996 census. (That will show in many cases, small numbers of Fijians remain in the village setting. Urban drift has become a gushing flow.) There are the names of tribes, clans, and in some cases (in parentheses) the extended families. When known, the honorific name of the people is given, and the place of tribal origin (yavutu), the chiefly title, and sometimes the chief’s name.
The list of tribes and clans is an historical record, most often now simplified by consolidation of social groups, with some of them extinct. The list is useful more as a record of the past, than a picture of the present. Each clan has usually had a role or function, a chiefly role, spokesmen for the chief, a role to select and empower the chief, a priestly role, or role as warriors or fishermen. But roles change with time and with the personality and power of the people involved. The chiefly clan of yore has often been displaced by another, more powerful one. Dominance by violence or threatened violence is the main tradition.
When they exist, and when I have a record of them, the totems are named (in italics), first the plant totem, then the aquatic totem, and then the animal totem, usually an insect or a bird. As I use the term here, totems are a Melanesian rather than Polynesian cultural feature, and directly symbolise sexual fertility and viability of the genetic stock. But there is sometimes confusion with food specialties or plants and animals that are locally important in other ways that are not necessarily totemic.
There is no specific word for “totem” in Fijian. Fijians talk of “our fish”, or “our plant”. Such an association with a living thing may have different significance in different areas.
Where possible I trace people’s movements to find tribal branches that have settled elsewhere. Fijians have always been a very motile people. They move around a lot, travel here and there for whatever reason. Wars and squabbles led to fragmentation of the old tribes and clans.
This book is an attempt to understand the geography of Fijian society, and what might be called the social archaeology. These are scattered, incomplete notes. There is no attempt to write a flowing narrative account, or a complete history.
In early years I read deeply in the library of my father, Harold Gatty, which together with the library of Sir Alport Barker, and Borron Library, forms the core of the collection at the Fiji National Archives. I learned much from both Alport Barker, and also George Barker whom I knew personally, and who wrote several articles for the Fijian Society. The late Dr. L. Verrier was a help for his knowledge of Vanua Levu. And the Final Reports of the Native Lands Commission have been a basic source with their official and often out-moded lists of clans and names of extended families. For some peoples I have gained access to the official tribal histories (i Tukutuku raraba) recorded by the N.L.C. Finally, listening to Fijian stories for more than half a century I myself become a source for a certain amount of oral history.
Following La Fontaine, I might comment: “Si mon oeuvre n’est pas un assez bon modèle, j’ai du moins ouvert le chemin. D’autres pourront y mettre dernière main” (Epilogue, Livre XI, Fables choisies II). “If my work falls short of any standard, I have at least opened the way. Others can add the finishing touches.”
I have had to slide over the degree to which social structure and language varies from locality to locality and in many cases I lack that close familiarity. Also, through time, many changes have occurred that I fail to record. Some chieftains named have died and new ones installed without my taking note. Customs and knowledge have fallen by the wayside. New “traditions” are invented and for a while held tenaciously, even aggressively, as if they were ancient.
Some information is traditionally quite private, such as totems, or ancestral spirits. And it would be unthinkably rude for a Fijian to question chiefly lineage, though there is indeed much that might be questioned. Many informants share their knowledge freely while others feel that what they reveal will be lost if they release it. And questioning a Fijian is often rather like peeling an onion.
In a Fijian language newspaper I was once referred to as the greatest enemy of the Fijian people. I had been writing frequently in the local press. The critic (Inoke Sikivou) explained afterwards that my problem was I knew too much. I have faced a deportation order, and have known the force of government suppression, spiteful revenge and violence under the Rabuka government.
Few Fijians care much about tradition, tribal secrets, or chiefly authority. Certainly most of them know little about their cultural history. Many have other, more pressing concerns, finding a job, paying rent or school fees for their children, paying off a house or a car, feeding their family, contributing endlessly to forceful collections by village, province and church. In their later years a few may waken to an interest for their own cultural traditions. In a disturbing world of change they may find emotional security in affirming their cultural identity.
Meanwhile it is a diversion for me to study these people among whom I have lived so long. This has been like a giant jigsaw puzzle, but never finished. Call it a patchwork quilt of my notes and jottings. Trivia, much of it, of course. But life is largely composed of trivia.
Have I learned anything of significance that might change my outlook? Well, I am reminded of carpe diem, living for the day, seizing each day, being happy each day, laughing each day. Horace gave us that wisdom in his Odes (I, 11, 8) but we Europeans tend to forget it. Many Fijians live this way naturally and their behaviour reminds me daily of that precious wisdom. As in Voltaire’s Candide, after many life experiences, I retire to cultivate my own small garden in this best of all possible worlds.
Wainadoi Gardens, Namosi Province
A Glimpse at the Land Problem
From the time of the first Governor of Fiji, official policy has been to consider all land as belonging to one group of Fijians or another, unless it has been sold previously in a legitimate manner, and is thus “freehold”, held in fee simple.
Sitting as Commissioner of Native Lands, David Maxwell despaired that . . .
“the [Native Lands] Commission has based its work on the old fallacy that every inch of land in Fiji had an owner, and had spent twenty-four years unsuccessfully trying to hand over the whole of Fiji to communal units.” Charter of the Land, p. 158.
It is a fallacy that still guides government policy today.
Writing almost 100 years ago, after working with the Native Lands Commission 1890-94, Basil Thomson saw clearly:
“The Fijian had no territorial roots. It is not too much to say that no tribe now occupies land held by its fathers two centuries ago.”
Of some 600 tribal histories recorded by the N.L.C. (at that time) only 21 tribes told that they occupied the place they were founded.
Only one Governor, Everard im Thurn (1852-1932, Governor 1904-1910), recognised the immensity of ownerless empty land, and let some be sold off. But he could not change the work of the Native Lands Commission that had already tried for a quarter of a century, and still now tries, to determine one clan (mataqali) as the owner of every place. Implied in government policy is a western notion of “ownership”. And the sale of native land has been prohibited since Im Thurn’s time, when briefly, sales were permitted. His policies were over-ridden by the Colonial Office, still under the influence of the former Governor Gordon (Lord Stanhope), author of the original colonial policy.
While favouring inalienable native Fijian ownership of land, Gordon nonetheless himself accepted an island, Toberua, as a personal gift from the Tailevu chiefs. He was also instrumental in alienating the phosphate lands of Nauru when he had a personal financial interest. So he was a man of some contradictions.
Native conception was based more on usage rights of an extended family or other kinship groups. And everything was subject to frequent change, depending on whose clubs and spears would rule the local scene for a short time. Nothing was safe and nothing was sacred. Nothing was permanent. Then as now, native “gifts” of land to other Fijians were a gift with permission to use the land. Land was not so much a physical possession that was “owned”, as it was a sphere of influence at any given time.
For some land, native ownership could not be determined by the Native Lands Commission, and was consequently listed as State land. What was assigned was often erroneous. Evidence given by tribal elders was frequently biased with self-interest and unreliable. No one spokesman was ever charged with perjury. Many concerned clansmen were absent and their potential testimony never heard. Also some land became State land as certain clan and tribes became extinct, merged or dissolved.
In a sharp political move, in 2002, the Qarase government decided to give to registered Fijian clans virtually all State Land by the end of 2005. That was clever politics intended to attract Fijian votes for the 2006 elections. But at the same time it is a policy that opens Pandora’s box. Fijians now claim rent money (and prior “goodwill” money) to be paid to them where Government has put roads, schools, health clinics or schools. Already clans and tribes raise disputes with lawyers and court cases, arguing to gain rights that will bring them money from land rent. Their arguments are almost always based on fabrications and wishful thinking.
The fact is that no Fijians ever held continuous possession of any land for an extended period. They were ever moving, resettling, and then moving on. Many of those movements are documented in this book.
An ordinary village would normally have about a dozen houses with only a hundred people or so in the densely populated deltas of Navua and Rewa. A village there was often contained as a ring-ditch fortress, usually some sixty meters in diameter. That means that an ordinary village was less than three quarters of an acre in size and the defended perimeter less than 200 meters. (See Routledge, Matanitu, p. 33, and Parry, Ring Ditch Fortifications.) The ditches around such villages may still be seen from an aeroplane taking off from Nausori aeroport.
In another rash political move the Qarase government in 2005 has also decided to assign rights to some 410 fishing grounds (qoliqoli) to specific Fijian kin groups. This may gain votes for that political party but will again open a Pandora’s box of legal disputes and claims for rent money with Fijians confronting Fijians. Unfortunately, there is no objective, informed way of settling these disputes. Sworn testimony can oppose sworn testimony, with no easy resolution, and again, no one who will be charged with perjury.
Further problems are in store. It was decided in the Ba Provincial Council in early 2005 that islands under lease to tourist resorts should forfeit one dollar for each visitor who sets foot on the island. This comes as a shock to tenants of native land, over and above payments for “goodwill”, shares of earnings, and lease money that has already been agreed upon by signed, formal contract.
Now matters go even further. There is legislation planned to assign mineral rights, including underground water, to Fijian clans. This could be an enormous windfall for Fijians in the case of Fiji mineral water, which has become a major export. These policies favour indigenous Fijians at the expense of other elements of the population. And just prior to the 2006 elections implicit threats were made that another coup might occur if the election resulted in leadership by non-indigenous Fiji nationals -- that is, politicians of other races.
Ask a Fijian today where he comes from. He is likely to name a suburb of Suva, perhaps Raiwaqa, Raiwai, Nadawa or Nadera. Many Fijians today have no attachment to any native land or village except sometimes as a memory of childhood. They will never go back there. There is nothing there for them. The village does little more than pester them for contributions. And if they have lived as a child in any village it would often be the village of their mother because nuclear family life is so unstable these days. Perhaps it always was! A great many Fijians have never visited their own village, and have no intention of doing so, since it would require the bringing of expensive gifts.
To many, it is true that the home village is an anchor of identity. It remains in the mind or the heart, even if one never returns there. It may still have sentimental value. But only very few old people ever return to their village to retire and die. Their grandchildren are around the urban centres. Also their friends, modern comforts and shops, health clinics and other conveniences are centred around the towns and especially, the major cities.
Back in the village, the common people themselves could claim nothing that a chief could not confiscate, including sometimes the land, and that is still true in some places today. A chief controlled the land and formerly he might sell it away if he wished or as the power of his club dictated his will. Even now, a chief and a few elders can give away the use of land for a whale tooth, some tins of kerosene, or cash itself. A commoner has little or nothing to say in the face of his chieftain.
The lowest classes of people were treated as slaves, a condition I have witnessed in my own lifetime. They were not complaining. That is the way life was. And they are still held in subservient status in some rural locations.
Cakobau sold off vast tracts of land in Suva, Koro, Natewa Bay. He expropriated Koro land for his own family, some few hundred acres now operated by his descendant, Ratu Ilaitia “Tulai” Matanimeke. “Ratu” Kini of Nadroga sold off huge amounts of land up the Sigatoka River, land far beyond his small coastal territory that hardly penetrated more than fifteen miles from the sea. The Roko Tui Suva Aporoso gave land to the Seventh Day Adventist church. No need to confer with the people.
Visiting Namosi in 1861, Dr. Berthold Seemann (1825-1871) reports on the exclusive power of the chieftain over all the land:
“On being questioned on the ownership of the land, Kuruduadua replied that he considered himself the sole proprietor of all the land, the boundaries and principal tribes of which were specified; that his late brother had sold some land to Mr. Williams, deceased, and he himself some to several English men all these transactions being acknowledged as valid” (p. 166).
The chiefly system of Fiji is fundamental to Fijian society but a ruling hierarchy of chiefs has been artificially established and reinforced by colonial policy. Previously, chiefs could plunder, destroy, and demand tribute but they never ruled or governed over any large territory.
Democracy and freedom of speech were and still are remote concepts in Fiji, despite several efforts to have a stable, equitable Constitution. We do well to listen to the words of Professor Futa Helu, head of the Atenisi (Athens) University in Tonga. He is unusual among islanders to speak out with courage and clarity:
“My view is that there is a contradiction here in Fiji. There is this tension between the veneer of democracy and an undercurrent of the reality of Fiji, which is the rigid hierarchical society.
“The power of the chiefly classes is so strong that you almost have no hope and the way I see it, Fiji is not going to be able to solve this problem.
“Fiji is going to go on deteriorating politically and socially speaking from now on. I think that, this may be too strong, but Fiji could become the Haiti of the South Pacific, if we are not careful” (The Fiji Times, 16 June 2001, p. 41).
Cannibalism in the Recent Past
As recently as the later years of the 1940s the Colonial Secretary Paddy (P.D.) MacDonald insisted that in travelling to Macuata our crew had to go armed with rifles. There were still some recorded cases of killings, cannibalism, and burial of a freshly killed human at the corner posts of new houses. We carried a couple of U.S. Army carbines loaded, ready to be attacked. In fact we were welcomed wherever we went. The welcome, however, could have hidden impending trouble. The Fijian usually attacks from behind, when least expected.
First-hand reports I have heard but never seen published tell of Fijians in the Solomon Islands eating body parts of Japanese soldiers during World War II. Such stories are unlikely to be published.
One report of cannibalism appeared in the Sunday Post on 7 November 1999. Harun Khan recalled that in 1961 a man was killed and eaten at Duri, Macuata, with some of his remains interred at the corner-post of a house.
Cannibalism is remote in this 21st century, but certainly the threat of violence, rape and robbery, is ever-present since the military coup of 1987. The situation is potentially little different from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomons as it is, or as it is becoming.
Fiji as a Complex of Tiny Territories
We can reckon on some seventy significant native Territories (Vanua) at the time of Cession. But there are lots of small, less significant ones. The Prime Minister in October 1991 told the Great Council of Chiefs there were 205 territories, 1,390 tribes, some 5,280 clans, and 9,979 extended families.
It was only after Cession in 1874 that the British created of an artificial chiefly hierarchy. Power became centralised through a pyramid of chiefs, concentrating authority through indirect rule by the colonial authority. It was a useful British idea in its time and served the British Empire well in India. as inj Fiji. The system required only a small number of British colonial officials.
The notion of there being a King of Fiji, a “Tui Viti”, was a foreign invention that Cakobau welcomed, with the support of white men who found it convenient. No such paramouncy existed before.
What we had in the central Pacific was an ever-changing set of small states usually at war with each other, or in tributary relationship. Rarely, they were isolated enough to live in peace for a while.
Even in Tonga, the notion of a “king” is a modern concept dating only from 1845, when Taufa’ahau Tupou managed to crush his opposition and invent himself as a king. It was a novel concept.
Ratu Kamisese Mara liked to refer to “The Pacific Way” to imply that islanders traditionally reach a settlement of differences through talk and sensible compromise, through being good and reasonable. This is a self-flattering fiction. The “Pacific Way” of handling disputes was in fact more by rule of the club, and later, the gun. That is true throughout the Pacific that violence ruled in most places much of the time.
Fijian villages and territories were subject to raids, to exactions of tribute; they might suffer humiliation and devastation from marauding by more powerful tribes. But in Fiji no native power could remain and govern territory it conquered — until there were guns with white men or Tongans as allies, mercenaries and missionaries.
Even then, by the mid 19th century, Cakobau was vulnerable, on his knees, surrounded by enmity and failure, weakened by opposition on all sides. He was deeply threatened by rebels within Bau who had united with Rewa in war. And he was vulnerable most of all to the intractable Tongan Ma’afu who was ambitious to control all of Fiji, and came very close to achieving it.
Cakobau was saved only by a stronger foreign power, namely Tonga under that self-proclaimed “king” who had only recently come into power himself by ruthless violence using Christianity as a façade for domination. It was a mockery of a monarchy that mustered forty canoes to win victory in this mini-world of central Fiji. The self-styled George I (Taufa’ahau Tupou I) of Tonga, aged 58, conquered Rewa and Bauan rebels as a favour, in exchange for a large canoe and Cakobau’s Christian conversion in 1855. Only later, Britain sustained Bauan dominance for easier governance of the scattered, disparate tribes and territories.
Virtually all of Fiji yielded to the new hierarchy of paramount chiefs. But significantly, the major holdouts were the indomitable hill tribes of Viti Levu. They were proud and independent with five or more separate Territories among them. They are the subject of this book. They are the “real Fijians”. These eastern highlanders live in what is now called Naitasiri Province, which is a vast expansion of what was originally, a rather small Naitasiri Territory.
Early Origins of Naitasiri Proper
For earliest true origins of Naitasiri Territory we look to a small group of migrants from Nakauvadra in Ra, drifting southward along the Wainibuka River. These were highlanders. The tribe Naivisere (“The pink variety of Polynesian chestnut”) formed at Lutu-Wainibuka, now in Lutu District of Tailevu Province, where Vutikalulu was installed as their first Qaranivalu (“War Lord”) according to an elder of the tribe. (Myself, I am not sure the title existed in that place at that time but do not have enough grounds to argue the case.)
These had been Nakauvadra people, specifically from village Narauyabe, defeated in the great war imposed by Degei. They were thus associated with Rokola, the shipbuilder and carpenter, apparently a Tongan, who was related to Degei by marriage but had protected the Ciri Twins who were pursued by Degei’s forces for having killed Degei’s prize fowl named Turukawa at a place called Conua, by the Nakauvadra range. Ed Gifford published a photo of the marker that iis supposed to indicate the exact location.
At the ceremony in Lutu that created the first Naivisere chief, his body was ceremonially bathed in blood of men killed for the occasion, as told to me by an elder (Autiko Druma) who refers to himself as the Komai Naivisere though that title itself is subject to dispute.
The tribe moved in its entirety down the Wainibuka River to the Wailevu (Rewa) River, where they settled a village they named Naitasiri, now called Baulevu landing (or very close to it) and located just before present village Nakini which is an extension of their modest territory. The original village Naitasiri was almost surrounded by a bend in the river Wailevu. MacDonald shows in on his published map. There is no present-day village named Naitasiri. Highlanders themselves, these people had thus moved down to the lowlands forty miles from the mouth of the Rewa River.
Only for a short time were they really independent the way they liked to think of themselves. They became a formidable power but as Rewa reached the peak of its power around 1820, Naitasiri was paying it tribute, and becoming absorbed into lowland culture. After 1855, and the Bauan defeat of Rewa, the small Naitasiri Territory also would become subject to Bau. Inevitably, Christianity and Bauan power forced its way across the river system. The first Naivisere chief Vutikalulu acquired the Christian name Jese, to be remembered as Jese Vutikalulu.
Moving to join the Naivisere people at Naitasiri came a contingent of tribe Matanikutu (“Louse-face”) from the lowland village Sawa in Verata. Matanikutu is a name from Verata, previously borne by Naulivou, Vunivalu of Bau, to remind people of his Verata background.
Possibly their old village name might be Asawa, rather than Sawa, purportedly a name from Ra, meaning “stench” (mara or bona in standard Fijian, mara referring to the smell of a chiefly corpse, though not intended as an unpleasant word). That might even be the origin of the name Yasawa, the island and archipelago to the west of mainland Fiji. No point to speculation. The facts are not clear.
The Matanikutu tribal leader was Vakaruru who eloped with Cakobau’s daughter Arieta Kuila (lived 1840 to 1887). She had previously been given in marriage to Koro-i-ra-mudre, the chiefly Roko Tui Bau but she was a self-willed young lady. Charming too, according to the stories of Baron von Hügel who knew her well, and even intimately, quite intimately, after Vakaruru’s death.
Becoming a Christian, Vakaruru adopted the baptismal name Timoci (Timothy). Christian he may have been but he may have been one who demanded the murder of Rev. Thomas Baker, missionary to the highlands, by sending a whale tooth up to the inland mountains in 1867. It is said that he resented a Methodist meeting being moved to another location than the one he had planned. Supposedly, he felt humiliated and wanted revenge.
After the death of Vutikalulu around 1864, the Matanikutu usurped the power of leadership in village Naitasiri and its small territory of the few nearby villages. Vutikalulu’s son Uraia was said to be too young to contest the leadership. More importantly, the Matanikutu had the assertive support of Bau.
With the blessings of Cakobau, Timoci became Qaranivalu of the Naitasiri people, and his tribe and clan Matanikutu retained the power, always with the tacit support of Bau. And of course, subject to Bau. In early tradition, this position of Qaranivalu never had paramount status in Fiji. The notion of the Qaranivalu being a paramount chief was a novelty created by Bau. In fact, it is in Fiji a rare title. Offhand the only other use of the title that I recall was one from Vanua Levu, involved in the Seaqaqa wars.
The name Kalaniuvalu appears in Tongan history as a Fijian connection about which we know little. It seems that in Tonga, this was originally a name, not a title. The first Tongan king Tupou I created it as a noble title at the time of the first Tongan Constitution. The first one was a son of the last Tu’I Tonga, Laufilitonga (died 1865), and thus heir to the defunct title of Tu’i Tonga kingship. From 1875 the Kalaniuvalu has been intended to remain forever as head of that lineage called Kauhala’uta, noble in Parliament, representative from Vava’u. (My source here is George Marcus, writing in a Polynesian Society Memoir of 1978.)
Today the Fijian Administration considers the Qaranivalu to be the paramount chieftain of Naitasiri Province, subject to Bau. That is, of course, a new “tradition”. By older tradition, he would be considered a minor local chief.
We list the sequence of chiefs, who are now referred to as Qaranivalu, though that specific title may have begun with Vakaruru as a Bauan and Tongan innovation. Vunivalu might have been the more likely title for Vutikalulu. At the time of MacDonald’s visit in 1856, the key title was Komai Naitasiri, who served as a useful guide for MacDonald.
. Vutikalulu’s people had probably returned from the Nakauvadra wars that certainly involved Tongans. That may help explain the Qaranivalu title. Similarly, that may have brought on adoption of "Ratu" as a title before names. In the list below, there are omitted the repetitious and all too common “Ratu” titles that Fijians now use to decorate historical as well as current names:
1.“Jese” Vutikalulu from Lutu Wainibuka.
2.Timoci Vakaruru, from Verata, second husband of Arieta
Kuila, daughter of Cakobau.
3. Peni Tanoa, son of Timoci and Arieta Kuila.
4. Alivereti Ravula, youngest of Timoci’s seven sons.
5. Popi Seniloli, of illegitimate descent from a Bauan chief, named after that Vunivalu of Bau who died in 1936 and was father to Ratu George Seniloli (later re-named by the British as George Cakobau, and succeeded his father as Vunivalu). This seems to be a political appointment by Bau to ensure control by Bau.
6. Vitu Qiolevu, younger brother of Popi Seniloli. At Vitu’s death, there was an effort to change public records to make Vitu the elder brother of Popi. The effort failed to alter the succession. Vitu had a son named Loco Qiolevu who claimed to be the rightful successor of Savenaca Naulivou.
7. Savenaca Naulivou who died in 1997, son of Popi Seniloli.
8.Inoke Takiveikata, son of Popi Seniloli from a de facto
relationship, outside of marriage. One faction tried to install Inoke at village Kalabu but that was prevented by opponents who set up roadblocks. The ceremony was shifted to Tamavua, though two weeks earlier, an opposing faction installed Loco Qiolevu. The Native Lands Commission decided in favour of Inoke, who was then installed at Navuso.
A Criminal Chief is Sent to Gaol
Inoke Takiveikata clearly supported the military coup of 19 May 2000, while playing a role that was supposed to look like reconciliation. There was pretence of arbitration. Takiveikata was named specifically by Captain Shane Stevens as the man behind the military mutiny of November 2000. (The Daily Post, and also Sun, 28 November 2001.) Inoke has been convicted of charges for inciting the mutiny at Nabua’s Queen Elizabeth Barracks on 2 November 2000. In March 2003 Inoke’s application for a visa to New Zealand was denied by that nation, because of the criminal implications.
He is a very minor chief of Bau. His appointment as paramount chief of Naitasiri must be seen as strictly political, with no traditional connection to the territory, and no special experience. Final decision was actually made by a tribunal chaired by a Bauan chief, Ratu Meli Vakarewakobau, Ratu Epeli Kanamawi and ex-Speaker of the House Tomasi Vakatoka. The tribunal decided to commit themeselves without questioning the correctness of earlier choices that had selected his predecessors.
As so often the case, the problem was that there was no plausibly qualified candidate. Takiveikata has had a troubled personal life. He had a severe drinking problem and is divorced from his wife Vilisi. He was charged with drunken driving in October 2004, after plunging his car into Suva Harbour, near the Kings Wharf in August of that year. His life had been saved by two men who jumped into the water and pulled him out from the vehicle which had sunk in a matter of minutes. His case was adjourned to 31 August, 2005 when he would again be brought out of prison to attend court. (“Jailed chief back in court”, Fiji Times, 18 March, 2005.)
Quite unbelievably, Takiveikata had denied charges of inciting a military mutiny. But he was nonetheless convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by Justice Anthony Gates. The chief was obviously lying. His own people accused him of just that, as reported in the press. People of Naitasiri said he also instructed them to tell lies about the mutiny. They insist he should stay in gaol. (“Stay in gaol, say chief’s people”, front page headlines, Fiji Sun, 9 Dec 04.) They do not want him to be released to live extra-murally under a Compulsory Supervisory Order. Prime Minister Qarase’s current government (2005) favours such leniency, as in the case of Fiji’s criminal Vice President, sentenced to four years in prison and released in less than four months. But the people of Naitisiri territory have little respect for the man who has been forced on them as their chief.
Qarase’s supportiveness for the coup-makers is made clear by having a Ministry for Reconciliation and a proposed bill to allow amnesty for the criminals. There is a fantasy of achieving reconciliation when in fact, no one seems to admit any guilt. They may say they are sorry about it all but feel no regrets. The Tui Cakau was released from gaol and re-installed in the Cabinet. He offered formal apologies but said he had no regretted nothing.
Takiveikata is is one of the few still in prison (November, 2005) but Qarase has appointed Inoke’s domestic “partner” to serve in his place in the Senate. That is Adi Logamu Vuiyasawa of village Nairukuruku, Matailobau District. She herself commented “we do not have a de facto relationship, We are partners. He is a divorcee and I am a widow.” A public outcry followed this as a scandal. The appointment of Adi Logamu was seen as political support for a man who was deeply involved with the military coup.
The name Inoke Takiveikata was assigned as a namesake from at high-born Vice President of Fiji. That older man was minor chief from Bau island: he was an illegitimate son from adulterous relations of the Vunivalu Popi Seniloli and the wife of the Tui Muala. She was of Lasakau origin on Bau and on that tenuous basis Inoke was chosen unofficially – and rather improperly, by the Vunivalu – to head up the Lasakau people, against the wishes of those people. He was, however, a nice man as I knew him. And he satisfactorily carried out perfunctory ceremonial roles as Acting President on occasion. His sons included Isoa Gavidi who considered himself a Lasakau from his mother’s people. And rather out of the public view, Olive Tuisavura who was employed by the National Bank of Fiji. That was the Government owned bank that managed to self-destruct with a loss of some $250 million.
It was thus immigrants from the lowlands of Verata and then Bau itself who ruled this original Naitasiri Territory, not the true highlanders at all. The highland tribe and clan Naivisere became merely the sau, the social group that empowers the chief. The tribe may still be called Naivisere but control was out of their hands. Only in the last few years of the 1900s, clan Naivisere revived their dreams of disempowering the Matanikutu and regaining ascendance as the proper chiefs of Naitasiri. But they have little hope of regaining power themselves.
The main body of the Matanikutu spent time at Navuso but their central core actually moved south to the Lami area, near Suva and some stayed in Rewa Province. Matanikutu chiefs remain at Kalabu and Tamavua, and according to Kitione Vesikula, are always buried at Na-vu-ni-ivi-ivi, Nausori (Refs. K.Vesikula: 68).
Ironically, the Matanikutu at Navuso are divided among themselves, as are the Naivisere. Old stories are distorted in favour of this one or that one. At stake is some F$26,000 a year in land lease-money that accrues to the chosen chieftain, and is paid semi-annually. Virtually none of that land-lease money has ever been shared out to the other people who are the commoners the chief is supposed to serve.
It is ironic that while Naivisere and Matanikutu squabbled bitterly, and pettily, the Native Lands Commission in the year 2000 accorded the title to Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, as a pragmatic decision that would keep power in the hands of Bau.
Changed from a little Territory to a large Province, Naitasiri Province was expanded greatly in 1945 by Ratu Sukuna. Naitasiri was only briefly a major Territory (Vanua) or State (Matanitu) in any traditional sense. It was most of the time a minor Territory that fell easily and without violence under Bauan control in 1864. Bau was to use it as a buffer territory for riverine passage to the highlands, and ultimately, as a pathway of political control that would extend into the highlands.
Conveniently there was a Waidalice river connection through Verata that allowed almost direct access from the offshore island of Bau to the interior river-course of the Wailevu (Rewa river) and higher up, to the Wainibuka river.
Lower highlanders, those who finally settled along the Waidina River, generally submit to Bauan domination that came with nominal Christianity. It is more their former close relatives along the higher Wainimala river, where feisty independence is maintained, where the Qaranivalu at Navuso has no traditional meaning. Those real highlanders are the real heroes of our book.
Revenge of the Highlanders
This decision finally to subjugate the highlanders was largely that of Ratu Sukuna. He abolished the highlanders’ earlier separate identity with their separate Provinces. Tragically, Fiji’s legendary statesman and culture-hero Sukuna thus crushed their regional independence. Sukuna was in Fijian history the only early statesman. He was a great man, but a great man may sometimes make great mistakes. This was one of Sukuna’s most tragic and cruel mistakes.
Since 1945 Naitasiri Province thus administratively brings together two people, the small, undistinguished Naitasiri Territory controlled directly by Bau, and the highlanders of Colo East. Thus the central Fijian Administration, under the thumb of Bau, gained direct control of the highlanders by suppressing their Provinces of Colo-East, Colo-North, and Colo-West.
“The tail wagging the dog” is the way one highlander describes the Province of Naitasiri. The province bears a lowland name but it is the highlanders who give it character. The common image of Naitasiri Province is the image of highlanders, not of the lowlanders. Perhaps that is the ultimate revenge of the highlanders. When you think “Naitasiri”, you think of the highlanders. Today, we sometimes have to say “Northern Naitasiri”, to refer to the highlanders, as when they play football. They are a different breed.
First Defeat of Colo East Highlanders
In 1873 most of the central and northern highlands were first brought under control of the Cakobau Government. As usual, Cakobau had manipulated others to do the fighting for him. He had two stratagems: to use the warriors of Ba, and to use warriors associated with the Beteraurau of Sabeto - at the time two independent western territories, quite separate from Bau. Ba had surrendered already. Sabeto, with 1100 warriors had surrendered at Mereke, Vuda, along with some other tribes.
The Bete-raurau people of Sabeto were known as sturdy warriors from the hills who often made marauding attacks on coastal and riverine villages. Their shore-side base (by Vulani island) was where Nabukatavatava maintained a temple from which the name Beteraurau derives. Raurau refers either to the grass behind which the temple was hidden, or to the thatch (na drau) that covered it.
There is a nearby ridge called Kubuna-sarava with former house-sites of the early settlement, though now all trampled. The name Kubu-na-sarava implied an abrupt rise in the land from which one can look out on (sarava) the surroundings. Further inland, there is a peak-fortress, and place of origin (yavutu) is known as Ulu-nei-vua, hardly more than a mile from the village today. Formerly from the mountains, Sabeto people now live on the flatlands, not far from the shore. Modernly, they make land claims that are fabrications of modern times.
So powerful were the forces of Sabeto, that Cakobau sought their help in overcoming the eastern inland territories that resisted his domination. In a famous series of battles, Cakobau’s forces had been repulsed by various highland chiefs: Ro Kamanalagi who dominated Tailevu-ni-siga (“Eastern Tailevu”), Ro Vucago and his son Ro Sauturaga of the Noemalu, and two Waimaro chiefs, Qereqeretabua the Komai ni Vunibua, on the Waidina river and Ro Muakalou higher up in the highlands, on the Wainimala river.
Both those Waimaro strongholds have at times been referred to as Solo-ira. Currently the district is a formal District (Tikina) at the Wainimala where it branches into the Wailevu/Winibuka mainstream. At the time of MacDonald’s visit in 1856, he considered the Solo-ira area to be centred on the Waidina.
These defeats of Cakobau are said to be memorialised by the name of the highland location Na-soro-vakawalu (“The Eight Defeats”). It is just immediately east of village Nasavu, and hardly a kilometer and a half from village Nauluwai, at the roadside between those two villages. The place is rugged country, covered in bush, but well known to highlanders who showed it to me. A different legendary story dissociates Nasorovakawalu from Cakobau’s defeats or capture. Ratu Viliame Ro Ravunilagi relates the location of the Komai Navunidakua at Nadanuya, Ro Ragaca, rebuffing his younger brother eight times, refusing pardon for Ro Ratu’s improper behaviour and pretentious attitude. But more often, one hears of these as Cakobau's defeats.
Cakobau and his force was ambushed at and captured at Vatukubu, as reported by historian David Routledge (p. 117). By stories I hear the capture was by Vatukubu people but the actual location was around village Botenaulu, high up on the Wainimala, near villages Lutu-Wainimala and Waibasaga. according to my more careful research on the ground. There are versions of the story that Cakobau's army of 90 men were slaughtered in an ambush but he himself stayed well away at a safe distance.
The ultimate defeat of Cakobau forces was in April 1869, a couple of years after the murder of Rev. Baker. Cakobau had been pressed into making a punitive expedition, forcefully persuaded by J. B. Thurston who had been British consul since just before Baker’s death. Cakobau himself had been reluctant to attempt any reprisal. He was realistic enough to know that his authority and power could not extend into the highlands.
The biggest whale tooth that never was
Beteraurau people of Sabeto in western Viti Levu claim that Cakobau appealed to them to help defeat Ro Kamanalagi. They in turn called upon allies from Nadi, Nadroga, Serua, and Namosi. To gain their support, Cakobau gave the Sabeto people a huge tabua (whale tooth), reportedly the largest ever in Fiji. From a photograph one can readily see that it is a walrus tusk, undoubtedly brought by whalers. The “whale tooth” is now supposed to be located in Namosi, at Wainilotulevu, where the people are related to the Beteraurau (from a story by Josaia Qoro of Sabeto, Na i Lalakai, 17 Jan 91.)
If Sabeto and those allies were not enough to subdue the highlanders, Cakobau was resourceful enough to trick the warriors of Ba Territory into helping him.
The key chiefly village of Ba was named Bulu (“Burial”) in those days but after Cakobau’s intercession, it was re-named Soro-ko-Ba (“Ba Surrenders”). Locals like to think that the new name comes from chief Savenaca Nabeka having surrendered his people to Christ. More to the point, he surrendered to Cakobau and Cakobau’s allies from Vuda and Sabeto. A story related by Isoa Vuniivi (see Refs.) tells of Nabeka being tricked into travelling to Bau by his half-brother Tawake who betrayed him. Nabeka was taken captive while Cakobau demanded that Nabeka’s warriors, called Solesole, fight the Naitasiri highlanders at Nasorovakawalu. Solesole is said by Vuniivi to imply a binding together.
A somewhat different version asserts that Nabeka was uncle to Tawake. In this version, Osea Sivo Naisau boasts that he is of the chiefly yavusa of Tio, which he claims is the proper ruling clan in both Bulu and Nailaga. And no doubt the Tio were one of the most powerful western tribes. (Though highlanders, they now dominate with the chiefly title in Ba.) As to the timing of the war, Naisau indicates 1868 or 1869, some five or six years before Cession of Fiji to England but exact dates are elusive.
The Naisau story has the Solesole warriors under the leadership of Nabeka’s younger brother Filimone Lagivala, defeating the Naitasiri highlanders at Nasorovakawalu. The name Filimone indicates a man already converted to Christianity, difficult to imagine when his older brother, as chief, remained with his native beliefs. Such apparent inconsistencies are the hallmark of Fijian oral history.
The irony of Bauan deceit lies in the fact the highlanders released Cakobau, and his main warriors, letting them go free honourably after their eighth defeat. They were repaid by unforgiving vengeance and ultimate subjugation.
I must add that one may well doubt that Cakobau himself was ever captured. He would probably been too cautious to venture into such personal danger at that stage of his life.
Final Defeat of the Eastern Highlanders
On 23 March 1874 the Ad Interim Government took over national administration until Cession, 10 October 1874. But trouble had already broken out again the upper Wainimala River of the eastern highlands.
As many as seven significant upper highland territories were resisting a government about which they knew very little. But they knew that domination by Bau or by British settlers was not what they wanted. They feared for good reason, quite correctly, that Christianity and “foreign” coastal chiefs were the instruments of outside domination and would mean the loss of their own independence.
The main Territories in revolt were the Nagonenicolo, Noemalu, Nadaravakawalu, Nabobuco, Waimaro, Muaira, and Naqarawai (now a District of Namosi Province).
In late April 1874, the gunboat Renard brought Major Harding, two European sergeants and 200 native troops into Viti Levu Bay to penetrate to the interior and pacify these remaining highlands. On 4 May Harding attacked and burned the principal Waimaro village of Nakorosule. (It was a craggy fortress-village then, now relocated to a nearby, more convenient place.) This was a gesture only, for the people had escaped before he got there. But later he captured the chief at Matailobau and resistance was broken. Harding was a remarkably competent bush fighter. Those few of us who know these Fijians, and know this terrain and bush, can only marvel at Harding’s successes. Highlanders are masters of the art of ambush and had the advantage of knowing the countryside.
Harding continued up the Wainimala River to what is now Muaira District. He camped near village Narokorokoyawa, founded in 1867 by the Noemalu leader Ro Sauturaga (Vunivalu 1875-1994) as capital village of Noemalu Territory, by the old village of Nagusunikalou (“The Mouth of the Spirit”). There, on 9 May 1874, Harding’s troops withstood an extraordinary, unprecedented attack by a thousand highland warriors.
There is no other recorded case of Fijians fighting by direct frontal attack, only these highlanders on this occasion. They failed though, in the face of trained military discipline, more skilled use of firearms, and the superior firepower of Snider rifles. The highlanders had only a few old Tower muskets and really did not know how to use them effectively. Mainly they were armed with traditional Fijian weapons, clubs, spears, bows and arrows, and slings for stone missiles. But at short range these weapons are not to be underestimated. Highlanders can hurl clubs, spears and stones (still today) with absolutely astonishing power and accuracy. And their ability is legendary to dodge and disappear, to attack unexpectedly from another quarter.
But Major Harding prevailed.
In 1875, within a year of Cession, there was established a Central Highland Province with the Fijian name Loma-i-Colo, containing five major Territories (matanitu):
Noemalu, with its chiefly village Narokorokoyawa,
Vunaqumu, centred at village Nakurukuruvakatini,
These five territories were all absorbed into Colo East from 1887 to 1945, joined with the Waimaro people of villages Waikalou, Nakorosule and associated areas.
A final blow to the highlanders came with the death-dealing measles that Cakobau and his sons brought back from a trip to Sydney. Mountain chiefs had been called to assemble at Navuso to discuss the new order in January 1875. From that meeting, 69 highland chiefs were to die without proper medical care. Virtually all leadership in the highlands was now dead. As many as one Fijian in five died from the epidemic. There was yet another meeting of mountaineers, many from the Sigatoka highlands, gathered at Navola, in Serua. Aggression from the Nadroga chief Luki then led to one more war in April 1876. By August 1876, this so-called Little War of Governor Gordon put an end to all highland resistance.
Thursday, September 21, 2006