Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai‘i




By Alisi Waqanika-Daurewa

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, April 9, 2012) – The recent announcement by Prime Minister Bainimarama to disestablish the Great Council of Chiefs is affecting not only the iTaukei but Fijians in different ways.

Some responses to this decision via our local newspapers and websites acknowledge that this council has its genesis in Fiji's colonial past and is therefore not traditional. Others argue that its colonial nature makes it traditional. The following attempts to contextualize what we might have been, and were, and whether it might be worth looking back to our past for our future.

I begin with how we came to be in the Pacific.

There is more than one version but my preference is to use finding that is well evidenced by geneticists, linguistics and other experts such as the following. Furthermore, contrary to other observations, this version ( clarifies that the Lapita and Polynesians were two separate arrivals, confirmed by three differences; archaeologically, genetically and chronologically.

Before which, the Pacific basin was occupied by early settlers who arrived from Africa 100,000 years ago, they were joined by another African arrival 10,000 years ago, and then the Lapita culture 3,900 years ago who might have been sea merchants from Tamil Nadu and then much, much later, 1,000 years ago, the Polynesians arrived.

The Polynesians departed from East Asia (Taiwan, Japan and China) about 6,000 years ago. Their whereabouts for 3,800 years remains a mystery but there is suggestion that the West Coast of America was their interim homeland.

Hence, claims (Robertson & Sutherland, 2001:50) that Fijians came from Taiwan is not quite correct. However the Polynesian in us did.

Fiji's geographical position in the South Pacific, allowed her access from several entry points. Claims that the iTaukei is a homogenous society is just not possible given that Fiji is surrounded by; Vanuatu to the West, New Caledonia to the south-west, New Zealand's Kermadec to the south-east, Tonga to the east, Samoa and Wallis and Futuna to the north.

Furthermore, it placed her at the centre of ongoing activities such as migrations, trade, conflict and strengthening of political organization (Archival records of the Archdiocese of Suva, Brewster 1922, Thompson, 1940, Mara, 1997).

Could Fiji's role as a trading centre in the South Pacific have earned her the Polynesian pronunciation of 'whiti' for Fiji which according to some source ( means crossover or changeover?

And, not because legendary chief Lutunasobasoba and his entourage, who had strong Polynesian physique 'flicked' the trees like twigs (vitika shortened to Viti) while clearing the land on arrival, as our post colonial history likes to make us believe.

A.B. Brewster (1922) who enjoyed 40 years of intimate connection with the hill tribes as Commissioner of Colo north and Colo east provinces, and, as Deputy Commandant of Armed Native Constabulary late 19th and early 20th century observed there were two major migrations of Polynesians in the 17th century; one from Tonga which landed at Tuva in Nadroga (south-west point of Viti Levu [biggest island in the Fiji group]) and an even bigger one, led by Degei which landed at Vuda (western cost of Viti Levu).

Ancestral worship deified Degei and totemism turned him into a serpent. When Brewster made a pilgrimage in 1888 to Degei's 'shrine' in Nakauvadra, he found nothing like the expected cave but a crevice! It is unclear where Degei might have travelled from.

Brewster observed he might have also been Tongan because one of this sons (Waqataqa) who also landed at Tuva (unlike his father who landed at Vuda), established himself in Bemana and named his son (Degei's grandson), Tui Toga Levu. Degei, formed three kingdoms in the coast where Bureta, Bua and Verata were established. Bureta, owner of the most fertile land on Ovalau, was the abode of Ravouvounibureta who according to oral accounts in the Native Land Commission came from Nakauvadra in Ra. Bureta adopted Buisavulu, said to be Lutunasobasoba's oldest and only daughter.

Oral history suggests she practiced cannibalism and in sending her only child, Voula to a small island across the sea, told him to go to moturiki which is Polynesian for 'small island'. Voula fathered Vueti, the first Roko Tui Bau.

Strangely however, there is no mention of Lutunasobasoba as having led any group so it is likely he might have been a part of the migration led by Degei. Or, could they have been the same person? For it was cultural until the modern registration of names to have more than one name throughout the lifetime of an individual to signify a special event.

Like other indigenous societies, oral accounts such as this were the Fijian customary maintenance of historical records. In trying to link the Lutunasobasoba theory that was introduced to our education system by a competition of tales via the Native Administration's 1892 issue of the 'Na Mata' (France, 1969) with the collective work of anthropologists and other research findings, I am not discounting totally, the Lutunasobasoba theory and believe it contains some truth.

His African origin however is a big question because there is genealogical evidence in his children to suggest he arrived in Fiji in the 17th century (Smart, 1964, Govt. Archives) and there is no report thus far of a migration to the Pacific from Africa during that period.

But I believe it was fabricated to suit the genealogy of chiefs who worked closely with the Administration at that time. In doing so, they completely obliterated the rightful places of many other chiefs in Fijian society such as Degei of Nacilau in Rakiraki, and others who might not have belonged to the latter 17th century migrations because they were already living in Fiji. Such an example was Rokola of Nakauvadra mountains, whose yavu (mound) looks down to eleven sites, out of which, 77 tribes travelled to other parts of Fiji where they are now settled (Gifford, 1952).

[PIR editor’s note: ‘Yavu’ in the Fijian language refers to the foundation of a house, a flat mount of earth at least one foot high, edged around with stones built up.]

Meanwhile, the Polynesian assimilation into early Fijian society, made more prominent by the two major 17th century migrations noted earlier by Brewster (1922), had several implications.

They married into principal families and changed a simple cooperative and class-less social organization led by a group of elders, into a competitive and hierarchical governance structure led by a chief.

They also brought rituals (Archival records of the Archdiocese of Suva), their gods and cannibalism which Thompson (1940:21) noted was introduced to Lau by a fierce Polynesian group from north-west Viti Levu who married the land (aboriginal) people and outranked them by becoming their chiefs. Likewise Brewster (1922:79,87) noted of the hill tribes of Viti Levu, "...from their comeliness and beauty they were regarded as gods and heroes by the simple black people...who received them, gave them wives and made them their 1895, I'd collected the genealogies of most of the leading hill tribes of Viti Levu. In almost every one of them, the then occupant of the chieftaincy was the 9th in descent from the first known ancestor, who in every case was a light colored stranger."

* This is the personal opinion of the author who is a postgraduate student of development studies at the University of the South Pacific after a collective 36-year experience of auditing, financial management, overseas development administration and as executive director of a national development NGO. She continues with voluntary work at provincial council level and other organizations.

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