Pre-colonial Fijian Society

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The Colonial History of Fiji, and post-Colonial Coups

Pre-colonial Fijian Society

Fiji is made up of some 300 islands, only one third of which are inhabited or habitable. The two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, are high volcanic islands with rugged interior terrain. Like New Zealand and Samoa, there was no centralised monarchy in Fiji but there was, in contrast to New Zealand, expansionist and empire-building tendencies. Like most Pacific nations Fijian society was hierarchical, with chiefs at the top and usually a male line of descent. High birth alone, however, was not enough to ensure rulership; ability and courage were as important. One British official estimated that in 1860 Fiji was ruled by 40 chiefs, 12 of whom were prominent. As with other societies in which there was no central authority, the competition for resources and land was constant and all-engrossing. The social structure included yavusa (tribes or iwi) that were political and territorial units. Smaller mataqali or clans/hapu were in turn made up of tokatoka (sub-clans/whanau).

Pre-colonial European Contact: Christian Missionaries

The first Europeans to arrive were the explorers Tasman (1643), Cook (1774) and William Bligh (1789, 1792). From 1800 traders began to appear, bringing with them various goods, diseases and muskets, the latter which reached saturation point by the 1830s. In turn, traders were provided with the sweet-scented sandalwood (particularly between 1800-1814) and beche-de-mer (sea cucumbers) from the 1820s to 1850s, both in demand in China. A ‘workable accord’ was generally established, although incidents of violence did occur. These, and inter-tribal violence, gained Fiji the unfair reputation of being the ‘Cannibal Islands’. As in some other Pacific nations, Fijian tribes used the advantages Europeans brought to enhance their position with regard to rivals. For their part, traders who made Fiji their home took Fijian wives and lived a lifestyle that was as much Fijian as European.
Christianity was another European import, but it was not initially received with any enthusiasm. The Wesleyan missionaries Cargill and Cross first arrived in 1835 from a relatively successful base in Tonga. Fifteen years later there had been little success, with no major chiefs converting. Unlike in Samoa and New Zealand (where the freed slaves of the northern tribes took the Christianity that they had adopted whilst in captivity back with them to their homes), Fijians had to follow the lead of their more autocratic chiefs. The acceptance of Christianity thus had to come from the top.

Pre-colonial European Contact: Problems Increase

The arrival of the missionaries coincided with a growing internal power struggle within Fiji. By the 1840s Tongan influence in eastern Fiji was increasing. These ‘imperialists’, led by the ‘Christian’ Ma’afu, had a reputation for greed, arrogance and conceit, but their authority was not challenged until the emergence of the western Fijian leader Cakobau in 1852. As the two contenders for supremacy in Fiji squared off, violence increased. The missionaries were alarmed by this but secretly pleased by the conversions that followed Ma’afu’s successes. It was these victories that finally caused Cakobau to also adopt Christianity in 1854. This quietened the tensions and led to an era of relative calm. The rivalries, however, had occasionally spilled over and involved Europeans; one incident in particular had far-reaching consequences. Cakobau had been blamed for $5000 worth of damage caused to the United States Consul’s house and property during over-enthusiastic 4th of July celebrations in 1849. These claims, unpaid and added to by other American citizens, reached $43,000 by the mid-1850s. Cakobau simply did not have the resources to pay this much; nor would he accept help from a Ma’afu who was still looking for political advantage. Pressure was put on Cakobau in the form of the threat of military reprisals by a United States warship.
As problems increased, various efforts were made by newly-arrived British officials to establish and guide a native government. These efforts generally failed, however, with the first one falling through when the British Consul left in 1867. Meanwhile, Cakobau and Ma’afu each set up competing governments. Initially supported by settlers who expected it to promote their interests, Cakobau’s government was soon being attacked for being inept, corrupt and extravagant. As the situation worsened settlers formed a Ku Klux Klan and there was talk of civil war between Europeans and Fijians.
While Cakobau dealt with internal political problems, Britain was being forced to take a closer interest in the deteriorating situation in Fiji. In 1860 there had been only 30-40 permanent Europeans in Fiji; by 1870 this had increased to about 2000. A certain number of these were the ‘right sort’ of settlers; planters, graziers and businessmen from Australia and New Zealand who had brought their families with them. Others were entrepreneurs looking for the profit to be had due to the American Civil War. (This conflict had disrupted the production of cotton in the southern states at the same time as demand for it increased.) Land sales, many of them fraudulent, boomed and so did conflict over ownership. Humanitarian groups in Britain were soon highlighting these conflicts and cases of labour abuse. Lawlessness also rose as the ‘dregs’ of the various Empires and of the United States turned up in increasing numbers. Levuka soon became a wild frontier ‘hellhole’. Violence in inland regions raised fears of a New Zealand-style internal war. Also of concern, especially to New Zealand and Australia, was the increasing interest Germany and France appeared to be showing in the Pacific. New Zealand had itself been looking to become an ‘imperial power’ in the Pacific and was keen for Fiji to become the first colony in its Empire. This particular concern was transmitted insistently and loudly to a Britain becoming more and more resigned to having to step in, once more, to sort out the ever-increasing mess being created by its own nationals.

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1. The Colonial Period Begins

Under pressure because of the increasing chaos in Fiji, and invited by an equally alarmed chief Cakobau, Britain reluctantly agreed to make Fiji another British colony. The Deed of Cession [a bit like New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi] was signed on October 10, 1874 and New South Wales Governor Sir Hercules Robinson had another territory to administer until Fiji’s first Governor, Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon, began his five year posting in 1875. Gordon established a typical colonial system of government (called “gubernatorial”), where the decision making powers rested squarely in the hands of the governor, advised by an Executive [policy-making] and Legislative [law-making] councils.

The chiefs who signed hoped that the Cession would bring, in their words, ‘civilisation and Christianity’. They may well have been discouraged at first. The British government’s initial financial grant (based on population) was reduced by one third when some 40,000 Fijians died in a measles epidemic brought by an Australian warship that year. Capital [money] was lacking in the new colony after the collapse of the cotton boom and conflict continued over disputed land sales.
The basic outlines of colonial politics were laid down in 1874 at the time of Cession, especially by Sir Arthur Gordon. The most significant aspect of Gordon's leadership was his attitude towards the Fijian people. He interpreted his duty as a mission to safeguard the rights of the Fijian people from what he saw as the destructive effects of Western contact, among them the greed of the European crop planters. For him, the Deed of Cession was a covenant [sacred agreement] that gave priority to Fijian interests. The task of the colonial government, he declared, was to be the guardian of the indigenous [native] people.
Gordon thus took a number of steps to ensure that traditional Fijian society remained undisrupted and maintained its distinct cultural identity. He looked to govern Fijians through their traditional rulers by instituting [setting up] a Council of Chiefs [still in existence today] which became a regular gathering mainly of chiefs, but also of the Fijian people. With time, the Council of Chiefs became the official voice of the Fijian people and a channel through which Fijian hopes and goals were communicated to the governor. To further consolidate [secure] traditional Fijian society, Gordon forbade alienation [sale] of Fijian land. Land purchasing by Europeans had been a practice out of control in pre Cession days, and such sales were reviewed by a Land Claims Commission (LCC) to determine their validity [truth]. In 1874, Europeans cultivated some 16,000 acres but claimed to own more than 850,000 acres, or about 20% of Fiji's total land area. By the end of the investigations in 1883, it was found that the bulk of the land (about 83%) still remained in Fijian hands. Aware of the devastating effect that massive land sales had had in other colonies (for example, New Zealand) Crown policy would see the protection of indigenous ownership through to independence in 1970.
Gordon also looked to prevent Fijians from becoming wage-labourers in their own country. Under the 1876 Native Labour Ordinance he prohibited the commercial employment of Fijian labour on European plantations. Labour [a workforce] was still needed, however, to man the sugar cane plantations. Workers from other Pacific Islands had been brought in in the past, but the supply was not able to match the demand. This source had also been tainted [stained in reputation] by the unscrupulous [bad] actions of some Australian ‘blackbirders’ whose ships had kidnapped and taken Pacific Islanders to the Queensland plantations as virtual slaves. Labourers from India were easier to come by, and the first of these was brought in in 1879 under the indenture system. This system contracted a worker to an employer for a term - usually five years – typically on low wages. After this time the worker could sign on for another term, go home (this was usually impossible) or remain as a ‘free’ worker. Nearly 70,000 Indians arrived in the period up to 1920, when the system was finally abandoned. Within a short space of time after their arrival, the Fijian economy was reliant on Indian labour.
Gordon’s policies, although looked upon as humane and enlightened, especially compared to the colonial experience in countries like Australia and New Zealand, in fact served to preserve and even enhance [increase] the power of the chiefs, while forcing the ordinary Fijian into an even more submissive [lowly] position. This ‘froze’ Fijian society politically and culturally in an unnatural state that was to persist until 1970.

2. Crown-settler relations

For his efforts, Governor Gordon received Fijian support and loyalty but European settlers soon found his policies restrictive and irksome [irritating]. Conflict arose because Europeans expected an English colonial governor to give first priority to them, which he did not. Europeans, as a result, became quickly unhappy with the colonial regime and voiced strong opposition to it. They blamed the Crown colony system of government and Gordon's Native policy, claiming that it did nothing to uplift Fijians; rather, it enslaved them to an unproductive system. Dissatisfaction with colonial rule led a group of European settlers to seek to have Fiji become a state of Australia or even come under New Zealand’s authority. In spite of the sympathy and active support of New Zealand’s Premier Richard Seddon for the latter proposal, these efforts failed. The Colonial Office in Britain would not give a minority of settlers dominance; the experience of a settler parliament and the resultant wars in New Zealand was still fresh.
However, European agitation was noticed, and an unbalanced constitution favouring them was the eventual outcome. When Governor Henry Jackson arrived in Fiji in September 1902 he was instructed to examine the possibilities of a new constitution that would include Europeans. As a result, 2440 Europeans were given the vote (based on income and property owned). Fijians, numbering about 92,000, were not given the vote, but the Governor did agree to appoint two Indian members of his own choice. Indians, 22,790 of them (who were also British subjects because India was a British colony), still remained without an opportunity to select their own representatives. The new constitution was an acknowledgment of European supremacy in the political arena of colonial Fiji, restrained only by what the governor considered his obligations to the native people. Further gains meant that by 1915 Europeans had established their political power and possessed considerable influence.

3. Crown-Indian relations

The settlers seemed to finally have power in their hands, but a challenge was already appearing. The Indians who, by 1911, numbered 40,286 (Fijians were 87,096 and Europeans 3707) were beginning to demand political rights. These were based on the declaration in 1875 by Lord Salisbury, Secretary of State for the Colonies, that any labourers who completed their contracts were to be regarded as free men ‘with privileges no bit inferior to those of any other class of Her Majesty’s subjects living in the colonies.’ The governor took some steps to grant Indians political rights in 1916, but neither the manner (representation by those nominated by the governor) nor the man chosen (Badri Maharaj) proved popular with the Indians. They wished to have the democratic right to choose their own representative.
By 1919 both the governor in Fiji and the Colonial Office in London bowed to the pressure to enfran­chise [give the vote to] the Indians. This pressure was coming from the Indian government, which said that it would only allow a continued supply of Indian labourers to Fiji if all Fijian-Indians were enfranchised. Indian labour was considered indispensable [vital] for Fiji's economic development generally, and for its sugar industry particularly. In spite of Fiji's hopes, agitation in India brought the indentured labour system to an end in 1920, and organised labour emigration from India ceased. Pressure for the enfranchisement of Indians continued, and the government in Fiji finally gave in. However, delay was caused by two demands from India: equal status for Indians with Europeans, and a common franchise [voting roll] without regard to colour (rather than one where whites voted for white representatives and Indians for Indian representatives). The colonial government resisted, arguing that a common franchise was in conflict with its obli­gations to protect the lifestyle of the Fijian people.
Neither Europeans nor Fijians were happy with Indian demands for equality. European politicians made their own reactions clearly known. Henry Scott and Henry Marks, during their 1929 election campaign, stated: 'We have the Indians here and we must make the best of it and teach them that we are the bosses and not the Indians…' He accused the government of neglecting the Fijians because of its obsession with pleasing the Indians. Nor did the Fijians like the idea of Indians being granted the franchise. In the Council of Chiefs in the early 1920s there was some feeling that Fijians, too, ought to be given the same political privileges as Europeans, but the governor quickly squashed any such hopes as he did not think Fijians ready for it.

4. Fijian – Indian relations

Part of the Fijian concern can be explained in terms of poor race relations between Indians and Fijians. From the time Indians began coming into their country in 1879, Fijians had expressed anxiety [concern] about the influx of these newcomers who were so unlike themselves. Fijians were fearful that they might lose their land to these new immigrants. On plantations where the two races came into contact there was conflict, with indications that worse might follow. To avoid problems, the government deliberately kept the two races apart as much as possible. Even though with the passage of time contact did increase between the two communities, the factors that divided them became more marked and obvious. The Indians were individualists [like Europeans] with their greatest loyalty to themselves as they worked hard for material gain. They cared little for the Europeans, showing them sullen ‘respect’ only when it was necessary to do so. The Fijians, on the other hand, were devoted to their communal social structure with its obedience to chiefs; their loyalty to authority was generally unquestioning. In their minds, the chiefs and the European government were for their protection. Fijians received no obvious benefits from the Indians, and they certainly preferred Europeans to Indians. Gradually mutual contempt characterised many Fijian/Indian attitudes.
Granting the franchise to Indians in 1929 and not to Fijians added to the list of differences between the two races. The chance given to Indians to vote contributed to their political advancement and it increased their political awareness. It taught them to make political judgements, accustomed them to the hurly-burly of elections, and increased their appetite for political growth and power. The Fijians, on the other hand, were deprived of these opportunities, although their own politics continued in their separate local community administration. Admittedly, Indian voters were divided over many issues, while the Fijians preserved their unity and continued to channel their political energy in one (traditional) direction. Overall, the two largest components of Fiji's population found their political lives taking different directions; the gulf between them was widened.
Rapid Indian population growth – compared to that of the Fijians and Europeans - contributed further to growing tension. The 1911 population census showed that Indians comprised 28.8% of the colony's population; by 1921 they had reached 38.6%, and by 1936 this had risen to 42.9%. For the same years the Fijian proportion had declined, 62.4%, 53.7%, 49.2%; by the last date the Fijians no longer constituted a numerical majority in their homeland. When sheer numbers were examined, each year indicated that with time Indians would become the largest group in Fiji. Consequently, non Indians became anxious of their own future when this was set alongside Indian demands for an electoral system where pure numbers might decide the issue and their own future.
The political anxiety and demands of the various groups occurred against a background of difficult economic conditions. Generally in Fiji throughout the Depression of the 1930s times were hard and living standards low. European planters faced ruin and European businesses were hit hard by the world-wide Depression. While Fijians and Europeans were suffering, Indians - with their involvement in the sugar industry under the control of the resourceful Colonial Sugar Refining Company - appeared secure. Thus it was most unlikely that either Europeans or Fijians in their depressed economic state would have been willing to make seemingly suicidal political concessions such as ‘one man, one vote’.
The Indian community’s seeming economic success, coupled with events during WWII, aroused a resentment that did not rapidly diminish. First was their refusal to enlist during World War II to serve abroad, unless under identical conditions of service and rates of wages as Europeans. When the colonial government would not agree, they remained at home. This contrasted unfavourably with Fijian spontaneity [speed] in joining the armed forces (for less pay), where they served with distinction abroad. Second was a strike during WWII by Indian sugar cane workers, who demanded higher prices for their product. The governor and Europeans became resentful of what they saw as ungrateful Indians, while Fijian hostility grew as it seemed that Indians accepting their fair share of sacrifice.

5. Post-WWII: the beginnings of change

During WWII, and in the post-war period up to 1960, there were few changes, but the setting up of a separate Fijian administration was significant. Ratu Sukuna was appointed Secretary for Fijian Affairs and thus became the first Fijian member of the Governor’s policy-making Executive Council. Sukuna’s aims were to ensure the continuance of the Fijian way of life, particularly its village based social structure. Another aim was to stop disintegration of Fijian society by insulating it from rapid global changes, while at the same time introducing Fijians to change at a pace that could be absorbed without too much stress. Sukuna described this as an ‘evolutionary [slow] not revolutionary [rapid]’ approach to political change.
Indians, meanwhile, remained alarmingly ahead of Fijians in many areas. Their population continued to be slightly greater than that of the Fijians. Their dedication to western education was already beginning to pay off with jobs in the civil service and other professional areas. Indian merchants were virtually in control of all internal trade. Generally, not only had Indians outstripped Fijians in economic terms, but they also posed a challenge to Europeans. But not all Indians were amassing wealth; the majority continued to toil hard, but they were still part of the cash economy, whether earning a wage, a government salary or profits from business ventures.
For the next ten years the hopes and fears of each ethnic group in Fiji increased and heightened instead of diminishing. By the 1950s cultural pluralism [the existence of three distinctly separate cultures] was the most obvious feature of daily life in Fiji. This was no new feature, but the aware­ness of its meaning was becoming clearer. The numerically small but economically powerful European community was aware of the vulnerability of its own position. Not only were Indians competing well on all levels but, to make matters worse, the British Empire was less and less interested in keeping such positions secure for Europeans alone. In the 1950s European powers, either out of good sense or necessity, were giving up their empires and transferring political control to indigenous people. This left Europeans in Fiji feeling very insecure.

6. Problematic Independence

During this same period the very foundations of Fijian society were being questioned. Two government-commissioned reports (the Burns and the Spate reports) concluded that the traditional communal system held Fijians back economically. The report indicated that the system which had given security to the Fijian people in their own country since 1875 was outdated. Thus by the 1960s the principle of the overriding importance of Fijian interests still remained, but it was clear that change was coming - for the Europeans as much as for the Fijians. In light of this, the 1960s became a time of negotiation concerning the nature of a new constitution for Fiji where political power was to be passed from Britain to a divided and ill-prepared colony.
Fiji became an independent nation on 10 October 1970, in a low key atmosphere, exactly 96 years after cession in 1874. There was no violent nationalist struggle that characterised decolonisation [the end to rule by another power, in this case Britain] in much of Asia and Africa (eg the French in Indochina). On the contrary, Fiji parted from Great Britain on a note of trust and warm friendship and in an orderly, constitutional and peaceful manner. The relatively late arrival of independence to Fiji (Western Samoa became independent in 1962) was not a result of any reluctance of Britain to leave, but a product of serious difficulties amongst political parties in Fiji itself as to the nature of the new constitution. On the one hand was the National Federation Party (NFP) that had mainly Indian members and pursued Indian interests. In particular it wanted equality with Europeans and a right to one common voting roll for all voters in Fiji. In contrast, the Alliance party promoted Fijian and European interests, and as such was unwilling to see these eroded.
The Fijian people did not get a chance to approve of, or even debate, the complex new constitution. The talks that led to independence were held between late 1969 and early 1970, and then the leaders of the two political parties presented the people of Fiji with a fait accompli [foregone conclusion]. The constitution they delivered was so complex that its structure and full implications [long-term effects] were barely understood by Fijians.
Not surprisingly, the constitution of independent Fiji, designed to bring a measure of equality and racial harmony, did not mark any radical departure from the colonial past. Parliament was to consist of an Upper House (Senate), and a Lower House (House of Representatives). Seats in parliament were allocated not by the number of votes a political party received, but by a complex racially-based system. It quickly became apparent that ethnic loyalties determined which way people voted. European voters threw their weight solidly behind the Fijian dominated Alliance, giving it an automatic lead of three seats, thus establishing a European-Fijian electoral [voting] advantage over Indo-Fijians.
As well as this electoral advantage, Fijian interests were further supported in the Upper House or Senate. Here, the Great Council of Chiefs had the right to appoint eight of the 22 members. Furthermore, the Prime Minister was allowed to appoint a further seven members. (Up until the elections prior to the 1987 military coup, the Prime Minister was always Fijian.) The Council of Chiefs’ appointees also enjoyed the power of veto in the Senate. No significant amendment to the constitution affecting citizenship, the nature of the parliament, or the justice system, could be approved without the support of at least three quarters of both Houses. More specifically, the Constitution provided that legislation [laws] regarding 'Fijian land, custom and customary rights’ had to be supported by the Great Council of Chiefs before it could pass.
Despite these political advantages, the general elections of 1982 indicated that the Fijian attitude was hardening against sharing power with others. The election was a closely contested affair that the Fijian/European Alliance won with a four-seat majority. Soon afterwards irate Fijian landowners in western Viti Levu threatened to evict their Indian tenants for not 'fulfilling their pledges to vote for the [pro-Fijian] Alliance’. The paramount [main] chief of Sabeto reportedly said of the Indian tenants that as they 'are the ones who opposed us, I will have them no more.' In the Senate, several Fijian Senators declared that 'blood will flow' if Indians did not 'cling' to Fijians. The National Federation Party condemned the racial outbursts as a campaign of intimidation against Indians; the Alliance ignored the whole issue.
Thus, an uneasy political balance was in place, waiting for the emergence of a third political party to upset the tense political peace.
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The 1987 Coup

As long as Fijians voted as a bloc for Fijian candidates there was little real threat to their political dominance. The only threat to this situation would be the emergence of a political party that had a strong enough appeal to cut across ethnic loyalties. Such a party emerged after the 1982 elections. The Fijian Labour Party (FLP), backed by the trade unions, appealed to a neglected section of Fijian society: the poor, be they Indian or Fijian. Under traditional Fijian power structures, the chiefs and their relatives enjoyed most of the economic benefits. Similarly, in the Indian community it was the educated and commercial interests that prospered; the majority of poorer cane farmers lived a shaky existence. It was this shared experience of poverty that was to prove so significant in the 1987 elections and the future course of Fijian politics. Although the FLP did not win power itself, it did draw enough votes from disaffected Fijians to topple the Alliance from its dominant position. This allowed the Indian-backed National Federation Party to form an alliance with Labour and so take power from the Fijian-dominated Alliance. The new Prime Minister, Timoci [pronounced ‘Timothy’] was not Indian, but Fijian. His Ministry was not to last.
At ten o'clock on the morning of Thursday 14 May 1987, after only one month in power, the democratically-elected government of Fiji was overthrown in a coup d'état conducted by the third-in-command of the Royal Fiji Military Forces, Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. This was the first such event in a Pacific Island nation. In the streets, arson, looting, and riots terrorised the Indian population and formed part of a crime rate which more than doubled in the months after May 1987. Rather than trying to stop such incidents, the Fijian-dominated police force were often part of the campaign.
Some commentators were quick to point to long-standing racial tension, and Fijian fears of losing control in their own country, as the main cause of the coup. (This is despite the fact that the 1970 Constitution – with the support of the Indian-backed National Federation Party – had already secured Fijian interests - see above.) Others see it as the upper class's method of regaining the political and economic power which it had lost in the April 1987 elections. They point to the fact that within a short period after the coup, Colonel Rabuka handed power over to the Alliance party. This interim government was in turn replaced by a more permanent ‘Council of Advisors’.
Another view is that traditional Fijian custom was an important factor behind the coup. Customary divisions within the Fijian community are essentially of two forms, each to an extent overlapping the other. The first is the 'East/West Divide': the 'Polynesian' east has had the upper hand over the 'Melanesian' west in Fijian politics since Cession in 1874 (refer back to the Section Two on Cakobau and Ma’afu). The Labour/NFP Coalition's favouring of the west, it has been said, gave eastern forces reason to wish it overthrown. A more prominent source of division is the customary chiefly system. With the increasing urbanization of Fijians, the chiefs have faced a threat to their political dominance within both the Fijian community and Fiji. For the chiefs, the Coalition government represented this threat in its clearest form. It has been suggested that this is what prompted a chiefly conspiracy leading to the coups. At the least, it ensured the chiefly support for the coup, which was essential for its success.

The 2000 Coup

At first glance, the 2000 coup, carried out by businessman George Speight, was prompted by the same racial concerns as the 1987 coup. It also came after the election of an Indian-dominated Labour government, this time led by the abrasive – and Indian - Mahendra Chaudry. This situation had arisen because, after much discussion and negotiation, a new Constitution had been designed, approved and put into place by 1997. While it safe-guarded yet again Fijian rights, it had to attempt to incorporate democratic principles in order to appease both Indian and international concerns. Because Fiji had been evicted from the Commonwealth after the 1987 coup it had become a Republic. This meant that the highest positions in the land were the President and Vice President. The 1997 Constitution reserved these positions for indigenous Fijians, as well as dominance of the Upper House (Senate). The new-look Constitution had been approved by all the major Fijian political figures, including the Great Council of Chiefs.
Closer analysis suggests that powerful business interests in Fiji are more responsible. Prime Minister Chaudry had made no secret that his government was out to end the corruption that characterised big business in Fiji. In this environment, the poor in Fiji had made few gains in the 30 years of Fijian-dominated governments since independence. Chaudry also planned to end the privatisation of State assets that had seen some prominent Fijians get very rich. He introduced measures to improve health, education and other social conditions. However, his arrogant, abrasive and ‘un-Fijian’ style of politics quickly antagonised many. Speight himself was a failed businessman who had been sacked by the Chaudry government. Speight had been preparing a lucrative deal that would have seen logging rights for Fiji’s mahogany forests sold off to United States’ interests – with a large commission for himself. According to some commentators, the events of 1987 and 2000 thus had little to do with protecting indigenous Fijian rights – rights that were not under any threat in the first place. They are more to do with a long post-colonial history of failed moral and professional leadership in Fiji.


  • Ali, Ahmed, ‘Fiji: Political Change, 1874-1960’ in Lal, Brij, ed. Politics in Fiji. Studies in Contemporary History, Wellington, 1986

  • Howe, K.R., Where the Waves Fall, Allen and Unwin, 1984

  • Lal, Brij, Broken Waves: A History of the Fiji Islands in the 20th Century, University of Hawaii Press, 1992


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