One Land - Two Peoples
Some people think of Fiji as the place where sugar comes from, others as the last stop by plane, 1,140 miles out from Auckland—a place where there is an attractive airport on the route to North America; some think of Fiji as an important military link in the war strategy of the Pacific area, as a communications centre served by five air lines; some middle-aged people will think of Suva as the first port of call for trans-Pacific steamers from New Zealand; others, older than middle-aged, may think of Fiji as the islands where indentured labourers from India were brought to work: the younger men among us may think of the Fijian football team; the Government administrator thinks of Fiji as a place where New Zealand nurses may do a tour of duty; where New Zealanders sometimes teach school; perhaps as a far out-post of the New Zealand Education Department's Correspondence School, or even as the regional centre for the South Pacific Health Service, where men and women are trained for health work on other Pacific islands; some people think of Fiji as the place where there is a leprosy hospital (at Makogai); others merely think vaguely of it as a British colony, known a century ago as the Cannibal Isles of Fiji.
These impressions of Fiji are all correct—and they are all important to an understanding of Fiji. And they suggest, but do not stress, the most important point—that the Fijians are people—a people with well-established traditions and an organisation of society well adapted to life in the South Seas, but having to live in a world which has different customs and strange ways.
There is a story from Fiji which, to me, illustrates this problem and, at the same time, makes me feel very uncomfortable. It is the story of a Fijian boy who was awarded the Victoria Cross in the 1939–45 war—Corporal Sukanaivalu. He had rescued several wounded men while under intense fire from the Japanese, and was eventually severely wounded himself. Because he could not walk, he called out to his men not to try to rescue him—it was too dangerous. When they said they would come out and get him, he exposed himself to Japanese fire and was, of course, instantly killed. His name, Sukanaivalu, means ‘finished with war’. His father gave that name to the son born to him after he had returned from fighting in France in the 1914–18 war. In Suva, the Governor of Fiji presented Sukanaivalu's Victoria Cross to his grey-haired father and mother as they sat on the ground, Fiji fashion, in front of a great parade of people.
The story of Fiji is similar to that of other places in the Pacific. The group covers over 300 islands, the total area being about twice the size of Taranaki. The islands were discovered by the West when Abel Tasman visited them in 1643. Captain Cook also touched there, as did Captain Bligh of the ‘Bounty’.
In the early part of last century, the Fiji Islands were visited by traders looking for sandalwood. They were an undesirable type, and sold rum and fire-arms to the Fijians to help them in their tribal wars. Aided by the white man's muskets and the warriors of King George the First of Tonga, one chief, Thakombau, became the most powerful, and in 1845, accepted Christianity and gave up cannibalism. Later, Thakombau had some difficulties with the United
Matayalevu in the Yasawas. Breadfruit trees have been planted throughout the village. Besides giving protection from the hot sun, these give an added supply of food.
At this time, the British Government had the Maori Wars on its hands, and Thakombau was opposed by other chiefs, so the British rejected the offer. Thakombau then offered Fiji to the U.S.A., who were themselves occupied with a civil war, and they did not even send a reply to the offer. Finally, after a good deal of negotiation, Thakombau ceded Fiji to Queen Victoria in 1874.
The British Government promised that the Fijian's rights of ownership over their land would be preserved. The first duty of the British Administration was, and is, the interests of the Fijians. This was the responsibility of the British Colonial Office, but there was another Government Department called the India Office. It was negotiating with India to recruit labourers for work on the Fijian sugar plantations. In 1875, a new disease called measles had wiped out one-third of the Fijian population. At the same time, the settlers and traders wanted labourers. The Governor of Fiji refused to demand money taxes from the Fijians, so that they did not have to work for wages. The taxes were in produce. In this way, the Fijians were confirmed in the ownership and occupancy of their land.
But it did not give the European settlers any labourers. That is why the India Office, in 1875, was trying to get indentured labourers for Fiji. The labourers were bound to work on the plantations for ten years and were, after the period of ten years, guaranteed a return passage to India. The India Office (that is, the British Government) promised that those who decided to stay in Fiji after they had finished their indenture, should have rights ‘in no whit inferior to those of any other race’—that is, it seems that the Indians were promised as much right to have land as anybody else.
By 1916, when the indentured labour system was ended, 64,000 Indians had been brought by the ship-load to work in the sugar plantations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company; 24,000 of these had been taken back to India, and
those of the remainder who had not died, stayed to become the parents of the present Fijian-born Indians.
THE PICTURE TODAY
This is the picture today: Fiji produces most of its own food, such as rice, vegetables, milk, meat, fruit. Its export crops are sugar cane, coconuts, bananas and pineapples, with some peanuts, ginger and tropical fruits. The other important activity is gold-mining.
When the indentured labour system ended, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which owns and leases large tracts of land, rented out a few acres each to the Indians, who thus became tenant farmers. Though the Fijians grow a little sugar cane, most of the production is in the hands of the Indians, half of whom have land bought or leased from the Fijian tribes, and half of whom are tenants of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.
TWO SYSTEMS OF PRODUCTION
The major part of the copra from coconuts is produced by the Fijians on land owned in common. The remainder of the copra comes mainly from large estates worked by Indians and Fijian wage labour. The banana industry is run by the Fijians, on land held in common.
Fiji thus has two systems of production. One is traditional in Fiji, where the land is owned by the tribe or group, and not by the person, and cannot be sold. Production is for the group. The second system is where there is ownership of land by one person or company, hiring workers for wages. Most of the people, in fact, do not work for wages, but of those who do more than half are Indians, the rest being Fijians, other Pacific Islanders, Chinese and Europeans. In Suva and the townships, Indians largely do the shopkeeping, drive the taxis and run the laundries.
In Fiji, there are about 130,000 Fijians, and about 140,000 Indians. Despite the European diseases of measles and influenza, which reduced the Fijian population from about 200,000 in 1874 to 83,000 in 1919, the Fijians, like the Maoris, have made adjustments with the European world and are a vigorous people, increasing in numbers. But the Indians, who for some years have been in the majority, are increasing still faster. They have more women of child-bearing age, they have children earlier in life, and fewer of their children die. That means that at the present time the rate of increase of the Indians is greater than that of the Fijians.
The Fijians are not interested in individual money savings. They have the community—not the individual—philosophy. They are not interested in commerce. They are co-operators, holding land in common and working for the group. There is no inter-marriage between Indians and Fijians.
THE INDIANS OF FIJI
The Indians have been brought to Fiji and promised equal rights, but find it most difficult to buy land. The Indians are thrifty, hard-working: and fine cultivators, and have strong family attachments. The home country of the India is India, but his family home is increasingly in Fiji, for he was born there. Of the countries outside Fiji, India is where his sympathies lie. Some of the Fijian Indians feel, in
Viti Lavu. The sugar industry is the most important industry in Fiji. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company of Australia operates five mills with a total capacity of 171,000 lbs. per season.
Fiji has its two peoples and its two traditions side by side. They each have their values, and the problem is how to preserve the Fijian ways while giving greater political freedom to all, and preserving justice for all.
Indians have become the largest racial group in the Colony. Almost all tailors, laundrymen and boot-makers are Indians, some of whose women and children are shown in the photo. The first Indians were brought to Fiji as indentured labour in the 1880's.