By Professor Biman Prasad
I cannot tell you how the culmination over the last 2 weeks starting from the Girmit celebrations, the Rotuma Day celebrations and finally the magnificent hosting and bringing together of all communities at the Great Council of Chiefs opening of beginning of Rt Sukuna week celebrations in Bau — has put a definitive spring in my step.
For the record, I want to also acknowledge and offer my profound thanks to the Gone Turaga na Vunivalu na Tui Kaba, the vanua vakaturaga of Kubuna and all the lovely people of Bau; all the boat “pilots” who managed the crowds to and from the Bau landing; all the govt agencies; all the media personnel; all the school teachers who have rekindled the learning spark in our children over the past few weeks; and most especially all the women of Bau who cared and opened their homes to us, as visitors to their special Island this week.
Your kindness and compassion has really touched all our hearts, and has above all — shown us that traditional leadership has a place in nation-building to remind us that customary wisdom led by “veikauwataki” (care for each other) and “veilomani” (love) must echo in all that we do.
I also want to especially acknowledge all our religious leaders who during these events, also led from their actions to offer their support and YES, to keep US ALL on our toes –reminding us that our whatever we determine our personal legacies to be, it should be spiritually guided first and foremost.
After all, we are all accountable to the Creator when we leave this earth.
My world on a daily basis as you can imagine, is one where numbers swirl around my head all day, but I can tell you that my spirit has been uplifted and revived just witnessing the resurgence of our pride as different cultures sharing our heritage with each other.
The numbers that I deal with daily are meaningless unless it brings forth as profound a change — on behalf of the Coalition Govt led by our leader, the Prime Minister Hon Sitiveni Rabuka.
The numbers that I confront daily, are empty unless there are human relationships first restored to build trust, confidence and even hopefully down the line, to trigger business partnerships and economic growth.
Somehow we as a nation need to find the balance that is workable, relevant and fit-for-purpose for us. And most of all, one that unifies us together as a people.
And so, there is no greater time then today when we reflect and draw upon the example of Ratu Sir Josefa Lalabalavu Vanayaliyali Sukuna’s exemplary leadership — in which to draw guidance from.
Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna was without a doubt, the embodiment of chiefly authority and wisdom. It was this that moulded him into the statesman that Fiji heralds him as, this week.
Much has been written about the life and work of Ratu Sukuna. All are excellent pieces of academic work no doubt requiring thorough research, but in essence all these works establish that Ratu Sukuna was a firm believer that life is more satisfactory if it is dedicated to selfless service and humanity.
I think my good friend, former Fiji diplomat and CEO of the Institute of Indigenous Studies, Mr Emitai Boladuadua put it well last night in his speech at FNU, when he said that Ratu Sukuna’s most prized possession were his people, and thus with history as our witness, we can confirm from Ratu Sukuna’s life of selflessness, to be absolutely true.
His selfless service is illustrated even then as – a chief, statesman and a decorated soldier – walked the length and breadth of Fiji especially Fijian or i-taukei villages, convincing customary landowners that they needed an institution to protect their land from being exploited.
And as we know now, this resulted in the establishment of the Native Land Trust Board – the Trustee authority of all native land in Fiji.
If Ratu Sukuna did not have the foresight and did not sacrifice his time and energy towards setting up the system of i-Taukei registration that is the Vola Ni Kawa Bula, which was closely aligned to iTaukei land custodianship records, there would not have been a space in later years to then consider how to then give effect to land legislation that would develop our then fledging economy for the benefit of everyone, through the iTaukei Lands Trust Board.
Ratu Sukuna won the trust of the people and ensured that their trust and faith in him was not misplaced.
And his ability to speak plainly is evident in his speech in the iTaukei language to the Great Council of Chiefs in 1936 before Independence – and by the way, this speech is in his book titled “Fiji: the three legged stool”, edited by Deryck Scar and is available for purchase right now at the Fiji Museum as part of Rt Sukuna celebrations – it is my humble suggestion that this book should be a fixture in every house in Fiji.
Rt Sukuna’s speech on page 205 is quite poignant as he deftly addressed the historical background of why decisions were made and answered many understandable concerns about the leasing of customary land, particularly to Indo-Fijians.
I quote Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi – another eminent Leader, a paragon of outstanding Leadership who we miss dearly – in his public lecture to honour Ratu Sukuna, where he references Ratu Sukuna’s address on native land in the iTaukei language to the Bose Levu Vakaturaga in 1936.
Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi quotes Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna as follows:
“We cannot in these days adopt an attitude that will conflict with the welfare of those who like ourselves wish only to live peacefully and increase the wealth of the Colony. We are doing our part here and so are they. We wish to live; they do the same. You should realise that money causes a close inter-relation of interests. If other communities are poor, we too remain poor; if they prosper, we will also prosper.
But if we obstruct other people without reason from using our lands, following the laggards, there will be no prosperity. Strife will overtake us and before we realise the position, we shall be faced with a position beyond our control, and certainly not to our liking. Lastly I beg you to think of the big changes that have come over us and of the complications consequent on dealings based on money. You must remember that Fiji today is not what it used to be. We are not the sole inhabitants; there are now Europeans and Indians. Should Fiji progress we shall all benefit and vice versa…”
And how right Ratu Sukuna was. In the hey day of the sugar industry, the Vanua that had an unmatched record of sugar production was Saunaka.
As a landowning group, Saunaka were on their own consistently hitting sugar output at around like 10,000 tonnes a year.
For over seven decades or so the NLTB or TLTB as it is now known, has acted in the national interest, albeit with a few exceptions during and after political turmoil. The TLTB would not be what it is today without
Ratu Sukuna’s understanding of the importance of the sugar industry and its link to the Indo-Fijian community who chose to make Fiji their home at the end of the Indenture period in 1916 would have had this view at a young age, because up until now he is the most famous alumni of Wairuku Indian School in Ra – a school established during Girmit in 1898 by Pundit Badri Maharaj.
Ratu Sukuna’s efforts later evolved into a legitimate tenancy arrangement when the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (ALTO) was formulated in 1966, that required the minimum tenure of a lease to be 10 years.
Ten years later after ALTO and in 1976, progress was made when ALTA – the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act was enacted – increasing the minimum tenure of all agricultural leases to 30 years.
When Indo-Fijians had better access to native land leasing arrangements and in the latter years enjoyed security of tenure, it accelerated the growth of the sugar industry into the economic mainstay of our economy for several decades, until the turn of the century.
Despite the industry’s downturn, it continues to directly and directly impact the livelihoods of 200,000 people of Fiji or more than 20% of our population.
Despite the common stereotype, cane farmers are now very much a multiracial industry — and it needs to be looked at carefully now after the industry has been gutted by the poor policies and mismanagement of the previous Government.
The vision to establish the NLTB to administer leases for all native land on behalf of the landowners and the recognition of land use needs for agriculture of the Indo Fijian population — and now leasing by iTaukei themselves as current trends show — is a perfect demonstration of Ratu Sukuna’s manifestation of Trust.
The Trust he created with landowners manifested into Trust given to a 3rd party the TLTB to mediate between landowners and lessee’s for win-win solutions – Ratu Sukuna triangulated Trust via dialogue.
I would venture to suggest that no other indigenous group in the world can claim such visionary protection such as the recording both on paper and in electronic format of native land and i-qoliqoli ownership in such a systematic way.
Ratu Sukuna was a visionary when it came to politics and both personally and posthumously mentored those who later became household names in Fiji.
He is also credited with forming the Fijian Association, which later became the Alliance Party that ruled this country for 17 years.
Above all, the statesman is credited for what is famously known as the “Big Four” – Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau, Ratu Sir George Cakobau and Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau. Even then, Ratu Sukuna was ahead of modern day management principles such as mentoring and succession planning.
These four gentlemen upheld the principles of Ratu Sukuna. And they commanded the respect of our people in no small measure. Together with national leaders at various times of our history like, A D Patel, S M Koya, Harish Sharma, Dr Timoci Bavadra and Jai Ram Reddy, they were, as it has been rightly said – giants of their time in their ability, perception and understanding of the problems facing Fiji.
Trust was the foundation of their leadership. Honesty, integrity and putting national interest above everything else was the bedrock of their larger than life personalities.
From Ratu Sukuna’s admirable leadership, the Lord Denning Award provided a fair distribution of revenue to cane growers came about – as well as ALTO, ALTA, the establishment of FNPF, negotiations for Fiji’s Independence, the 1997 Constitution, negotiation of various protocols and treaties which have or are still benefitting Fiji economically and development of major infrastructure – all this was built on trust, consensus building, dialogue, painstaking negotiations, perseverance and above all selfless service for the greater good.
These are the principles of a national leader and a statesman. These principles, together with chiefly authority and wisdom, formed the formidable character of Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna.
The Maori have a very wise proverb that sums this up well: Ka mura, Ka muri.
Which translates to mean that we look to the past to inform the way we move into the future because we learn from those who have gone before us. We walk backward into the future with our thoughts directed toward the coming generations but with our eyes on the past.
There are two great lessons that I take away from the life of Ratu Sukuna that I wish to share today:
The first is the respect for the rule of law. Despite the trying times as an administrator in the colonial times and Ratu Sukuna’s fervent aspiration for the self-determination of the iTaukei at that time, Ratu Sukuna worked within the boundaries of all the colonial regulations triangulating Trust through dialogue with the colonial leaders at that time and with the iTaukei people before he embarked on that big project of native land registration.
Ratu Sukuna, even as a decorated and hailed French Foreign legionnaire and traditional chief of high rank would not have dared to even think about imposing his view on others.
Moreover as the GCC Review team work do their careful work, I ask you help them and put your energy towards this mammoth task.
For example, the iTaukei governance structure has been carried on the shoulders of iTaukei men aged 21-60 from every Province with an annual levy for a very long time. That was set out in the iTaukei Affairs Act 1944 Regulations.
That levy or “provincial rate” is almost like an additional tax that targets only able-bodied and productive iTaukei males.
In this current era of human rights and gender equity – is this fair? Is this right?
Please let the GCC review team know your thoughts.
My other lesson from the life of Ratu Sukuna is that shared leadership and unity is the way forward.
In closing I can only think that the words of Justice Jai Ram Reddy, former NFP and Leader of Opposition, the first Indo-Fijian Leader to address the GCC on 6th June 1997, presents us with more reflection points as we remember the life and leadership of Ratu Sukuna:
“Let us, therefore, gather our courage and set ourselves, united, to the finishing of the noble task to which our history, our heritage, and our motherland now call us. This generation must keep its rendezvous with destiny. And then, to future generations, much will be given.”
This news article was first published in Wansolwara and has been republished here with the kind permission of the editor(s).
Contributing Author: Prof. Biman Prasad is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Strategic Planning, National Development and Statistics, Government of Fiji.
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