Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Fijian land - how we got (some of) our land back
People talk passionately about land in Fiji and the subject is complex. When it is said that Fijians own 80% of the land, remember that the 10% freehold is often the best and other 10 % are Crown Land and was obtained largely by funny dealing over 100 years ago, e.g. an island for guns.
Many Fijians do not own land at all or it is mountainous and difficult to access. Fijian are registered in the Native Land Commission in their respective mataqali (clan) and yavusa (tribe). But there are many mataqali or yavusa who have landless because there land have been taken by the European people as freehold land eg Mago Island in the Lau group. The real owner of the Island are still in Vakano Lakeba. This also happened in Labasa, Lautoka and Suva and other places.
The NLTB (Native Land Trust Board) has managed Fijian land for over sixty years. ALTA (Agriculture, Landlord and Tenants Act) ties up tribal land mainly in thirty year leases, a whole generation. The government authorities did not listen to the worries of the indigenous people and the legislation was passed with little alteration. There was a march through the streets of Rakiraki against ALTA in 1969.
In 1971 our family wanted some land back as some leases were expiring. I went to the Land Tribunal Court and won four pieces of land - about 150 acres out of 2000. We obtained sugar-cane leases for members of the family and started development projects. Not many Fijians at that time got their leased land back. It was only in the last ten years that the landowners have realised the importance of getting land back for their growing families.
Lease money from about a hundred Indian tenants comes into our mataqali annually. and this money is used to pay for housing, development and education for the children. NLTB used to take a 25% commission but now it is 15%.
The relationship between landowner and the neighbouring Indian farmers has been very good over the years despite the on-going anxieties about lease renewals so very few Indian families have had to leave the Vatuadova area to resettle elsewhere.