Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna Day
Every year in Fiji there is a special holiday to remember the great Fijian statesman Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna. There is a high school named after him, and also a park in Suva city area. He was the designer of the complex land leasing organisation, the Native Land Trust Board which was set up in the 1940s after extensive visits by Ratu Sukuna and his team throughout the whole of Fiji.
The following notes are adapted from the NLTB website:
In 1933, Ratu Sukuna told the Council of Chiefs: "We regard the Indian desire for more permanent tenancy as a natural and legitimate consequence of an agricultural community settling in any country. But how was this desire to be reconciled with the need to protect the interests of present and future Fijian landowners?"
The Native Land Trust Board scheme emerged as an answer – one that imaginative and practical as well as being, as Ratu Sukuna was later to say, unique in the history of British Crown colony government. But its uniqueness was a problem. The idea of asking landowners to surrender forever the control of their land and to entrust its administration, in the national as well as the owners’ interest, to a central body – even of the highest standing, as was proposed – was so novel and it took some understanding and explanation before being accepted.
Ratu Sukuna took upon himself the formidable task of making that explanation to every mataqali in Fiji and seeking their acceptance. The way he did it is a model in political and social persuasion. He did not rely on printed pamphlets or newspaper advertisements or radio broadcasts [which were pretty scanty in those days anyhow].
He visited village after village and attended districts and provincial councils one after the other, unhurriedly but carefully and patiently explaining the details and purpose of the scheme.
Then came the moment of decision by the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) and after long and earnest discussion the scheme was accepted and approved.
The decision of the chiefs had to be translated into law and in a speech during the Legislative Council debate on the Native Land Trust bill, Ratu Sukuna said: "When passed the legislation will be a monument of trust in British rule, of confidence in its honesty, and of hopes for the future – hopes that the seeds of disruption will disappear and the Europeans, Indians and Fijians will settle down to labour and if need be sacrificing if need be community interests for the benefit of the whole."
The Board would collect and distribute rent on behalf of the landowner. Ratu Sukuna and his assistants had only just started the massive job of defining reserves when World War II spread to the Pacific creating more urgent needs. For many months, Ratu Sukuna gave most of his time recruiting Fijian men for the armed forces and a Labour Corp and it was not until the end of the war that he was able to continue with the work of demarcating land reserves.
Once again, he travelled throughout Fiji – wherever possible by road vehicle or ship but more often walking over hills tracking from village to village. Towards the end of his work, he discovered in himself another talent, and he began to illustrate his reports with sketches of geographical features and drawings of landscapes to amplify his findings and decisions.
Travel is easier now but it is doubtful if anyone will ever match the detailed first-hand knowledge of Fiji and its people that Ratu Sukuna gained, first in the years as a Native Lands Commissioner than as he accumulated and recorded the facts and made the decisions which are the foundation of the unique system of land administration which he helped in a great measure to create for his fellow Fijians.
The pictures are of Ratu Sukuna, receiving a tabua, and his residence in Lau. He died on May 30th 1958.