Stan Ritova / Whippy wrote this passionate article for the Fiji Times defending his relatives right to the Tui Labasa title. Stan's name however was not put on the article but it's obvious that he is the writer. Here is his article. I will make comments in the next blog posting.
Defending the Qomate legacy
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Labasa was defended by Ratu Tevita Qomate against marauding tribes The fight for the position of Tui Labasa has been on going for generations with two family members of Labasa's chiefly Mataqali Wasavulu, the Draunas and the Dimuris, forever vying for a position they know is not theirs traditionally.
The current holder is Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma Qomate Ritova of the Qomate clan, who has been officially declared by the Native Land and Fisheries Commission (NLC) in Suva, as the rightful holder of theTui Labasa title. But this has been challenged by factions of Labasa's chiefly mataqali (land owning unit) of Wasavulu and the NLC appeals tribunal is sitting in Labasa on February 8 to hear the appeal.
Adi Salanieta succeeded her younger brother, Ratu Joeli Tinai Ritova, when he died in 2004. Ratu Joeli in turn succeeded his older brother Senator Ratu Tevita Qomate Ritova, who passed away prematurely in July 1997.
I am their first cousin because my late mother, Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma Qomate, and their late father, Ratu Viliame Baleilevuka Ritova, were siblings and the recognised paramount chiefs of Labasa when their father, the then Tui Labasa, Ratu Viliame Lautiki died in the late 1800s.
He was allegedly killed by Fijian sorcery (draunikau) administered by his enemies, according to my information which I've explained in my book, which is in the throes of completion.
Ratu Viliame Lautiki was the son of Ratu Tevita Qomate, the true paramount chief of Labasa, and who was a descendant of the adventurous and colourful chief Ratu Ritova. He was one of the two chiefs from Macuata province who signed the Deed of Cession ceding Fiji to Queen Victoria in October 1874. The other chief was Ratu Katonivere, whose great-grandson, Ratu Aisea Katonivere, is the current Tui Macuata.
Ratu Tevita Qomate was adored and revered by the people of Labasa because he defended them repeatedly against marauding tribes who tried to conquer Labasa and never did.
He was reported to have been seriosly wounded during one of those conflicts and was taken to his island of Yanuca situated between the two Labasa rivers, the Labasa and Qawa rivers, to recover. Labasa Town is on banks of the Labasa River and the Fiji Sugar Corporation sugar mill is on the Qawa River.
Where were the other so-called chiefs claiming the Tui Labasa title, when Ratu Tevita Qomate was busy defending Labasa and her people in those early wars?
For their qusi ni loaloa (the Fijian custom of washing off of the war paint) and in gratitude for his leadership, the people of Labasa presented him with just under 1400 acres of some of the best land in Labasa listed officially in the records of the Native Land Trust Board and the NLC as the land of the Descendants of Qomate. And that is proudly us my first cousins and I and a surviving half brother plus all our children and grandchildren.
I think this is a unique situation in the annals of the NLTB and NLC and we treasure it.
In actual fact the people of Labasa also presented Ratu Tevita Qomate with all their fishing rights because the NLTB and NLFC records show that the Labasa fishing rights belong to Qomate and is listed as Qomate's Fishing Rights, which extend seaward to the main sea reef from the Wailevu river just south of the Labasa river mouth,and northwards from there to the Mataniwai river.
The records are there for public information.
Other factions of Wasavulu Mataqali muscled in after Ratu Viliame's Lautiki's tragic passing and took over the position of Tui Labasa and ruled without any people because the people continued to recognise my mother, Adi Salanieta and her brother, Ratu Viliame, as their chiefs and have contined to do so with us, their children.
About 60 years later in 1975 my first cousin, Ratu Tevita Qomate Ritova, later appointed a Great Council of Chiefs Senator representing Macuata province, and the eldest son of my mother's brother, was named Tui Labasa, returning the title to its true owners, but only after official intervention.
The late Ratu William Toganivalu, who was Minister for Fijian Affairs at the time, intervened and recalled Colonel George Mate who had just retired in 1975 as Chairman of the NLC and requested him to "straighten out" the situation which he did.
I know this because I was involved.
Col Mate ruled then and informed the elders of Mataqali Wasavulu, many of whom have since passed on, that only the direct descendants of Ratu Tevita Qomate as head of the mataqali were entitled to the title of Tui Labasa and no one else. Period.
The descendants of these family factions who are now claiming the title, know this but have chosen to ignore the information.
Ratu Tevita's installation was a historical and colourful affair in the rara (village green) of Nasekula, the chiefly village of Labasa, in June 1975.
The Tui Macuata at the time, Ratu Raio Katonivere, assisted by his close relative and also high chief of Macuata, Ratu Vuki, and members of the chiefly clan of Caumatalevu conducted the installation ceremony and all the pomp that went with it on a typical beautiful sunny Labasa day.
The fact that the Tui Macuata agreed to conduct the ceremony was in itself evidence that he recognised and believed the true holder of the chiefly position.
And what's more, it had never been done before not in a long time anyway.
Ratu Tevita and I later undertook to build Ro Qomate House for the people in Labasa. This being rented to the Fiji Government for office space.
It was started in 1996 and when Ratu Tevita passed in 1997, I took it over and with the help of Ratu Joeli who succeeded him, finished it in 1998 free of charge apart from being paid for air fares from Suva to Labasa and telephone charges to show our allegiance to the vanua of Labasa and its indigenous people.
And though I live in Sydney now for the time being for the sake of convenience, my allegiance and pride for the place where I was born and lived my early life is still very strong and undying.
The records of the Qomate dynasty are available at the NLC for the public to inspect.
There is nothing sinister or secret about them.
The information was recorded during the Veitarogi Vanua in 1948 organised and administered by the late Fijian high chief and statesman, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, when he was inquiring into Fijian-owned land boundaries and fishing rights for the NLC and NLTB records shortly after he established the organisations to administer and control all Fijian-owned land.
And it is just as well he did because unfortunately there are no dedicated written records of early Fijian history and what transipred in the early days apart from early missionary records, after Christianity arrived on our shores in 1835.
Fijian family history is handed down by mouth and fortunately I took note when the aged told stories of the olden days.
I might just add for the record that during my mother's and her brother's early life they did not complain to anyone about the title of Tui Labasa being taken away from them.
They just carried on with the work of the vanua spending their personal earnings from the six-monthly proceeds of rent from the descendants of Qomate land on their people and their needs.
The British colonial Government recognised them and no one else as the paramount chiefs of Labasa.
We, their surviving children, were also brought up on this money and were well cared for.
In actual fact we did better than most but my mother was always concerned about her people who adored her, visiting them regularly in the 43 villages in the district at the time with me as a young boy, in tow.
Our mode of transport was by taxi as there weren't any buses back in those days the late 1930s, the 1940s and 1950s. It was just after the cart and horse era. I am afraid it is always the colour of money that inspires people to claim something that is not theirs.
The appeals tribunal is going to sit in Labasa next month. The question the tribunal should ask these pretenders is, "where are your people and whom do you represent?" Simple.
Meanwhile, the Tui Labasa, Adi Salanieta is in Suva preparing for the NLC appeals tribunal and has engaged the services of top Suva lawyer, Wendell Archibald, to represent her and the Qomate family. "Meanwhile, life goes on," she said.