I noticed in today's Fiji Times a feature article about the research of Kirstie Close in Fiji. Vinaka vakalevu Kirstie to having the persistence and energy to look into church history in Fiji. Good luck with your studies. I think the most interesting part of study is when discovering something, when putting the jigsaw pieces together, to see the courage and strength and failures of people in our history and to learn from that. It is interesting to link up with the story of Ranawai because history is written from a point of view which may be rather biased or prejudiced. I hope that Kirstie's thesis may give some light on the Fiji stories that may have been misrepresented.
Fijian methodist church independence
Saturday, December 25, 2010
I arrived in Fiji on 11 November all set for adventure. I am a PhD student from Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. My thesis is looking at the independence of the Fijian Methodist Church. The starting point of my thesis has a personal element. I am the descendent of some of the Methodist missionaries to Fiji, including the Waterhouses and Leleans. My great-grandfather was Arthur D Lelean. He was the nephew of Charles O Lelean, or 'Uncle Charlie' as my grandma (aka Granny) calls him.
Arthur Lelean came to Fiji in 1918, newly married to my great-grandmother Doris, for their first posting at Niusawa on Taveuni. While they were there my two great-uncles and my grandmother were born. It was after they moved to Nailaga in 1923 that they had my great-uncle Drew. And this is around the point in time that I start my thesis.
As many in Fiji will know, Apolosi Ranawai was a big influence in these parts. In 1923 he returned from his first exile in Rotuma. I knew there had been suggestions from historians that Arthur Lelean had been working alongside Apolosi Ranawai but it was not really clear as to how or why.
I was fortunate to be accompanied by Deaconess Unaisi Matawalu to Nailaga where we began a series of meetings throughout Ra province to see if we could get to the bottom of this supposed collaboration between Apolosi and Arthur. I wanted to know exactly what they had been up to.
I definitely need to thank Deaconess Matawalu, but also to the Talatalas and their families at Nailaga and Tavua, and also at Lautoka for being so hospitable as we went on our journey.
My Fijian language skills are pretty hopeless (though I am happy to report they have improved since I got here!) and so without the Deaconess I would have been in big trouble.
We had our first clue as to what Arthur was doing at Nailaga. We visited the matanivanua who told us that Apolosi and Arthur had lived as neighbours, with a road dividing their homes, which faced each other. We thought this to be quite significant and a sign that they at least must have known each other and kept an eye on what the other was up to.
We also went to Votua where we learnt of a healing practice used by healers connected to Apolosi that was very similar to the practice that Arthur used when back in Victoria, where he returned in 1936. He had said that he learnt the skill while in Fiji - could he have learnt it from Apolosi?
On we went to Tavua, where the Talatala kindly accompanied us to Yaladro. I had known that here, Arthur Lelean had assisted in the establishment of an independent farming scheme for Fijians. This involved the movement of Fijians from their original villages to these designated areas to work the land, particularly to do sugar cane farming.
We spoke for a while with one of the elder men at Yaladro. He knew of Arthur, and spoke about his work with their chief, Ratu Nacanieli Rawaidranu. Rawaidranu sounds like a fascinating man - educated as a surgeon at the Fiji School of Medicine he had tended to this man at one stage in his life.
This man told us too, that there had been an agreement signed on 29 September 1929 between Ratu Rawaidranu, Arthur Lelean, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna and Mr Abraham from the Colonial Sugar Refinery to say that the community at Yaladro and Toko would be independent farmers.
The community faced extremely hard times to start with, with hunger and poverty reflected in the names of their children (Osoto - meaning 'patience'; and Kanawai - 'eat water').
Part of the agreement, in addition to the idea of those in the community being exempt from communal duties to their villages, was to establish an independent, Fijian Methodist Church.
This was supposedly the aim for missionaries wherever a mission was established, but sometimes it seemed like incredibly slow going to achieve that independent status. Arthur and Rawaidranu agreed that 500 pounds and 100 tabua would be collected to present to Synod as a means of requesting an independent church.
The money and tabua were presented in 1941, however the request was denied as it was not supported by chiefs or missionaries from other parts of Fiji.
The war was also seen as a hindrance.
After these initial interviews, the Deaconess and I parted ways so that she could get to her business with the church and I to my archival research at the National Archives of Fiji.
There is a wealth of information at the archives and I strongly encourage anyone who has an interest in the history of Fiji to visit them.
I had attained permission from the Methodist church to look at their archives and so was able to read the correspondence from and to Arthur Lelean through this period, and also right up to the point when the church became independent in 1964. This was all very enlightening and thickened the plot a bit. There were letters from 'Uncle Charlie' to say that the serpent had gone to Melbourne to meet with Arthur and Doris while they were in Australia on furlough.
I still have not quite figured out who the 'serpent' is, but I think it was probably some reference to Apolosi. So, the plot thickened!
While in Suva I took the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the Methodist Church, past and present, and am so grateful for the time that I spent with them and also at Wesley church. I am hoping that my research will be of interest to them.
After speaking with them I have decided to try and extend my research past the point of the church's independence, up to the point where Reverend Josateki Koroi was the elected President. It should make for a very rich study into the church's history.
After three weeks in the archives, I met with the Deaconess again, this time at Lautoka. We travelled over to Tavua again, where the Talatala and his family once more looked after us. We spent a very special evening at Toko where we discussed the history of the farming scheme once more. We learnt a lot here about Ratu Rawaidranu and the agreement that was made between him and Arthur.
We also met with some of the great-grandchildren of Apolosi Ranawai. While I still am not 100 percent sure of their working together, I think our great-grandfathers had similar interests in promoting economic progress for Fijians through business and particularly agriculture.