Four: The Custom Explanation
The roots of the custom explanation for the coup reach back to Fiji's earliest recorded history. Pre-colonial Fiji, a melting pot of ancestral Polynesian, Melanesian, and Western Polynesian influences, had a strong tradition of chiefly rule. Differences existed between the methods of social organization of western and eastern Fiji: the chiefly hierarchy was especially well-developed and entrenched in the essentially Polynesian society of the east, less so in the more Melanesian west. By the nineteenth century, warfare was virtually continuous and the dominance of one group over another was only ever temporary.
The act of ceding Fiji to Britain in 1874 was a desperate attempt by one high chief, Ratu Seru Cakobau, to maintain power. Cakobau had made his base in Bau the most powerful confederation in Fiji, but this was at risk from various quarters. Important among these threats was that from the Tongan chief Ma'afu, based in the islands of Lau, who had formed an alliance (the 'Tovata') with the chiefs of Cakaudrove (Northeastern Fiji), and was posing a challenge to Cakobau's pre-eminence. Cakobau's gamble paid off. The presence of the British halted these grand power struggles.
Cession had two dramatic effects on traditional Fijian society. The first was to freeze the power struggle at its 1874 'state of play', with Bau pre-eminent. The Tovata, which may otherwise have soon gained the upper hand, was forced to acquiesce to cession, and the west was taken to be of little importance. The Bauan dialect became the national form of the Fijian language. Bauan, Cakaudrove and Lauan chiefs formed the hub of the colonial Fijian aristocracy. In some cases, areas of Fiji which had only recently been defeated in battle by another area were permanently recorded by the British as being 'vassals' to their (otherwise temporary) conquerors. Finally, 'Fijian lands, or what was left of them after the chiefs had enthusiastically sold those of their enemies' (Routledge 1985:218), were decreed by the colonial administration to be inalienable.
The second effect of Cession was the restructuring of the chiefly system itself. Governor Gordon wished to retain chiefly paramountcy, mainly for romantic reasons noted previously, but also because Britain was concerned with administering the colony as cheaply as possible. By introducing a system of 'indirect rule' through the chiefs, the British simplified the task of controlling the Fijian population (Roth 1951).
The old system of chief-selection was, however, no longer viable. Previously, a chief, though noble by birth, often gained elevated authority through violence, and if he proved a poor chief, lost it through violence, either at the hands of his own people or at the hands of a conquering army. The British might have avoided many problems had they introduced some form of 'negotiated' selection of chiefs. But instead they adopted the system they knew best, that of heredity. After the 1870s, a chief came from his region's 'chiefly family', the title essentially passing to his eldest son. Unless things went very wrong, he held the title for life.
The British had created Fiji's own 'aristocracy'—a group of families thrust into high positions and kept there by virtue of lineage. With the passage of time, these families intermarried and consolidated their position. They increasingly came to identify their own interests with those of the nation, at the same time as those interests were in fact gradually diverging.
As the twentieth century progressed, the chiefs, and in particular the eastern chiefs, developed a community of interests with Fiji's European population. They experienced only a few minor challenges to their pre-eminence among Fijians, and these were all overcome. Thus, in 1970, the chiefs, through the Alliance Party, inherited the reins of government of the newly independent Fiji, under a system designed to guarantee them power through an electoral coalition of Fijians and Europeans. As was discussed previously, the chiefs formed the heart of independent Fiji's ruling class, and in fact were its most distinguishing feature.
Chiefly dominance and power
The importance of the chiefs and therefore of custom in Fiji's politics has been stressed by many observers, and many link it directly to the coup. Foremost among those who do are Lawson and Norton, but information relevant to this explanation can be found in works by Robertson and Tamanisau, Lal, Bain, Anthony van Fossen (1987), as well as others. Custom was, however, largely neglected by journalists at the time of the coup. A notable exception was Robie, who wrote in July 1987:
It is the changing attitudes among indigenous Fijians that the chiefly aristocracy fear as the primary threat to their power and authority, not the Indians (Robie 1987:12).
The chiefs' dominant position among Fijians was coming under threat, and in the mid 1980s these threats were epitomized by Labour. Lawson has succinctly stated the problem for the chiefs which then arose:
The coalition under Bavadra's leadership sought to break down the constraints that had been imposed on political discourse by the perpetuation of the plural society syndrome and to draw attention to a community of interests between ordinary Fijians and Fiji Indians. This constituted a major threat to the foundations on which chiefly power in the modern sphere of democratic politics was dependent (Lawson [Hagan] 1988a:1).
For most of the century of colonial rule the overwhelming majority of Fijians remained loyal to their chiefs. The absolutist nature of chiefly rule, says Lawson, was 'reinforced on the one hand by the early policy of indirect rule based on eastern structures and requiring a strong chiefly system and, on the other, by lingering superstitious fears' (ibid.:14). Fijians had limited opportunity to escape this system: even into the 1950s, Fijians settling in towns 'could by law be returned to their villages' (Bain 1989:14). In 1956, 73 per cent of Fijians still lived in villages, with another 16 per cent in rural areas, and those who lived outside villages (in breach of regulations) maintained their customary links (Ward 1987:35). But by 1976, only half of all Fijians lived in villages. The other half found links based on village activities harder to maintain, and the chiefs' presence became less easily felt. Fijians were gradually reducing the importance of the chiefly system in their lives.
Some who still lived in villages were also becoming disillusioned. According to custom, the chiefly post carried with it many responsibilities for looking after the village. With increasing governmental administration, this role waned, and some chiefs even became 'absentee nobles', living in Suva or other centres. With chiefly selection largely hereditary, chiefs became less accountable to their villagers, and some neglected their responsibilities. Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau noted this problem in 1982:
[If the chief] neglects his own chiefly obligations, his power begins to wane. He won't be able to get things done, and that unfortunately is what is happening in some places today (quoted in Keith-Reid 1982:15).
Ganilau agreed that 'some commoners were questioning chiefs in a way that hadn't been customary before' (ibid.:16). Allegations of official corruption which arose in the mid-1980s (see section 5, this paper) did nothing to ease this problem.
As was discussed in earlier (see section 2), the perceived Indian threat to Fijian-owned land was of concern to many Fijians. But problems arising from chiefly management of that land also contributed to discontent within the Fijian community. Nearly a quarter of all rent for Fijian land goes directly to the chiefs. Gerard Ward, in a pre-coup study, recorded that:
If the mutual obligations ... were observed, much of this 22.5% might be used for the common good. ... Often it is not. Rents from communal land have made some individuals very wealthy (1987:43).
Robertson and Tamanisau note a further problem with land ownership, raised by Labour's Krishna Datt in 1986:
Some mataqalis, he claimed, had only two or three members, yet owned thousands of idle acres. Others with a large number of members had little access to land (quoted in Robertson and Tamanisau 1988:33).
The problem went back to Cession. Mataqali which had many members in 1874 shrank over the next century while others grew, yet land ownership did not change with population. Before Cession, it would have done so automatically, through accepted mechanisms and warfare.
Labour planned to address these problems by encouraging the use of unused crown, freehold, and native land (Pacific Islands Monthly November 1986, p.22). In July 1986 Bavadra said:
Steps must be taken to nationalise the benefits derived from land use in Fiji ... so that all Fijians not just a few benefit. ... We must discuss means to achieve a more equitable distribution of income from rent within the landowning group as well (Robertson and Tamanisau 1988:32).
Such talk, it has been argued, horrified those chiefs who were busily spending their rent for personal gain, and those who ruled over a mataqali with a few people and a large amount of land. Other chiefs saw the moves as a threat to the entire chiefly system. Unfortunately, Bavadra did little to dispel their fears, at one meeting saying 'the Fijian people ... should question whether they can continue to entrust their future in such leadership' (quoted in ibid.:34). Ironically, Labour's 'tradition-threatening' land-use policies would probably have provided a closer approximation to pre-1874 usage than the post-colonial system had achieved.
The 'east/west divide'
Another major source of discontent has been the 'east/west divide'—the divergence in interests of Fijians in the central and western areas of Viti Levu on the one hand, and Lau, Vanua Levu, and the eastern coast of Viti Levu on the other. This division has its origins in the politics of the pre-Cession era, and since then has been accentuated by the political dominance of the eastern chiefs. The colonial government exacerbated the problem by settling Indians mainly in the west and then proceeding to develop the 'Fijian' east at its expense. Cane farming, gold mining, forestry, and tourism have all largely been based in the west, yet governments since independence have continued the pattern of eastern favouritism (Robertson and Tamanisau 1988:15-16).
The major vehicles of Fijian rebellion against chiefly dominance have all drawn strength from the east/west divide: Apolosi Nawai's 'Viti Kabani' of the early twentieth century; the Western United Front party of the 1970s and 1980s; the Fijian Nationalist Party under Butadroka (an opponent of eastern chiefly dominance); and in 1987, the Labour Party. Robertson and Tamanisau, stressing the economic aspects of the east/west divide over its customary roots, have championed this explanation for Labour's unpopularity with the ruling class. Labour, they say, 'deliberately set out after 1985 to inherit the tradition of western discontent' (1988:17). In fact, the majority of observers have given the east/west divide at least some weight in their explanations of the coup. This is hardly surprising, as the problem's importance had already been firmly established by pre-coup literature. In the face of this almost total consensus, then, Scarr's dissension seems almost capricious:
The relatively mild linguistic and cultural divide running north-south across ... central Viti Levu is sometimes made to bear a heavier political weight than it will carry (Scarr 1988a:3).
It is possible that Scarr considers the support shown by western chiefs for the coup to be evidence of the east/west divide's unimportance. Today's western chiefs have, however, shown that they consider themselves to have more in common with other chiefs (even those from the east) than with commoners (especially Labour supporters). They have attempted to use the coup as an opportunity for their own advancement: as Lawson (1990:15) notes, 'a group of western chiefs (and supporters of the old Alliance) ... proposed a fourth confederacy for the [western] Yasayasa-Vakara provinces', to match the existing confederacies of Tovata, Burebasaga, and Kubuna.
Nicholas Thomas has questioned whether there actually has been any 'tradition of western discontent'. His main objection to the concept of the 'east/west divide' is that movements based in the west have each drawn strength from different regions and different causes of unrest. Thomas also points to conflict between regions of the west, and the actions of western chiefs just discussed, as signs that the area is not 'unified' in its opposition to the Alliance and the east. But this reasoning overlooks the many cases where internal divisions within a group have been outweighed by common interests.
Thomas (1990:134) also states that
it is questionable whether the 'tradition of western discontent' can be regarded as a unitary historical phenomenon. The 1876 uprising in the western interior did involve the issue of political autonomy ... but also reflected a long precontact history of tribal warfare.
Thus, by his implication that tribal divisions established before European contact have little to do with modern Fijian and Fiji politics, Thomas dismisses the very foundation upon which the east/west divide has been built. In view of the evidence presented hereto, such a dismissal is quite unjustified.
For various custom-based reasons, then, (as well as the previously discussed reasons of race and class) Labour, and hence the Coalition, was seen as a threat by Fiji's chiefs, and its eastern chiefs in particular. Bavadra himself served as a constant reminder of that threat. Bavadra's home was a small village in the west. He was head of an itokatoka (a subgroup of a mataqali), and married to a member of a minor chiefly family, but to all intents and purposes was a commoner. As Robertson and Tamanisau (1988:106) put it, commoners were at best to be tolerated, 'as long as they did not attempt to usurp Mara's chiefly position to all Fiji. The father of independent Fiji should not be defeated by a commoner'.
What, then, was the chiefly reaction to the Coalition's election victory? They must have seen it as an attack on all that was dear to them. A sizable minority of disillusioned Fijians had abandoned the chiefly party—the Alliance—for the first time. Many were westerners, and westerners 'descended on Suva to celebrate Bavadra's win' (Norton 1990:135). Bavadra (quoted, ibid.:134) had said that 'the chiefly system should be separated from democratic politics', and seemed to be in a position to put his words into effect, at a time when, says Lal (1988a:51), the chiefs 'in recent years had begun to harbour ambitions of enlarged roles for themselves in modern politics ... they wanted to be the chiefs of all of Fiji, not just of the Fijian people'. Bavadra's attempt to demonstrate his respect for tradition by visiting the Vunivalu of Bau, Ratu Cakobau, would have done little to quell this chiefly unrest. At an Alliance post-election dinner, says Scarr, the Tui Vuda, Ratu Sir Josaia Tavaiqia, 'was seen to beat upon the table in his sense of frustration at the chiefs' government's being overthrown by a man of lesser rank from his own village' (Scarr 1988a:39).
The official reaction from the three most prominent members of the Fijian chiefly system, Mara, Ganilau, and Cakobau, was outwardly one of calm. Mara wished the new government well (Pacific Islands Monthly May 1987, p.11), and Ganilau and Cakobau urged Fijians to respect the people's choice (Pacific Islands Monthly June 1987, p.19; although dated June, this issue was prepared before the coup). Such statements from such highly-ranked chiefs would have placated many unhappy Fijians, and probably helped the new government gain acceptance at first. Adherents to the custom explanation, however, say that behind the scenes many chiefs and their supporters were working to aid the Coalition's demise.
According to Robie, their main tool was the Taukei Movement: through it, 'the chiefly elite had seized on racism as a desperate means of retaining their political domination' (1989:217). Robie has gone into some detail about the tribal and even family links of various members of the Movement and other players in the coup, many of whom owed their loyalty to the Tovata confederacy. But the possibility of a tribal conspiracy has been downplayed by Robertson and Tamanisau:
Close relationships characterize the Fijian ruling class and not only of the sections supportive of the coup. ... The coup network was not exclusively Tovata-based. ... Representatives from other regions were also prominent. ... Their allegience is political, not tribal (1988:98-99).
For champions of the east/west divide and the theory that eastern chiefs were behind the coup (although they explain this in class terms), this seems a curious criticism to make. Robie's claim is that a network of supporters of the chiefly system orchestrated the coup. As the chiefly system favours the east, Tovata people were prominent in this network. But the chiefly system has many supporters outside the east; the presence of 'representatives from other regions' in the network therefore hardly contradicts Robie's thesis.
The Taukei movement, Rabuka and chiefly authority
Robertson and Tamanisau themselves state that 'the Taukei movement was derived from the old Fijian ruling class and replicated many of its tribal and kinship features' (ibid.:98). But they qualify this description, as do others: the Taukei Movement was largely a commoner movement. It had some chiefly members, but no high chiefs; its interests, while closely aligned with those of the chiefs during April and May 1987, were not identical with eastern chiefly interests. Since the coup, the power struggle between the Taukei Movement, the eastern chiefly elite, and Rabuka (who has aligned himself with one or the other as necessary for his own purposes) has become complicated. This is little surprise; now that the Coalition and Indians have been almost completely removed from the political picture, internal divisions within the pro-coup forces have had room to develop and become obvious. Some in the Movement have even complained about the high chiefs' domination of the Republic's government, embracing the same concept (that high chiefs should remain separate from politics) which caused Bavadra so many problems. In all of these machinations, the Movement, Norton says, has resembled 'earlier episodes of ethnic militancy', in that it has been 'unable to promote a Fijian ethnicity separately from the ideology and symbolism that affirmed the legitimacy of chiefly leadership' (1990:147).
But after the April election and at the height of the coup, these problems were yet to emerge. The Taukei Movement was then staunchly pro-chief. At its first meeting a prominent Kubuna chief lamented that 'Ratu Mara's government has been defeated and so all the chiefs in the land have been defeated'. One of the Movement's leaders, Taniela Veitata, reported that these words 'stirred [members'] hearts'; 'The basis of the Taukei Movement', Veitata proclaimed, 'is that the chiefs are from God and the Fijians are to uphold the chiefly system' (quoted in ibid.:139-40).
Rabuka attended Taukei Movement meetings before launching his coup, and his interests appeared to be broadly aligned with those of the Movement. At the height of the coup he preferred to describe himself more as a fellow-traveller than as a member of the Movement. There is no question, though, that Rabuka believed in customary values; this belief is implicit in No Other Way. 'The chiefs are the wise men in Fijian society, guardians of our tradition', he said in July; 'take that power away and give it to the commoners and you are asking for trouble' (quoted in Lal 1988a:52).
One of the better accounts of Rabuka's ties to the eastern chiefly elite has been given by Scarr. Rabuka, Scarr says, identifies himself as a bati, a fighting man of his turaga or chief (who happens to be Ganilau). Customarily, says Scarr, 'the relationship between turaga and bati was symbiotic. The bati as defender of the borders was a very independent vassal. His support that gave the chief power could be withdrawn' (Scarr 1988a:131). Rabuka considered his actions to be forcing the hand of the high chiefs; he was acting boldly whereas they had made only timid moves in public. He was, however, somewhat unsure of the level of their support, if not that of the wider chiefly community. Had the high chiefs opposed his coup, he may well have withdrawn and accepted failure. At one stage, when Rabuka considered the governor-general to be an intransigent opponent, he announced to a gathering of 700 troops: 'The penalty for treason is death and if this is to be my destiny, then I will accept it' (quoted in Robertson and Tamanisau 1988:78). Ganilau and Mara, however, to Rabuka's great relief, both came out in support of the broad thrust of his coup (see section 5, this paper).
Had they so wished, the ability of all chiefs to stop the coup could have been significant. They still commanded the loyalty of most village Fijians (Ganilau once asserted that there was nothing the chiefs could not ask of their villagers—Keith-Reid 1982:17). Strong condemnation from chiefs of Rabuka's actions would have left him with no power-base. But the defeat of the Bavadra government was in their interests. To get an exact measure of the thinking of the chiefly community before the coup is difficult, as its prominent collective body, the Great Council of Chiefs, did not meet in April or early May. But immediately after the coup, the chiefs' strong feelings became clear. The Council met on 20 May and immediately endorsed the coup (Scarr 1988a:86), prompting Rabuka to call the Council his 'biggest fan club' (quoted in Lal 1988a:52). The chiefs, say Robertson and Tamanisau, 'saw the coup and a changed constitution as a last attempt to restore a false memory of Fijian unity and chiefly respect' (1988:131).
Post-coup 'consensus' government
In the years immediately following the coup, the Great Council of Chiefs acted as Fiji's surrogate parliament. The chiefs took particular advantage of the process of constitutional revision which Rabuka set in motion. The Council's early proposals were aimed at restoring 'consensus' government, under which Fijians would no longer vote directly for parliamentary candidates, but would exercise their influence at the village, district, and provincial levels. Tagupa has described the consensus system as
requiring prolonged discussions in a formal, face-to-face setting, punctuated with ceremony and protocol. The opinions of paramount personalities are accorded deference and great weight. Most important, personal accusations, a favourite device for politicians, are avoided altogether as a vulgar breach of protocol (1988:139).
Such a system would eliminate almost all possibilities for dissent within the Fijian community, exactly as the chiefs would wish.
The consensus system did not persist into the final version of Fiji's new constitution, promulgated by presidential decree on 25 July 1990. The system finally enacted, however, as Don Dunstan has described, 'provides a means by which Fiji would be ruled by an oligarchy of Fijian chiefs and their associates however the majority of citizens were to vote' (1990:9). The extent of this chiefly domination deserves close attention. Under the 1990 constitution the Great Council of Chiefs chooses 24 of the 34 members of the Senate, and the president (who will thus almost certainly remain a high chief). The president, in turn, chooses nine senators, and chooses the prime minister from the House of Representatives. On the prime minister's advice, the president appoints the various ministers, who can be drawn from the appointed upper house as well as the elected lower house. Thus, those occupying almost all of the key governing positions of Fiji are or can be appointed rather than elected.
The prime minister remains an elected representative, and must command the support of the majority in the lower house, but the electoral system virtually guarantees that this majority will be supportive of eastern chiefly rule. Naturally, the possibility of any significant sharing of power with Indians has been removed: they elect only 27 of the 70 seats. One seat has gone to Rotumans, and five have gone to those who do not qualify to vote as Fijians, Indians, or Rotumans.
But it is the method of electing the 37 Fijian seats which is most telling. Their domination by supporters of chiefly rule has been guaranteed in a number of ways. First, all seats in the House are now elected communally, so Fijian seats are elected by Fijians only; the Fijian seats won by Labour in 1987 were national seats, with voting on a common roll, and would not have been so won without Indian votes. Secondly, only five Fijian seats (14 per cent) are allotted to urban areas, where a third of all Fijians live; urban Fijian voters had been critical to the Coalition's success. Thirdly, the 32 provincial seats are 'unevenly distributed, again heavily advantaging the supporters of the regime' (ibid.). For example, Lau with 14,000 Fijians has three seats, as does Ba (in the west) with 55,000; Rewa and Naitasiri with 98,000 Fijians have four seats, while Namosi has two seats for 4,000. Finally, all Fijian voters must be enrolled or establish their eligibility to be enrolled in the Vola ni Kawa Bula, the register of Fijians in their customary family units which establishes any rights to land. Many Fijians (particularly those living in towns or away from their home province) are not so enrolled, and would be discouraged from doing so by the complicated process involved. Thus they are and will likely remain ineligible to vote as Fijians (ibid.). They will be forced to vote on the 'others' roll, which in turn means that the five 'others' seats could well be held by Fijians.
Not only Indians, but also the majority of Fijians, have been electorally discriminated against in the 1990 Constitution. Furthermore, the Constitution's protection of chiefly interests goes beyond the electoral system. Freedom of expression may be limited by laws
for the purpose of protecting the reputation, the dignity and esteem of institutions and values of the Fijian people, in particular the Bose Levu Vakaturaga [Great Council of Chiefs] and the traditional Fijian system and titles (Section 13(2)(d)).
Freedom of movement may be restricted 'in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, [or] public morality' (Section 15(3)(b)). A major future role for the army is also guaranteed: the RFMF is to ensure 'the security, defence and well being of Fiji and its peoples' (Section 94(3)).
None of the operative parts of the Constitution can be altered except by a two-thirds vote in both houses, including the votes of at least 18 of the 24 senators appointed by the Council of Chiefs. The 1990 Constitution therefore guarantees that power in Fiji will remain with the chiefs and their supporters.
The chiefs could hardly have gained more by the coup. This, of course, is the reason why those who knew of it beforehand made no effort to prevent it, and why most supported it once it had happened. It also leaves open the strong possibility that some may have helped plan it. The chiefs' motive was fear: fear of losing their power to commoners and Indians; fear of modern class politics diminishing their relevance; fear of losing the respect and support of disenchanted commoners. The race, class, and custom explanations all help explain the motives behind the coup, but the chiefs and their staunch supporters were the critical element in ensuring its success. The coup's initial popularity with many Fijians was due largely to the efforts of this elite, who claimed that the only issues involved were the simplistic issues of race and land, and that the coup would benefit all Fijians. Neither claim was true—as more and more Fijians have come to realize in the years since.
Only one event confuses the post-coup picture of chiefly interest: Rabuka's second intervention. On 25 September 1987 Rabuka reasserted military control, announcing that Ganilau's interim government had strayed from the coup's objectives. At first, this seems to cast doubt upon the custom analysis; as Robertson and Tamanisau point out (1988:152): 'despite his rhetoric of compliance to [sic] the chiefs, [Rabuka's] second coup overthrew the country's two highest chiefs, Ganilau and Mara'. The champions of the racial explanation for the coup hold this up as further validation of their argument; Rabuka, they say, brought the interim government back into line with the goals of the Fijian race.
The second intervention was prompted by the Deuba Accords, an agreement reached between the Coalition and the Alliance for both to take part in a new caretaker government under Ganilau. During August and September, support for the Coalition had been growing, partly in response to Fiji's chaotic post-coup economy and a dramatically increased crime rate. The Coalition's 'Operation Sunrise' campaign received, in the (perhaps exaggerated) words of Robertson and Tamanisau, 'massive support' in Fijian villages. In mid-September a poll claimed a 'massive loss of Fijian support for the interim government' (ibid.:134-35). According to Robertson and Tamanisau, Mara and Ganilau, both 'old party stalwarts',
read the writing on the wall. Their survival lay in collaborating with the Coalition, not in pursuing the Taukeist vision. ... If [the Alliance] could ride on the wave of the Coalition revival, something might be salvaged (ibid.).
During meetings in Deuba (which were greeted with noisy demonstrations by the diminished Taukei Movement) the Alliance, the Coalition, and Ganilau forged a deal which promised to set Fiji on the road to respectability. Bavadra agreed to drop a challenge to the legality of Ganilau's dismissal of his government which had been before the courts. Ganilau claimed that the consensus deal had Rabuka's support; but the Accords 'shocked the Taukei Movement' (ibid.:138). The coup, Norton says, had created sufficient 'confusion about the locus of ethnic leadership' for Rabuka to yield to Taukei Movement anger and stage a second military intervention (1990:145). A convincing rationale for the intervention has been given by van Fossen:
[The Deuba Accords] appeared to give little or nothing to the minor [chiefs] and ethnic extremists who had risen to public prominence since the first coup and who favoured the recent recommendations of the Great Council of Chiefs which would carry Fiji into the second stage of ethnic relations. But more crucially [they] gave little assurance to Rabuka and his fellow officers who had led the first coup and who were fearful of their future if civilian rule returned (1987:30).
The second intervention, then, was carried out against the two highest chiefs (and the possibility of any future role by the Coalition) to guarantee the interests of the majority of chiefs and for Rabuka's own protection. The authors of No Other Way admit that Rabuka 'didn't trust the caretaker government as far as his own safety was concerned' (Dean and Ritova 1988:104). Rabuka thought that the Coalition and 'other prominent people in society, some chiefs in the mountains, and some who would like to be chiefs' had been 'influencing Ratu Sir Penaia and changing his direction' (quoted in ibid.:105). The east/west divide ('chiefs in the mountains' being from central Viti Levu, the area with the most egalitarian customary structure) was therefore another factor in the intervention.
Of all observers, it is Scarr who best argues that the second intervention did not contravene custom:
It took a very rigid view of custom to claim it would not envisage or accommodate the bati going against the turaga. Bati have actually overthrown turaga before now, sometimes thereupon discovering the mystical essence of power in themselves and taking over the state (Scarr 1988a:133).
Neither did the two turaga remain resentful for long. Mara at first said he felt 'cast aside' and was 'going off to fish and play golf' (ibid.:130—as shown in the next chapter, 'leaving others to it' was a favourite political tactic of Mara's). But at a meeting on 5 October with Rabuka, Bavadra, and Ganilau, Mara said that he found Rabuka's minimum demands 'acceptable' (Bain 1989:195). Two months later he became prime minister of the Republic. Ganilau appeared, at first, more intractable, saying 'They will have to drag me out, either dead or in irons' (quoted in Robertson and Tamanisau 1988:143). But by 5 December he, too, was happy to accept the presidency of the Republic. A letter leaked from within Fiji to the Australian also reveals that Ganilau had at least four days' warning of the Taukei Movement's plans for a second intervention (Australian 26 September 1987).
The dismissal by Rabuka of the military/Taukei Movement government which had ruled Fiji from the second intervention to 5 December, and the subsequent reintroduction of the eastern chiefly elite, outraged some lesser chiefs and Movement members who wished to maintain their newly-found power and increased status. But Rabuka had given notice of his intentions a month after the intervention:
I hope it will not be long before I can hand it back to these two high chiefs to run the country. It has always been the wish of the Fijian people that their country should be led by chiefs, and this is what we aim to do (Message from Rabuka to his home village of Drekeniwai, quoted in Dean and Ritova 1988:105).
The language of custom (or rather, the language of 'tradition') has been prominent in the propaganda of post-coup governments. The strengthening of the chiefly system has been trumpeted as the strengthening of all the 'traditions' Fijians hold dear. This has undoubtedly been of great importance in bestowing validity upon the post-coup regime in the eyes of village Fijians.
But while the government almost certainly believes in the ideal of 'tradition', the impact its economic policy is having upon the foundations of Fijian culture—that is, day-to-day social and economic concerns—is undermining that very ideal. The Republic of Fiji's Minister for Trade and Commerce, Berenado Vunibobo, has, says Robertson, 'made it clear that in its rush to achieve the status of the first newly industrialized country in the South Pacific, Fiji cannot "afford to bend to environmental concerns"' (Robertson 1990:123, quoting Vunibobo). The government's economic policy is one of replacing cane fields with factories. For a government which wishes to uphold 'tradition', the effect of this policy of intensive development is ironical, to say the least. It is hard to imagine anything more devastating to the Fijians' village-based way of life than a full-scale industrial revolution. Furthermore, a total disregard for Fiji's environment (hardly carefully protected as it is) can only have a detrimental effect upon that same land which is uppermost among Fijians' concerns.
Talk by the coup-makers of 'tradition' appears, therefore, to be largely rhetoric. It is doubtful whether safeguarding 'traditional' political culture will also safeguard Fijians' everyday traditions. The rhetoric of tradition, however, like the rhetoric of race, has been critical to the success of the coup. It has shored up grass-roots support for the 'tradition' foremost in the coup-makers' minds: chiefly political dominance.
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