Abstract and Keywords
This concluding chapter brings together the central insights of this volume and offers some concluding thoughts. It considers the history and nature of resistance in Fiji before asking what kinds of continuities and discontinuities emerge therefrom. The chapter then goes on to make deductions on people’s colonial experience in Fiji based on their resistant behaviors, as well as the kinds of periodisations that emerge in the brief histories detailed in this volume and what causes them to surface and fade. Moving further, the chapter considers this study’s role in relation to the possibility and value of writing subaltern history and of reading Fiji’s history against the grain. Finally, it outlines some of this book’s contributions to the present and future history writing in Fiji.
THE PRINCIPAL PROPOSITIONS that emerge from this study are best framed as answers to the following questions. What does the study reveal about the history and nature of resistance in Fiji? What kinds of continuities and discontinuities emerge? What kinds of deductions can be made about people’s colonial experience in Fiji based on their resistant behaviours? What kinds of periodisations emerge and what causes them to surface and fade? What does the study suggest about the possibility and value of writing subaltern history and of reading Fiji’s history against the grain? And, finally, how can this book contribute to present and future history writing in Fiji?
First, the study suggests that resistance in Fiji is best understood in terms of a plurality of forms. Clearly, there was no singular unitary monolithic anticolonial resistance in Fiji. Resistance features as a constant but partial component of an untidy mixture of other constituents such as collaboration, consent, appropriation, and opportunism, which together formed the colonial landscape. The continuity of resistance through this period becomes apparent when individual events are placed alongside each other on a chronological timeline. The Colo War of 1876, the Tuka Movement of 1878, 1885, and 1891, the plantation strikes of 1886 and 1887, the dockworkers strike of 1890, the Seaqaqa War of 1894, the movement for federation of 1901 to 1903, the Labasa strike in 1907, the Sawakasa rising between 1909 and 1912, the Tokatoka agitation of 1912, and the Viti Kabani of 1913 to 1917 show that large conflagrations were few and relatively far between, but regular enough to show some continuity.
When the ceaseless forms of everyday resistance are placed alongside these larger conflagrations, resistance is shown to have run almost uninterrupted (p.215) for the first forty years of colonial rule. The murmurings of the people in the 1870s and 1880s, the regular flaunting of the laws on village absenteeism, the struggle against taxes culminating in the movement for federation, the long and uninterrupted boycott of the Native Lands Commission, the outbreak of luveniwai between 1885 and 1887, the state of quasi–civil war in Labasa from 1895 to 1907, the potential for and actual retributive attacks on employers by plantation labourers, the evasion of work, the desertions and sabotage, the numerous petitions and letters of complaint, all fill the gaps between larger upheavals. In this light, resistance appears to be a permanent feature of the colonial terrain. Therein lies the value of a broad survey. It shows resistance occurring in a wide range of places at varying levels and in multiple forms. There was violent and nonviolent resistance, personal and collective contestations, organised and undeclared movements, and overt and covert defiance.
At best, however, the continuity indicates that the people were constantly engaged in the shaping of their lives and in the form that colonial rule took in their localities. It also shows that various colonial and indigenous authorities had their hands full. However, it cannot be concluded that all people rebelled all the time. They did not. There is no continuous straight line connecting all types of resistance that forms a neat linear history of resistance in Fiji. Rather, one should speak of resistances and look for the multiple points of resistance where people engaged the multiple deployments of power.
Second, the study shows that points of engagement were diverse and widely dispersed. For instance, resistance movements were likely to arise in places that were historically independent of or opposed to Bauan, eastern, and other coastal chiefdoms. They were also likely to arise in places where Christianity was regarded as synonymous with the ravages of war, the enslavement of populations, and the alienation of lands. They also occurred in places where European and Bauan administrators were placed in charge of local affairs, including the extraction of taxes, ahead of more favoured local men. This was the shared experience of people in Colo and the western and northern parts of Viti Levu. It is in these areas that one finds the leadership for the movements, the greatest support for Tuka, the strongest political strands of luveniwai, the greatest concentration of converts to rivals of the Wesleyan mission, the core support for the latter phases of the movement for federation, and the greatest backing for the Viti Kabani.
However, in each of these cases, specific local conditions combined to produce important variations that break the appearance of a grand narrative of resistance. For instance, the religious evocation of the Nakauvadra gods in the Tuka Movement was a significant change from the call to arms used in Colo. But the mana derived from its Nakauvadra identity made Tuka simultaneously (p.216) less appealing for populations who derived their identity from other sources of legitimacy. The life of Tuka could therefore be continuous only within the domain of the Vatukaloko polity and its extended kinship ties.
This suggests that twenty years after Cession, many parts of the colony remained insular, disconnected from each other, and that resistance continued in such cases to reflect power struggles in local politics rather than conflict on the wider colonial stage. The movement for federation at the turn of the century marked a significant shift in this respect. It showed that a large number of Fijians spread across the country were sufficiently dissatisfied with their administration to join a settler-driven initiative to petition for a change of government.
In the following decade, conflicts continued to be fought at local levels. The mood of discontent in the early twentieth century was fuelled by a fear born out of the experience of im Thurn’s new land laws, which had triggered the sale of large tracts of Fiji’s best land. This had been aggravated later by the participation of senior Bauan officials, particularly in Tailevu and in Bua, in pressuring landowners into leasing prime land at underpriced rentals. Adding to this mood of disgruntlement was grumbling about maladministration, the inequitable distribution of workloads and rent monies, the continued tax burden, and frustration about the general lack of opportunities for self-advancement.
When Apolosi Nawai devised his plan for a company that would yield direct financial returns to them as individual shareholders, he found a mass of villagers eagerly disposed and prepared to respond to his organisational ability. It would put them (members of the Viti Kabani) in control of their own resources, thereby bypassing chiefly and European middlemen. Nawai’s style of leadership ensured that previously muted voices and grievances were publicly presented as Fijian demands to control the economic benefits of their land and its produce. In thus challenging notions of Fijian submissiveness, he gave numerous disconnected local grievances a countrywide unified expression.
Yet if Nawai and his scheme had united a large body of villagers across the entire colony, he had no influence among Indian immigrant labourers. Neither had Tuka nor the movement for federation. Because ethnic groups were compartmentalised into separate geographic and economic spaces, with little potential for interaction, the two main ethnic groups developed distinct strategies of resistance. Herein lies another reason to reject resistance as encompassing a total response to colonial rule.
Resistance was therefore fashioned in people’s immediate environments such as their homes, villages, and plantations, and was usually manifested against particular individuals such as husbands, elders, chiefs, sardars, overseers, (p.217) planters, clergymen, surveyors, and other officials of the administration. These struggles rarely arose out of a broad anticolonial feeling. Rather they came out of specific, immediate experiences of oppression, disempowerment, exploitation, suppression, intimidation, violence, fear, disrespect, and humiliation. This was not a permanent state of affairs and resistance was certainly not the only coping mechanism.
Third, in this maze of relationships, the lines of domination and resistance were drawn in diffuse and complex ways. In the process, many of the colonial power’s cultural forms were appropriated in the act of resisting. Resistance was a constituent of a wider and dynamic array of practices that were partly independent of and partly produced by colonialism.
Several examples from the study can be used to illustrate this point. The initial wave of Tuka in 1878 was against Bauan chiefs in the area and sought to reaffirm Rakiraki chiefs’ right to rule. Yet, fused with elements of Christianity and colonial soldiery, the second wave was much more complex. In appropriating aspects of foreign religion and culture, Tuka was never totally about expressing antagonism, nor was it wholly about resistance. In this way, Tuka was never one thing for everyone. It carried different meanings in each of the three phases and for the multiple protagonists who took part in them in their distinctive geographical and cultural contexts. It was antichiefs in some parts, anti-European in others, and anti-Bauan in others still. In most cases, it was about invoking a proud past to combat an unsatisfactory present in search of a better future.
Aside from religious syncretism, there were other forms of borrowing. The movement for federation shows people’s willingness to adopt an initiative sponsored by renegade Europeans even though both sides had very different motivations for seeking change. The petition, signed by an unprecedented number of Fijians (four thousand petitioners), was a legal document by which Fijians trusted they could secure long-term political change. In the past, Fijians had had ample opportunity to regard colonial law with suspicion, especially in the way it was interpreted by European lawyers and administered by European stipendiary magistrates. Yet when they were approached by European lawyers who, with the backing of Seddon’s New Zealand administration, offered a tangible way out of their distress, many believed that the colonial legal framework could be used to strategic effect.
Many other Fijians chose to use colonial law for their benefit. In the early years of colonial rule, some village women used it to escape from marriage or to terminate ill-assorted ones. Other Fijians used the law to maximise periods of absence from villages, effectively nullifying their chief ’s attempts to restrict their movement. In a different context and after a long boycott of (p.218) the Native Lands Commission, some Fijians decided that the NLC could be used as an instrument to protect, indeed to permanently engrave, their rights to land. As for indentured immigrants, after thirty years of experience, they had little reason to trust in the law. Yet when Manilal Doctor arrived, he gave them the opportunity to move their challenge of the CSR from the fields into the courtrooms.1
Education was another area subaltern groups identified as holding the key to mobility beyond the restricted confines of domesticity, village drudgery, and agricultural labour. While many Fijian villagers used Christian education as a stepping-stone for self-advancement, the response of Indian labourers was more ambivalent. They feared being dominated by a foreign form of ready-made thought, but they also feared losing out on the opportunity for self-improvement. In the end, they resolved to educate themselves by forming their own schools.
The Viti Kabani also functioned as a channel of resistance by appropriation. Capitalising on the spirit and ideals of free enterprise and the rationale of individualism promoted by certain sections of the administration (including governors im Thurn and May), Apolosi Nawai articulated demands for an end to chiefly exactions, a stop to land alienation, and a spirit of indigenous enterprise in which ordinary villagers could aspire to improve and keep returns on their labour and resources. Under his organisational ability, however, a movement of indigenous capitalist enterprise took on a political character and resulted in the formation of a rival administration that, in some places, effectively overtook the government. In all these examples, resistance cannot be reduced to a simple set of opposites. It must be understood as behaviour within a wider context in which appropriation, consent, and opportunism were equally important motives.
Hence, not all who joined popular movements were necessarily discontented. Many chose to follow out of desperation for a break from the suffocating reality of village life and a simultaneous sense of the opportunities for a different world that lay in such movements as Tuka, federation, and the Viti Kabani. These responses again were often as much about opportunity as they were about resentment and discontent. The study thus reinforces current views in Pacific historiography that argue that indigenous people behave in colonial domains in degrees of resistance and degrees of accommodation and appropriation, with a host of complications in between.2
One must therefore guard against imposing too much order and coherence on occasions of resistance. In colonialism’s untidy state of affairs, the intentions and rewards of actors were often quite divergent. For instance, Viti Kabani farmers may have made a choice for ideological reasons over economic (p.219) sense when they decided not to sell their bananas to Europeans offering higher prices. Yet these same resisters could have been oppressors in their own homes. By the same token, it is impossible to establish with certainty the role that women played in the Viti Kabani (or any other mass movement) or their views about how the Kabani might have acted as an avenue for their own personal advancement “as women”.
Fourth, although much of the resistance of ordinary Fijians and Indian labourers had an anticolonial dimension, it did not take place only in response to European actions or to colonialism as such. Such a view overstates the central importance of Europeans in the lives of ordinary people. For the most part, Fijians interacted with other Fijians, including times when the struggle was over the power to control. Unless they were working on plantations or in the sugar mills, or living in Suva, ordinary villagers seldom came into direct contact with Europeans. They were thus more likely to encounter repression from within the village structure and to express resistance against the primary enforcer of that structure: their chief. Constructing Europeans as a “race” that could be rebelled against simultaneously produces homogenised races masquerading as dominant and subordinate groups. The evidence confirms that there were several group relations that produced insider and outsider relations within subordinate groups. Power structures inside indigenous and subordinated immigrant groups produced many kinds of inequalities that prompted multiple and unequal struggles.
Europeans did not constitute a homogenous group either, nor could they exercise power in anything other than a tentative and fragmented manner. For instance, Europeans in Colo were not attacked because they were white. Rather, they were attacked when they threatened the independence and livelihood of Colo communities. They could also expect reprisals if they were perceived to be in alliance with Colo enemies. Similarly, on the plantations, labourers were just as likely to attack an Indian sardar as they were a European overseer. Race was thus only one of several factors that affected the exercise of domination and resistance.
There is also a danger in projecting “European” institutions such as “the missions” and “the administration” as fixed transhistorical entities. The prominence in resistance movements of such misfits as Henry Anson, Rev. Slade, Humphrey Berkeley, Hannah Dudley, J. W. Burton, C. F. Andrews, and Stella Spencer undermines race-based binary analyses of domination and resistance. Similarly, the actions of such high chiefs as Ratu Matanitobua, Ratu Rodomodomo, Ratu Tuivuya, Ratu Wainiu, and Ratu Manoa highlight the dangers of treating chiefs as a unified class.
It is clear therefore that intermediate positions existed at all levels of (p.220) domination and resistance. One is thus better served to look for complex dynamics of engagement in each individual case rather than being satisfied with one-dimensional formulae for an entire category. This is not meant to absolve European colonialism and capitalism of their oppressive features in the operations of colonial rule. On the contrary, it is an attempt to emphasise their greater intricacy.
That the colonial administration was heavily dependent on Fijian chiefs to deploy, enforce, and maintain power is not a new proposition.3 Yet chiefs were not always united. In the immediate post-Cession days, they were impaired from acting as a class by existing enmity and rivalry. Chiefs’ ability to act as a unified class was compromised by internal and external criticism. Chiefly rule was contestable and contested from within chiefly ranks and by the general populace. The chiefly “system” did not become such until much later, after years of refinement and reinforcement. More aware of the rewards of ruling-class solidarity, the chiefs of the 1900s behaved very differently from the chiefs of the late nineteenth century.
Yet chiefs rarely initiated or led resistance. Most of them formed part of the edifice on which was constructed the Fijian administration. They depended on it for their power and wealth. The chiefs who supported change could expect to be disciplined, dismissed, or even deported. In voicing their grievances, therefore, people were more likely to be led by fringe leaders such as Navosavakadua and Apolosi Nawai. The few chiefs who participated in popular movements of disaffection were usually not members of the administration.
The ambivalence of groups who were allied with the dominant culture is also noticeable on the plantations with the role played by sardars. Because they were dependent on management for their position of relative privilege, it was in their interest to enforce the management’s ruthless work regime. Yet some sardars came to the aid of their fellow countrymen. This in-between-ness was a dangerous position to be in. If they were perceived to be too violent, sardars often suffered tragic consequences at the hands of offended labourers. When they sympathised with or led protests, they could expect to be thrown back in the lines. While they do not fall within the scope of this study, the tensions and ambivalences within powerful groups are aspects of Fiji’s history that deserve more attention from historians.
The evidence presented in this study provides unequivocal support for the view that colonial power in Fiji was shaped in struggle, that it was fragmented and often fragile, and that its application in the daily lives of ordinary people was imperfect and susceptible to subversion. This is not a new proposition4 but merely serves to reinforce what Guha meant by “domination without hegemony” in a South Asian context.5
(p.221) The idea therefore that colonialism succeeded in imposing itself as a panoptic monolith, stamping out opposition and establishing a long and prosperous period of peace, order, and stability, is a fallacy.6 Colonialism never was a formidable autonomous and impervious force that spread itself completely over subordinate groups. Neither were other large systems of power such as the state, capitalist relations, or patriarchy. They were never so absolute that they could control everything within their realm of operation. Aside from the internal contradictions that constantly weakened them, their principles and practices were regularly tampered with, challenged, and altered by the multitude of actions and reactions of those they sought to dominate.
The evidence also emphatically supports the view that the agency of subordinate groups can never be left out of the equation of the colonial experience. The subaltern were always active participants in the making of their own destinies. As active participants, they were always less “wretched” than Fanon’s “wretched of the earth”.7 They were enterprising, engaging, and combative agents who managed to carve out relatively impervious social and cultural spaces from which to evade the control and surveillance of powerful groups. They broke the physical, legal, customary, and personal boundaries that bound them to people and places and impeded their personal development.
Yet these individuals and their numerous acts of protest should not be romanticised. Most plotted an existence which minimised the risks of confrontation with authority. They were well aware that open defiance would result in imprisonment and possible deportation. They therefore sought to cope with oppression as best they could without resorting to rebellion. In this way, Fiji’s subaltern groups resemble the African American slaves who, as Eugene Genovese has argued, adopted alternative strategies for survival when they found the odds for insurrection too long and uncertain.8 In this context, it is better to look for the unspectacular acts of everyday subversion rather than the cataclysmic events born out of collective transformational goals.
This survey also shows that Fiji’s colonised people did not constitute one homogenous block. They did not share one consciousness, one grievance, or one strategy to engage oppression. They were not consistently united in what they experienced and what they did. On the contrary, popular consciousness was characterised by fluidity, malleability, ambivalence, contradiction, occasional furtiveness and intermittent assertiveness. Although all people experienced some degree of disempowerment, their experience of and response to oppression differed from time to time, from group to group, and from place to place.
Other fractures that caused the fragmentation of Fiji’s masses consist of ethnic, geographic, and gender divisions. In the villages and on the plantations, (p.222) Fijian, Indian, and “Polynesian” men and women shared an experience of oppression and a history of resistance. Yet there was little collaboration or cross-ethnic solidarity. This is because ethnic groups and the different sexes were compartmentalised in spatial and economic zones. In these insular worlds, it was virtually impossible to transcend ethnic divisions. Cultural prejudices also militated against a broader “grassroots” coalition. Splintered into different interethnic and intraethnic clusters, the subaltern fought their own battles within their own immediate spheres of existence. Restrictions on movement between geographic entities also deterred communication between villages and between plantations. This is also true of gender relations. While men and women both shared the experience of resistance to domination, the patriarchal relations in both colonial and intraethnic power relations ensured that women faced an extra layer of subjugation.
History does not therefore proceed inevitably from the momentum provided by the powerful. Rather, revisiting history from below reveals dates, protagonists, and events that disrupt conventional demarcations of the past. For example, in the interior of Viti Levu, the measles epidemic of 1875 had far greater repercussions than the Cession of 1874. In other parts of the new colony, the post-Cession period was a time to take advantage of the new possibilities offered by a power vacuum associated with the transfer of power and to exploit the indecisiveness of chiefs and administrators. During this period the murmurings of the people received prominent attention from the highest echelons of the administration.
By the mid-1880s a significant shift had taken place. In response to numerous strikes and the spirit of insubordination that prevailed in Rewa in 1885 and 1886, the administration hardened its position and legislated draconian laws to stop gatherings of more than five labourers. The closure of channels for the expression of dissatisfaction and grievances would drive plantation resistance underground for the next few years.
The government’s intransigence is reflected in its response to the second wave of Tuka, which occurred at the same time as the labour unrest. The passing of the ordinance to deport Fijians who were dangerous and disaffected marks an important turning point in the management of resistance by dissenters. Yet in Ra, the periodisation of dissent began as early as 1873 with the battle of Nakorowaiwai and underwent several permutations that continued beyond the time frame of this study. Within this Tuka period, however, the year 1891 takes on a particular significance with the burning of Drauniivi and the onset of a long period of exile for several of the tribes of Vatukaloko. Such local periodisations are often lost in the larger narratives of colonial administrative and economic history. To acknowledge them is to recognise that in (p.223) reconstructing moments of importance, larger colonial demarcations must not override local history.
The publication of the 1896 Report of the Commission on Decrease of the Native Population marks another important intersection in Fiji’s history. On the one hand, it justified the intervention of the administration into the domestic lives of ordinary villagers and legitimised the regimentation of village activities and space. On the other, the report can also be reread, to borrow Vincente Diaz’s phrase, as a “moment of survival and vitality” among Fiji’s indigenous women.9 Read against the grain, the report signals the effects of an earlier period during which women undermined village patriarchy by variously avoiding marriage, seeking divorce, procuring abortion, withholding marital rights from their husbands, or escaping village patriarchy and finding sanctity in religious orders and institutions.
Another epochal shift is visible at the turn of the century through the movement for federation. This movement helps to explain how a major popular upheaval is often caused by the confluence over time of numerous grievances and acts of everyday resistance. The persistent opposition to taxes through the late nineteenth century created a climate conducive for a large number of Fijians to petition the King for a change of government. How much weight was given to the petition in the ultimate decision to retain the status quo is difficult to establish, but the importance of the petition is that Fijians across the colony formally expressed dislike for the way they were being governed. It also represents their ability and willingness to seize opportunities they thought would improve their political status.
These everyday forms of resistance did not originate in any revolutionary purpose nor did they deliver revolutionary outcomes. Yet, as covert forms of individual dissent, they were not inconsequential. For instance, the undeclared boycott of land registration from 1876 until im Thurn’s term of office had lasting consequences. The noncooperation of landowners in the registration of their lands in the previous thirty years ensured that in 1905, only a small quantity of registered native land was available for sale when im Thurn relaxed the colony’s land laws. Previous administrations’ failure to convince Fijians to register their lands meant that im Thurn could only access a small pool of registered native land. This slowed the process of alienation sufficiently long enough for other forces to intervene and reverse the new land laws before any more alienation could take place.
Another example of petty acts that contributed to major shifts is the process by which Kunti’s ordinary act of self-defence propelled an extraordinary movement of national and international significance. She had little idea that the story of her remarkable escape from the grasp of her overseer would spread (p.224) so far, so quickly, and with such effect. In deciding to run and jump in the river, Kunti may have acted out of sheer fear and desperation. But as a symbol of protest, the subsequent transmission of the incident by word of mouth, its recording in a letter of complaint, and its report in the Indian press, sent shock waves through India. Galvanised by nationalist leaders, public outrage precipitated a mass movement to end indenture. This case triggered a confluence of events that acquired extraordinary transformative effect. Admittedly, a complex array of forces was already leading to the abandonment of indenture before Kunti’s act of defiance. Yet it was the conjuncture of ideas and events that were brought together in this act that makes this case uniquely prominent in the way that other similar previous tragic cases were not. In the annals of indenture history, the 1910s thus mark the point when outside agency, including missionaries, Manilal, the Arya Samaj, the Indian and British governments, and public opinion began to play a major role in supporting labourers and securing the final demise of the system.
Apart from allowing alternate periodisations to emerge, reading and writing against the grain also warns of the dangers of accepting uncritically the memory of dominant groups as one’s own. Dipesh Chakrabarty has suggested that colonial archives can be regarded as at once indispensable and inadequate. This recognition works to facilitate the emergence of other sources and the alternative histories they hold.10 Writing in the Pacific context, David Hanlon has suggested that in addition to content, the medium by which history is recorded and transmitted also needs revising and decolonising.11 This has opened an exciting new field of cross-disciplinary historical investigation into indigenous ways of knowing, remembering, and representing. Local history, women’s histories, and peoples’ histories lend themselves particularly well to this enterprise. The vital point, as Gyan Prakash puts it, is that whatever form or content they adopt, historians must continue “to push at the edges, to unsettle the calmness with which colonial categories and knowledges were instituted as the facts of history … [and] shake colonialism loose from the stillness of the past”.12
Some readers will want to make connections between the past described in this book and the present political unrest in Fiji. History is certainly a great informant of the present. However, the current situation is at least as complex and multilayered as the historical period described in this study. Any inferences about continuities and change between the past and the present require much more space than is available here. Nevertheless, the instruments used in this book to disturb essentialist notions of Fiji’s past are the same that can be applied to interrogate and disrupt ill-considered singular ways of understanding Fiji’s present.
(p.225) Finally, I reiterate that the aim in this study has not been to tell the whole story. The whole story can only ever be told in short episodes and in a multi-vocal mode. Mine is a deliberately partial history. In the process of revisiting, revising, and reconstructing the first forty years of colonial rule in Fiji, I have sought the stories and voices that interrupt the chorus of dominant cultural and historical worldviews. I have tried to shake colonialism loose from the stillness of its Fijian past. Much shaking remains to be done and many gaps and silences remain to be found and recovered. But if I have succeeded in disturbing some received ways of knowing Fiji’s past; if I have presented an alternate way of reconstructing Fiji’s past; if I have identified previously muted voices and let them speak through these pages; and if the stories that I draw from them are credible and believable, I will have fulfilled my main objectives. (p.226)
(1.) The extent of Manilal’s responsibility in this is yet to be determined. A detailed study of his career in Fiji has yet to be written.