Sunday, May 27, 2007

The fear of losing the land


I had a disturbing call from home yesterday.
My uncle and head of our tokatoka (clan) was surprised by a news item he heard broadcast on Thursday night.
That news item was about some concerns that Fijians who own native land stand to lose their land if a current move being orchestrated by a prominent Indo-Fijian lawyer based in Ba is allowed to go ahead.
It quoted Fijian lawyer Kitione Vuataki, who had raised the concerns after he intercepted a circulated letter by Dr Sahu Khan calling for the setting up of a three-member committee to review legislations covering native land in Fiji.
I told my uncle that the news he heard was true – there’s concern being showed by prominent indigenous lawyers and some landowners on the issue.
I also told him that all Fijians who own land must now stand up and raise their concern about such a move happening.
The risk of losing the very thing that we can fall back on and is part of our livelihood is a reality – now that the only body that can ever oppose that move has been suspended.
Vuataki had raised the issue with the media on Thursday in Suva.
He also raised the concern in line with the current suspension of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) – drawing a comparison to what happened way back in 1904. Back then Governor Everard Ferdinand Imthurn suspended the GCC for six years.
That gave him time to amend the Native Lands Act which resulted in Fijians losing 200,000 acres of land.
“The law at that time was for him to call the GCC which he did not do for six years in which he amended the Native Lands Act from which the Fijian people lost 200 thousand acres of land,” Vuataki revealed on Thursday.
Vuataki said the fact that there was a similar move being orchestrated now was very worrying.
“Really worrying when you think about the fact that the GCC is now suspended,” he added.
Vuataki and fellow Fijian lawyer Ratu Save Komaisavai have gone to court to try to stop such a move happening.
A copy of the paper presented to the Fiji Law Society by Dr Sahu Khan clearly stated his belief that Fijians should not be deemed to own 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the lands in Fiji, which have been classified as native land.
Khan argued in his paper that Clause 4 of the Deed of Cession provided: “That the absolute proprietorship of all lands not shown to be alienated so as to have become bona fide property of Europeans or other foreigners or not in the actual use or occupation of some chief or tribe or not actually required for the probably future support and maintenance of some chief or tribe shall be and hereby declared to be vested in Her Majesty, her heirs and successors.”
Khan argued that the only land which was not vested in the Crown are:
* lands as at 10th October 1874 not alienated to the Europeans or other foreigners;
* lands which were as at 10th October, 1874, not in the actual use or occupation of some chiefs or tribe; and
* lands actually required for the probable support and maintenance of some chiefs or tribe.
Khan’s argument goes on to say that actual use or occupation must mean those lands which literally occupied or used such as villages and house sites and the small farms or teitei.
He argues that such lands included Nailaga village or Votua village in Ba. But lands in Maururu, Veisaru or Koronubu, which are many kilometres away from the lands which were actually used or occupied are not included in this, saying that all lands that are bare and unoccupied could not be included in the exemption provision.
Khan then further stated that it was important that a determination is made on which lands in Fiji came within the exemptions referred to in Clause 4 of the Deed of Cession before one could even think of determining who shall fall or qualify for the ownership of lands in Fiji.
Khan also slammed the Qoliqoli Bill pushed through by the deposed SDL government, saying that the Bill was discriminatory against foreigners and only favoured Fijians.
Vuataki and co believe that unless something is done now to stop the move proposed by Khan and his buddies, Fijians will lose more than just their land.
Now, what my uncle was worked up about is the fact that our Tokatoka Kabe and Mataqali Dromudromu of Tuatua Village in Koro own a lot of land.
Our family land in Kabe extends from the beachfront right up to the Kuitarua Peak, where a Telecom Fiji station is currently located.
Our tokatoka is quite large in number and our forefathers had ensured that all my uncles and aunties had their share of the land while they were growing up.
The land is used manily for farming, except for Kabe, where we had lived while I was growing up.
Over the years we had been planning to divert the land into a tourism spot since we have a beautiful beachfront, lush forest and water sources readily available.
What my uncle was concerned about was the news he had heard.
The fact that we might lose that land did not go down well with him.
That news brought out the nationalist within him.
The fact that an Indo-Fijian lawyer is behind the move that could see a repetition of what happened between 1904 and 1911 got him worked up.
He said that Fijians have been very accommodating. On our island we’ve lived with a number of Indo-Fijian families.
We treat them as members of our community, we help them out when they need help and they in turn assist us when we need their assistance.
My uncle also stated the fact that in the past Indo-Fijian leaders have always been respectful of Fijians, and this has been reciprocated.
But he feels that time is changing and there are many “foreigners” now trying to determine our future for us.
He said that people should refer to the Bible and follow tales passed down over the years.
Fiji was for Fijians to rule and decide and India was for Indians to live in.
The fact that Indo-Fijians are now a major race in the country does not give them the right to decide anything about the land that we hold dear to our hearts, my uncle said.
I tried to calm him down, told him that the news was just that and nothing had been decided as yet.
I also told him that Momo Frank no doubt would be weighing his options, especially about the land issue, knowing full well how sentimental and emotional Fijians are about their land.
And I also urged him to get the people back home to pray about the issue and ask God for divine intervention.
I said that I would keep him on tab and update him if something comes up.
After that long conversation on the phone, I sat back and reflected on my uncle’s worried tone.
It then hit me on the head – Fijians are really left bare without the GCC to protect them.
Trends now slowly materialising show that surprises will be part of Fiji’s future.
Good or bad we will just have to wait and see.
There’s one thing I can testify to though!
Now, more than ever before, I am starting to really appreciate God’s gift of land to my family.


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