Friday, October 09, 2009

Ratu Mara - A Colossus of the Pacific

Remembering a colossus - Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tuimacilai: A Life of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was four years in the making.

It is the first major biography of Fiji's late president and prime minister, who was the dominant political figure in the period leading to Independence and in the first decades of nationhood.

It was said of Ratu Sir Kamisese that he bestrode Fiji's political stage like a colossus.

To some his height and quick temper meant he was "the towering inferno"; others gave him god-like status.

His achievements were numerous. But most of all he was known for his advocacy of multi-racial co-operation, through a philosophy of dialogue and consensus he called the Pacific Way.

Tuimacilai is the latest book by the historian and author Dr Deryck Scarr.

It is printed and published as a joint venture between the Fijians Trust Fund and the Australian company Crawford House Publishing.

It will be launched in Suva on Fiji Day, Saturday October 10th, by Ratu Sir Kamisese's close friend Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.

Sir Robert Sanders, for many years secretary to Ratu Sir Kamisese and cabinet, knew the late leader better than most.

He describes Tuimacilai as a monumental work adding, "I would certainly call it definitive."

"To those of us who knew him the whole account rings true even without all the evidence so studiously gathered, interpreted and synthesized," says Sir Robert.

He compliments Dr Scarr for making sure Ratu Sir Kamisese's "very considerable achievements are fully recognised."

Here are some brief extracts and summaries from Tuimacilai, the first public disclosures of the contents of the biography:

"..he was forever navigating between discordant interests and aspirations in his re-emerging nation until the year 2000 when he became overwhelmed at the end of a very long walk along a political tightrope".

Dr Scarr saw Ratu Sir Kamisese as odd man out among the chiefs of his era. He had attended four universities, reading medicine, history, economics, political science and colonial administration. By conversion he was a Roman Catholic among Methodists. "Above all," writes Dr Scarr, "he was recognised as likely to see much more moral force in Indian political claims than most other Fijians were likely to do."

Psychology of a community: "As he remembered and as was often remembered of him too, he had actually taken full note of Indian aspirations throughout his time in district administration. 'In many instances I felt that their main problem was a psychological one,' he recalled in 1972, as prime minister with an election coming up. 'They felt that in spite of the role they played in the development of this country, they were not recognised as any more than itinerant immigrants who could possibly be sent away again. Having this understanding of the Indians, whenever I have the opportunity to serve them, I make sure that I serve them as fairly and honestly as I serve any other citizens in Fiji.' "In his diaries, though, his concern for his own people predominates, Ratu Mara wanted rapid results for Fijians in industrial as well as agricultural development."

Quoting from a letter by Ratu Sir Kamisese to his mentor and relative, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna: "By the way, there will be no peace of mind if we keep on underlining the differences between Indians and Fijians. Neither race seeing anything in common. One thinking the other privileged."

Quoting G K Roth, author of The Fijian Way of Life: "Ratu Mara is an outstandingly able and intelligent young chief holding some remarkably unorthodox views on the Fijian social system and administration."

On the role of chiefs: "As a high chief from an established dynasty, and so the living representative of a creator god, his ascribed function was to serve as a central co-ordinating agency and in his formative years it was generally axiomatic that chiefs would or should lead in modern politics too."

Impatience: "Behind their hands, the young Fijians of his think tank said that it was doubly fortunate that he had never gone on to be a surgeon, because so impatient a man would hardly have waited for an unpunctual anaesthetist before making the first incision."

As a child at Levuka: "Ratu Mara was photographed there at about eight years old - a bare-foot boy in shorts and shirt, handsome, solemn, reserved, wary and not altogether happy, or perhaps merely shy."

Ratu Sir Kamisese on race and racialism: 'Race is a fact of life as language is a fact of life and these facts will have to be reconciled with progress. .. racialism is an evil, but also a reality"... "racialism is a cancer, a malignant growth; you cannot confine it to one race only."

Recollections from Oxford University: "My memories of him are vivid", wrote his modern history tutor, Mr A F (Pat) Thompson, nearly 60 years after taking him on. "Invariably dignified, his presence greatly reinforced by his youthful stature. Economical with words, but something of a wit when he uttered. Quietly competent, not a natural third by any means. In the late '40s, when there were schools lunches as well as dinners, I remember him striding round the quad after one lunch, completely under control after putting away phenomenal quantities of drinks. He was a truly heroic drinker in a very booze-ridden period."

Being hungry at Oxford: "In secluded gardens behind the college, he went scrumping (pinching) pears with Ratu Penaia because, big men that they were, they were so hungry for so much of the time."

A favourite Biblical text: "Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage: Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord Thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."

Quoting Dr Peter France on Ratu Sir Kamisese as a good listener: "He would ask questions and then subsidiary questions and you would find yourself talking to him for half an hour and only on leaving him realise that you hadn't the faintest idea of what his thoughts were on whatever you'd been discussing."

Socialising with Pat and So Raddock: "In houses like the Raddock's ... he was free to relax, joke, pour the wine, wrangle with Pat about cricket and poke fun generally."

Complaining when Adi Lady Lala Mara took her time when the couple were ready to go out: 'Clean people don't need to bathe,' he might comment when his wife lingered in her bath and they were going to be late for some cocktail party."

No comments: