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The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Custom

Tenures in Rewa

page 366

Tenures in Rewa

Rewa is the most perfect example of a Fijian state known to us. Even its disruption in the great war with Mbau in 1845 has not been able to snap the ties that join the various units to the central power. So intimately is the question of its political constitution connected with the tenure of land that it is impossible to avoid giving it at some length.

The supreme government of the state was vested in the spiritual and temporal chiefs, the Roko-tui Ndreketi and the Vunivalu, who was the head of Nukunitambua. Unlike the system in the rival confederation of Mbau and many other native states, the spiritual chiefs had not yet parted with their executive power, nor had the Vunivalu yet succeeded in reducing them to a position of secondary importance. Before the great war between Mbau and Rewa, every clan had its part to play in the state. Below the two great families of Narusa and Nukunitambua, the spiritual and the temporal, which divided the power between them, were the six clans that formed the Sauturanga (lit. defence of the chiefs). These clans owed the superior chiefs no service but that of leading the army into battle and of conducting ambuscades. They also supplied the matanivanua (heralds or aides-de-camp). In order of battle they were the horns of the net—that is to say, while the main body of the army held back in cover, they led simultaneous flanking movements under cover of the grass or trees, and fell upon both flanks of the enemy at once, driving them into the arms of the main body, who were lying in wait. They were land-owners, and received thokovaki rent from their tenants, but they supplied no thokovaki produce to the two governing families.

Next to these in rank were the chiefs of the allied states of Mburebasanga, who were the nkase (elders) of the Rewa chiefs and of Notho. These were only subject to Rewa in so far that they were pledged to order their vassals to perform work for the supreme chiefs. Of course this tie arose from the Rewa chiefs having at some remote time conquered them and come to live among them, and in the case of Notho, page 367through the Notho people as fugitives, having obtained leave, on the condition of tribute, to settle upon land belonging to Rewa.

Next to these came the Kaso (cross-beams), who were perhaps originally descendants of the younger sons of chiefs. The Kai Nalea, the first of these, were the hereditary priests, whose power was broken in the reformation already described, and next to them were the Kai Mbuli, who had as tenants the Kai Malase.

Next came the trade clans, the fishermen of Vutia, Nukui and Nasilai, the carpenters of Ndorokavu and the Tongan sailors of Nambua and Singatoka. All these tribes owed service to the chiefs in the exercise of their trade, and received grants of land from time to time in recognition of their services.

Below these again were the free yeomen, the Kai Nandoi, and the villages of Nakuru, Ndrekena, and Veiniu, called collectively the Kai Mbatikeri. Next and below them came the Muainasau; below these again were the three clans whose lands were in the mangrove swamps, and who were therefore called Nkalivakawai (water subjects). These were the Kai Norothivo, Kai Tavuya, and Kai Naiteni.

Lastly came the villeins, the Kai Loki and the Kai Nandoria, who were adscripti glebœ, and whose proprietary rights in the soil were so slight as to be almost indefinable.

The Kai Vanualevu enjoyed a remarkable status. They were the sacred tribe (Nkalitambu), and they owed the chief no service. Their special function was the investiture of the Roko Tui Ndreketi in the ceremony of the yankona drinking, but this privilege does not seem to have conferred upon them any special rank. Nevertheless, in such veneration did they seem to have been held, that no one dared to plant on land they had vacated. It is possible that this tribe are descended from the same ancestors as the chiefs, and perhaps from an elder branch, but that, owing to some tribal upheaval, the younger branch came to the front, and with the loss of power the consideration in which the elder was held dwindled away to this merely nominal status.

page 368

While the change from the independent Fijian state to a principal province of the colony has done much towards obliterating the old distinctions, it has not materially affected the customary law bearing upon land tenure. Clans who are thokovaki tenants of the Rewa chiefs, such as Waivau, Vanualevu, and Vuthi, having been included for administrative purposes within the boundaries of the Tailevu province, are now required by law to render tributary service to Mbuli Tokatoka, while they still continue voluntarily to pay tribute to their landlords at Rewa. In this respect the establishment of a settled government has accentuated in some measure the degree of their subjection. The taxation system, in requiring that land held by individuals shall, for taxing purposes, be regarded as communal property, has forced upon the natives a retrogressive movement in their views of land tenure, but otherwise the tenure remains unchanged. When the laws that now govern the native race were framed, very little was known of the real nature of the services rendered by commoners to their chiefs. The levies of the chiefs were thought for the most part to be exercised in virtue of some kind of divine right, or at least, if exercised in connection with land, to be in virtue of the chief's exclusive ownership. But it certainly never occurred to any of the members of the Governor's Council that lata was merely another form of rent. It this had been so, assuredly some steps would have been taken to see that lala was only exacted by the proper landlords. For twenty years lala has remained very loosely defined, but unfortunately it has been often necessary to replace hereditary chiefs by well-conducted persons of inferior rank, and the lala has been allowed to be exercised in virtue of office, rather than heredity. All the native feelings of justice have naturally been outraged by their being required to pay rent for their holdings to the mere nominee of an alien Government, while the one person who, in their minds, has a right to demand service from them is prohibited from doing so. In every instance they have continued voluntarily to pay their rent, and have grudgingly yielded a second tribute to the Government nominee, and page 369have further paid in respect of their lands a tax to the Government. If there has been murmuring against the present form of native government, it has been due, I am convinced, to this cause. In one respect the cession of the colony has affected land tenure in a marked degree. It has put an end to the continued transfer of land that flourished under the ancient custom. With the abolition of heathen customs and the cessation of native wars all reasons for permanent transfer have been swept away.