The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Custom
It was here that the first mistake was made. The chiefs' privileges were well understood; their limitations had never been studied. It was known that the chief could command the gratuitous service of his subjects, provided that he fed them while they were working for him. It was not understood that each confederation had its own system of privileges. Mr. David Wilkinson, the Native Commissioner, had a most complete knowledge of the Confederation of Mbua, and he seems somewhat hastily to have assumed that the Mbua system prevailed mutatis mutandis throughout the group. Nor does he appear to have clearly understood the difference between the chiefs' personal privileges and his right to impose taxation for the good of the commune.
In the native mind the distinction is very clearly marked. There are, in fact, two distinct kinds of lata. The first, which I will call "personal lala" was the payment of rent in the form of tribute or service to certain powerful chiefs by the tenants settled upon their land. The second, which is best described as "communal lala," was taxation in the form of tribute or service on behalf of the commune.
It is necessary to draw a clear line of distinction between communal and personal lala, because while the former was universal throughout Fiji, the latter was limited to those confederations in which the chief had private rights in the land, and also because the two forms of lala originated in totally different institutions, which are by no means confounded in the native mind. By Europeans, both official and "anti-official," they seem always to have been confounded. To the critics of the Colonial Government the word lala is synonymous with "authorized oppression," or, as a recent writer chooses to call it, "legalized robbery"; to the framers of the Native Regulation No. 4. of 1877, the two were so confused that they are enumerated haphazard without any attempt at classification. In that regulation lala is limited to house-building, planting gardens, road-making, feeding strangers, cutting and building canoes, and turtle fishing. page 67By Regulation No. 7 of 1892, the communal aspect of lala was extended by giving any resolution of the Provincial or District Council that had received the written assent of the Governor the force of law. The exercise of lala was limited to the Roko Tui of the province, or the Mbuli of a district, and the penalty for disobedience to their lawful commands was a fine not exceeding 2s., or fourteen days' imprisonment in default, with a slightly increased penalty for a subsequent offence.
Now, of the limitation set forth in the Native Regulations, house-building, canoe-building, planting gardens and fishing turtle belong to personal lala, though they may occasionally be applied for communal purposes; while road-making, feeding strangers and complying with resolutions of the Native Council are certainly exercised for the good of the commune. And yet the Regulation, put into the hands of a number of official chiefs, by no means entitled them to personal privileges that were only due from tenants to their landlord.