Volume 77 1968 > Volume 77, No. 1 > The founding of an orthodoxy: Sir Arthur Gordon and the doctrine of the Fijian way of life, by Peter France, p 6 - 32
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Sir Arthur Gordon and the Doctrine of the Fijian Way of Life

That ‘studded archipelago’, so rich in cotton, sugar, spices, drugs, dyes, breadfruits, and every kind of tropical produce, is now British territory . . . by the free consent of the inhabitants, both native and European, and by the force of circumstances which incontestably prove that Providence had ordained what England has so tardily consummated.


Addressing the Royal Colonial Institute. 1

Present on the occasion when members of the Royal Colonial Institute were thus stirringly apprised of the entry of Fiji into their family of nations was the man elected to order the affairs of the new colony in its formative years. Sir Arthur Gordon, youngest son of the 4th Earl of Aberdeen, was fully conscious that, by nature and nurture, he was Providentially ordained to a high role in the expanding Empire. For he was the constant recipient of what he termed “external leadings” which had guided him through the unremitting success of his early career. And it was, he felt, as an instrument of Divine purpose that he had been appointed Governor of Fiji. 2 In the temporal sphere also Gordon could call on unusually powerful support, for his career was under the - 7 active and benign surveillance of Mr. Gladstone and the Earls of Selborne and Carnarvon. To these circumstances may be attributed the confidence with which Gordon formulated and executed his policies, and his quite unusual degree of imperviousness to public criticism.

First appointed Governor of a colony at the age of thirty-one, Gordon had always demonstrated his independence of local pressure groups. In his governorship of the tropical colony of Mauritius, he showed himself so ardent in the protection of imported Indian labour against exploitation by planter interests that his administration was subjected to a Commission of Inquiry. Having been vindicated, he was disposed to handle with confidence the assertions of similar vested interests in Fiji. 3

It would have been difficult, in Gordon's own view, to have found a man more suited to the task of governing the new colony. His interest in the welfare of “native peoples” was, he considered, unusual for a man of his rank. He frequently drew attention in his letters and despatches to the long preoccupation with primitive cultures which had given him a unique ability to communicate with, and to understand, unsophisticated races. When submitting his proposals for native taxation in the new colony, for example, he informed the Secretary of State:

The question which I have had to consider was one with which I was not wholly unfamiliar, for the subjects of land tenure and taxation among semi-civilised races . . . though to some, perhaps uninviting, have long had for me a special attraction. 4

The confidence which Gordon possessed in his own judgment on matters relating to native customs, and his impatience with interference in his policies, sprang not only from his high assessment of his own capabilities but also from a conviction that he was able to achieve a uniquely intimate relationship with Fijians and an unrivalled knowledge of the workings of their society. His despatches on native affairs often set out, in considerable detail and without qualification, aspects of Fijian culture on which he considered the Secretary of State should be enlightened. These pronouncements were rarely free from the implication that he alone was fully aware of the real situation. The planters, who protested that their knowledge of Fijian affairs was based on long residence, were dismissed with Palmerstonian scorn. Gordon minuted on a Petition from the Levuka Chamber of Commerce: “I entirely dissent from the opinion expressed . . . that the white settlers generally ‘have exceptional opportunities for communicating with the Fijians and arriving at their true sentiments.’ The majority of them cannot speak Fijian grammatically.” 5 In his authoritative grasp of the true nature of Fijian society, he regarded himself as virtually irreplaceable.

As great a danger as that which arises from a change of ministers at home is that which springs from the extreme improbability that my - 8 successor here will share my views, or even if he does so, will have the same instinct which, by no merit of mine, I happen to possess for understanding natives, or the same absence of distaste for their society as equals. 6

Gordon set himself, from his first arrival, to project the image of a man who was at one with the native customs. Each morning yaqona was prepared at Government House and served to the Governor after the fashion of the land; 7 Fijian chiefs were invited there to dine with him; 8 he sprinkled his letters and diary with Fijian phrases and walked extensively in the bush without hat or shoes. Not surprisingly, his feet and legs were quite regularly injured as a result of this last practice. 9 He was frequently confined to bed with tropical ulcers, but persevered in the belief that, even in the heyday of muscular Christianity, he was setting himself apart from ordinary Governors by doing so. Encamped in the hills of Viti Levu, he noted in his journal: “I am very comfortable here, but I fancy most Governors would be very uncomfortable.” 10 To the end of his career in Fiji, Gordon thought himself completely in sympathy with the minds of the indigenes. On his departure he spoke feelingly of the impending separation: “All this pains me deeply, for my heart is the heart of a Fijian.” 11

Since Gordon's native policy was largely based on his personal belief that he possessed an intimate understanding of Fijian society, it is important to examine how justified was his assumption of familiarity with that society. To begin with, it must be admitted that Gordon was hampered by his inability to speak Fijian. Although he applied himself daily from the time he set sail for Fiji to a study of the language, 12 he never spoke it with ease or wrote it with fluency. The Fijian phrases which occur in his letters and journal are usually unidiomatic and often ungrammatical. 13 His speeches to Fijians were made through interpreters and it was not until his fifth annual Council of Chiefs that he addressed the members in their own language. After five years of constant study he found the experience a trying one.

I had determined this time to make my opening speech in Fijian, and hard work I had reading it over and over again aloud with Wilkinson, to obtain the proper pronunciation and emphasis. But I believe when the day came, I got through it with tolerable correctness. Of course, I read it from Wilkinson's translation of what I had written in English. 14

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Photo by Colonel Stewart, R. E., Sir Arthur Gordon and Capt. Knollys, A.D.C. in island kit.

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A gift for languages was not, it seems, included among Gordon's considerable talents. And though this does not detract from his ability as an administrator, it does mean that his knowledge of Fijian society and modes of thought was acquired through the medium of interpreters and so, necessarily, at one remove from reality.

There are many subtle ways in which an interpreter can give a false impression of a situation. When, for example, the interpreter is a subordinate government officer, he is always tempted to suppress unwelcome detail in order to give the impression that everything is as it should be. David Wilkinson, on whom Gordon chiefly depended for the communication of opinions to and from the Council of Chiefs, was, as will be shown, prone to stress the loyalty, enthusiasm and goodwill of their deliberations in a way which is belied by the extant records. 15 Any deficiencies in Gordon's grasp of the complexities of Fijian society may be in some measure attributable to the impression gained from his interpreters.

Gordon was further estranged from Fijians by his adoption of the position of a Fijian chief. Had he been content to remain a chief from Great Britain, observing, but not playing a part in, the rituals of Fijian society, he might have gained a clearer impression of its workings; but Gordon's aristocratic leanings, together with a penchant for the histrionic, led him to assume the position of ceremonial head of Fijian society. 16 On his arrival, he formally received what he thought to be Cakobau's “personal feudal submission in proper style”, 17 and each November thereafter he accepted gifts of “first fruits” from all parts of Fiji. “Where-ever I go now”, he wrote, “the natives shout Woh! and crouch down, as before their own great chiefs, and they admit and understand that I am their master.” 18 His house was declared tabu; all persons passing it on the road, or sailing before it in canoes, gave the tama, or shout of respect to a high chief. 19

Gordon also took upon himself the power to confer what he considered to be traditional dignities on others. He forced the unfortunate Des Voeux to drink a cup of yaqona from his hands, in token of installation as Acting Supreme Chief of the Colony; 20 he adopted Fijian ceremonial for the installation of the Roko, or administrative heads of the provinces, and seems to have thought that by doing so he was translating them into chiefs of the provinces over which they were appointed. 21

Gordon's adoption of Fijian manners provoked comment from old residents and missionary disapproval: - 10

One of the Governor's weaknesses is to try to imitate the Fijians—i.e., to act like a Fijian chief when among the natives—a great absurdity, for the imitation is always an imperfect one, and only exposes him to ridicule. 22

The missionaries were, of course, inclined to jealousy of anyone who tried to gain the familiarity with and power over Fijians which had long been theirs; but there is some justice in the remark that Gordon's imitation of a Fijian chief was “an imperfect one”. An instance of this is the installation of Ratu Lala, the Tui Cakau, in August 1880. Gordon recorded in his journal:

At the conclusion of the ceremonies, I declared the bowl of Yaqona just taken from the Tanoa to be that for the drinking of the “Na Turaga Ko Na Roko Ratu Tui Cakaudrove” thereby conferring that designation on Ratu Lala, who drank its contents. 23

The string of chiefly epithets is without meaning in Fijian custom, and the ceremonial action which Gordon appeared to think of such significance can have made no difference to the relationship between Ratu Lala and his people.

By accepting a position at the apex of the Fijian social structure Gordon had placed himself out of communication with all but the highest levels. He was hedged in by the ritual which surrounds a Fijian chief, without ever fully understanding its significance. 24 And of all the angles from which a European can examine Fijian society, that of the chief presents the most restricted vision. So long as his status is in doubt, a European may observe much, for there are no accepted ways of dealing with his enquiries. It is convenient for Fijians, however, to treat a European as a chief because there are set speeches and attitudes to be used in his presence which formalise, and therefore facilitate, social intercourse with him. These are such as to flatter his vanity without enlightening his curiosity. Gordon, who was ever eager for praise, must have found the overt recognition of his eminence gratifying on his many trips to Fijian villages. But he would be able to enter only one house; there would be only one place where he would be allowed to sit and probably only one person allowed to answer his questions. The whole of the community effort would be directed to giving the impression that whatever state of affairs he deemed to exist, was so in fact.


For these reasons there were necessarily imperfections in Gordon's understanding of those institutions of Fijian society which he sought to - 11 incorporate into his administration. The continued existence of the Fijian race was dependent, in his view, on the preservation of their traditions against the corrupting influences of the planter community. These influences were overt and directed at the transformation of Fijians into an efficient labour force by the gradual transference of land into the hands of the planters, thus creating a pool of unemployed, combined with the destruction of chiefly control to make the Fijians more tractable. On the day of Gordon's arrival in Fiji, the Fiji Times hailed him: “As aurora is the messenger of light to those who have suffered a long and tedious night, so may we regard the arrival of the Governor as a new phase in our existence.” The same page contained the paper's recommendation on native policy, which were that the authority of the chiefs must be destroyed:

As fast as the living old sovereign chiefs die out, let their territories be divided among the minor yali [sic] chiefs, each of whom should be appointed to some petty Government office, in connection with the native affairs of their respective qale [sic] at a nominal rate of wages. 25

Gordon's reactions were predictable. He had a strong sense of social justice and saw himself as a chief among chiefs, a gentleman among gentlemen, opposing the unenlightened self-interest of the trading classes. He was, further, able to justify a course of action to which he was by temperament inclined because lack of funds made him reliant on the services of the chiefs in his administration. He pointed out that it was, in practice, necessary to recruit the chiefs into government service because he could not afford European officers, 26 and in principle this was a good thing because:

It is of the utmost importance to seize, if possible, the spirit in which native institutions have been framed, and endeavour so to work them as to develop to the utmost possible extent the latent capacities of the people for management of their own affairs without exciting their suspicion or destroying their self-respect. 27

For this admirable design he has been justly praised. But the extent to which Gordon's system of native authority had its origins in the culture of the people it was designed to administer has, perhaps, been insufficiently considered.

Gordon claimed that the village councils, the district councils with the Buli at their head, and the provincial councils under the guidance of the Roko, which made up the substructure of his native administration system, were “purely native, and of spontaneous growth”. 28 He was not, however, in a position to discover the nature of traditional institutions in - 12 Fiji; and the diversity of cultures which existed throughout the group at the time of Cession makes it unlikely that any one system of government and social legislation would have been acceptable as a “Fijian” institution in all areas. The title “Buli”, for example, was taken from Bua, where it applied to a minor chief, and that of “Roko Tui” from the head of the priestly clan in Tailevu and Rewa. The confusion which these titles caused when applied throughout the group is amusingly illustrated by an anecdote related to the Fiji Society by a distinguished Roko, Ratu Deve Toganivalu, and quaintly translated by the Society's secretary:

The title Roko Tui is a stranger to those of the Province of Bua, as it was not the title of their position according to the customs of the land . . .a certain old man of Nadivanua in the district of Nadi in the Bua Province . . . thought the Roko was something from the land of the white man, which had been presented by the Government to the Province of Bua. . . . When the people of the District of Nadi were all assembled in the public square, Ratu Tevita Suraki, the Roko Tui Bua was seated on a raised seat, and this old man asked in a whisper from some of them: “Where is the Roko?” and then someone replied to him: “Don't you see him seated there?” Then the old man appeared astonished and said: “Oh! cripes! The Roko is a man forsooth; I thought it was some metal thing.” 29

Whatever outward semblance of a traditional or indigenous system Gordon's native administration possessed for European observers, Fijians clearly regarded it as an imported institution directly under the control of the Governor. The Roko not only bore a title strange to a large part of the group; he was quite plainly a civil servant, being described in the Native Regulations as “the deputy of the Governor in each several Province, and . . . appointed by him to rule and govern the native population . . .”. 30 On installation, the Roko publicly swore in the presence of the elders of the Province over which he was appointed: “I will certainly perform every thing which the Governor shall command.” 31

Although it had been a Fijian habit to discuss matters in council at a village level, or even at the level of a local group of villages in time of war, there is no evidence that the councils set up by Gordon were “purely native and of spontaneous growth.” 32 Assemblies of people had traditionally gathered for the interchange of gifts but the social intercourse was limited on these occasions. 33 The high chiefs rarely met in council - 13 until the imported institutions of government required them to do so. 34 The Council of Chiefs was directly subject to Gordon's authority, the regulation which provided for its establishment stating “The Governor is the originator of the Council and he alone can open its proceedings.” 35 Gordon demonstrated, on one occasion, the despotic nature of his relationship with the Council by threatening to dissolve it and never call another, on hearing that some of its members were drunk. 36

Of the native regulations discussed and approved by the Council of Chiefs, it has been held that:

This was the first code of Fijian custom set down in writing after discussion by representatives from all parts of the Colony and, generally speaking, the great body of custom that it contains had been understood for generations. 37

There are, in fact, few matters contained in these regulations which pertain to Fijian custom. They deal with the councils, the courts, marriage and divorce, the planting of gardens and the prevention of fire, theft, adultery, evil speaking, and the registration of births and deaths. An attempt was indeed made to codify the custom of lala or services rendered to the chief and the privilege was confined by regulation to the Roko and Buli. But this was unrealistic, since the services due to chiefs continued to be performed for them without legislative sanction, and the Roko and Buli who were not traditionally entitled to such services found the regulation frequently evaded.

Other regulations were completely foreign to Fijian traditions and embodied European ideas of public health and social stability. The chiefs decided, for example, that it should be customary, and therefore obligatory under the regulations, that a couple wishing to be married should have a house built before consent to the marriage could be given. 38 This gave rise to difficulties. In 1877, Roko Tui Ba complained that “It sometimes happens that the love of couples is in greater haste than the housebuilders are, and faults are thus committed.” 39

And in the deep and unfamiliar waters of the divorce law, where the separation of legality and humanity is complete, Ma'afu was moved to comment: “I think it ought to be lawful for the unerring only to get a divorce, but not adulterers, nor should it be given in cases where husband and wife are equally guilty.” 40 The proposal that legal severence should be the reward for righteous living was not accepted.

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It was, of course, necessary to introduce uniformity into the system of administration, and the indigenous “institutions of government”, such as they were, would have been too varied and despotic to have been incorporated into a colonial administration. The Fijian administration very soon established itself as the new mode of social control which supplemented and, in some respects, incorporated, that of the chiefs. To the European official it had the semblance, with its unfamiliar language, titles and observances, of an indigenous institution. But to Fijians it was an imported system of authority whose demands, and whose sanctions, reflected the way of life of the white man rather than their own.


The exigencies of centralised administration similarly affected Fijian attitudes to the land tenure systems of the group. Gordon had been instructed by the Secretary of State to devise a system of land administration “with the view of disturbing as little as possible existing tenures.” 41

The native system of tenure was held to be of immemorial origin, and well known throughout Fiji. 42 It was in accordance with Gordon's policy of retaining indigenous institutions that this system should be expounded, recorded, and preserved. He therefore asked the Council of Chiefs, in 1876, to outline the traditionally recognised rights to land so that legislation could be framed to provide for a system of registration which would embody them. The question was debated without enthusiasm but with much difference of opinion. 43 The chiefs seem to have been not at all sure of the “immemorial traditions” which governed the distribution and exercise of land rights in Fiji, and their early essays into formulating a definitive system for the whole group served to emphasise the variety of opinions held. Tui Bua considered that the confused nature of rights to land in his province was the main reason why his people neglected to plant coconuts and fruit trees. He suggested that the best way to settle the matter for the future was to divide the land among the people individually, so that each man might plant for himself. This proposal was supported by Ma'afu, who was able to point out how well such a system worked in Lau, and the chiefs agreed that the Governor be asked to consult with Wilkinson on the matter. They proposed:

Then let the land be divided among the occupants of it according to the families of the landholders, taking due consideration of each person's rank and position, whether they be Chiefs of the highest or minor rank, or the Chiefs of tribes, or the elders of families or landowners; and then let the land be divided in portions to the people individually, or in large blocks to families or tribes. 44

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This was not quite what Gordon wanted. He sought from the chiefs, not their views as to the best way to administer their land for the future, but a clear statement of how it had been controlled in the past so that the customary order might be preserved. He made a cautious, non-committal comment on the proposal and took no action.

The following year Gordon again asked the chiefs to enlighten him on the traditional system of land tenure; attempts to reach agreement on the subject occupied the greater part of their deliberations. The fragmentary minutes which have been preserved do not, unfortunately, record in detail the opinions expressed, though the entry “the tenure of land was discussed” appears frequently. The chiefs were unable to agree on the traditional rights and customs governing the disposal of land, and explained in their letter to the Queen:

The sittings of our meeting this year have been unavoidably prolonged because of consideration on the rights and customs affecting our lands. This being a matter of very serious and great importance, and difficult to determine satisfactorily, it is advisable that there be no delay in arriving at a speedy decision regarding it. At the same time it is necessary to take into consideration the customs in regard to the occupation and succession to lands, and the rights of tribes, and families, as well as individuals.
No definitive decision has been arrived at at this meeting regarding the partition of lands. So soon as matters concerning the above are clearly defined, we feel that our happiness and welfare will be ensured. 45

Gordon was on leave in England during the next sitting of the Council in 1878, but he had left a message requesting that the chiefs discuss a law for the final settlement of the land question; the argument was resumed.

Again the records of proceedings is slight, but sufficient remains to show that there was complete confusion among the chiefs as to the names of social divisions and units holding land rights. The fragments of the recorded discussions are valuable, not only as evidence of the diverse views held by different chiefs, but also as casting some doubt on the apparent assurance and unanimity with which the Council eventually delineated the principles of the Fijian land tenure system. When, for example, the matter of the social unit which should be registered as the landowner was raised, the following interchange took place:

Roko Tui Ba: There are many names for the divisions with us. Still, the difficulty will be cleared up when the law is framed. I am thinking of the solution of Tokatoka registration.
Roko Tui Bua: We have no divisions amongst us called Tokatoka.
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Roko Tui Ba: What is the meaning amongst us of a Tokatoka? Has it got various names, but meaning the same thing or not? Two bodies are firmly established, and known to us all, the Mataqalis and the Nai Koro.
Ilaitia: The Tokatoka is the Batinilovo.
Roko Tui Ba: The Tokatoka will not be understood: it is the recent branch of a subdivision. The mataqali is firm, and ancient, and understood by everyone.
Ratu Marika: If they are registered vaka Mataqali there will always be trouble and disputes. 46

Not only did the chiefs hold diverse views on the land rights which could appropriately accrue to a mataqali, they were also unsure of the meaning of the term in their society. It seems to have been generally agreed that the word was known in all parts of the group, and that it denoted a descent group of a greater or lesser order of inclusiveness. But its exact limitations were imprecise; Buli Serua, for example, introduced an alarmingly fissiparous notion by his statement that “my father's mataqali is called Natokalau—mine Nadruadrua, and my son's Nabatilili.” 47

The Council nevertheless finally passed a resolution calling for the registration of landowners in mataqali and for the definition of mataqali lands. To guard against the disputes foreseen by Ratu Marika, they suggested that the mataqali lands should then be subdivided into family land, to be held according to hereditary succession, and that registration of these lands should convey the legal ownership.

The myopic blandness with which Wilkinson reported these discussions to Gordon was to become characteristic of the European experts in native affairs:

They have adhered strictly to the customs and usages of the past, and what has been done has been simply to write down or codify the best-known, and the most common generally observed customs and rules followed throughout the group; and it is surprising to find how very general land customs are, in the majority of cases—any difference there is, is in mere names used—supporting very strongly a theory or legend they have amongst them, that land customs are from the beginning. 48

Again nothing was done to implement the recommendation. Gordon was in England when it was passed, and he insisted on being personally responsible for the development of land policy. In December 1879 the Council met at Bua, and for the fourth time, discussed the nature of customary land tenure. The subject was, by this time, a contentious one - 17 and the prolonged arguments had held out no hope of agreement on general principles which could be applied throughout the group. The chiefs were anxious to avoid the finality and formality of an Ordinance; they assured Wilkinson at first that legislation was unnecessary, they could look after the situation themselves. After five days, however, they agreed that the registration of land was desirable, in order “that there shall be but one general custom for all Fiji . . .”. 49 The Chiefs recommended that all men should be registered in their mataqali, together with their lands and that the registers should be approved by tikina and provincial councils before receiving the final confirmation of the Governor, which would make then “for all time to come proof as to the status and position of the lands of each district, qali, koro, and mataqali in the said Province.” 50 The Chiefs concluded their land regulations with an affirmation, the unanimity and emphasis of which were surprisingly at variance with previous discussions:

The beginning and the end of the matter is this: we repeat, and with one voice solemnly declare the true and real ownership of land with us is vested in the mataqali alone, nor is it possible or lawful for any mataqali to alienate its land. 51

This definitive statement finds no echo in the land legislation of precession native governments. It is totally at variance with the part played by the members of the Council in their land transactions with Europeans. To discover the origins and motivations of this public disclaimer by the Chiefs of rights which they freely exercised in pre-cession times, it will be necessary to consider the enquiries being conducted at this time into the alienation of Fijian lands. For the above statement of communal ownership and inalienability was framed by the same Council of Chiefs which had earlier welcomed to Fiji the newly-appointed chairman of the Land Claims Commission.


The Deed of Cession, whereby the full sovereignty and dominion over the islands of Fiji was transferred to the Queen, recognised the existence of European claims to land by excluding from the absolute proprietorship of the Crown lands which had already become “bona fide the property of European or other foreigners.” 52 An undertaking was given that all claims to land-title would be “fully investigated and equitably adjusted.” 53

Gordon brought with him to Fiji specific instructions on the manner in which this undertaking was to be fulfilled. He was directed to declare - 18 that the whole of the lands within the limits of Fiji had passed to the ownership of the Crown, “and that the Queen has the full power of disposing of the whole of the land in such manner as to Her Majesty may seem fit, having due regard to such interests as She may deem to deserve recognition under Article 4 of that instrument.” All Europeans having claims to land should be required “to give satisfactory evidence of the transactions with the natives on which they rely as establishing their title; and, if the land appears to have been acquired fairly, and at a fair price”, Crown grants were to be issued. A Commission should be set up to investigate claims to land titles; its powers should be restricted to making investigations and reporting to the Governor who, with the advice of Executive Council, would direct the action to be taken in each case. Gordon was warned that the claims of Europeans were likely to be in many cases excessive or unfounded, and that a most strict enquiry would be necessary. 54

His native policy required that Fijians retain a great deal of the land in the colony on which to develop slowly and in accordance with their own traditional institutions. It was, therefore, important that he should restrict the amount of land alienated to Europeans. Unfortunately the Deed of Cession had placed this matter beyond his control. Since alienated lands had been specifically excluded from the cession, the Government of the colony had neither control over them nor the right to decide on their extent, which belonged properly to a court of law. The lawyers of Fiji drew Gordon's attention to this fact; they insisted that he had neither the authority to investigate European land claims nor to grant titles over lands which had not passed to the Crown by the Deed of Cession.

Even when the Law Officers of the Crown confirmed that the contentions of the Fiji lawyers were correct, Gordon refused to accept that the control of land alienation should pass from his hands. Whatever the legal position, it was essential for the maintenance of his native policy that European claims to land be substantially reduced. He appointed a Lands Claims Commission and wrote privately to Sir Robert Herbert, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office, insisting that a way be discovered to get round the law:

I cannot too soon or too strongly impress upon you that the adoption of the course you now seem inclined to follow would be fatal alike to the settlers and the natives. Unless you find some means of overcoming the scruples of the gentlemen of the long robe, and substantially adhering to the original plan, the colony must go to pieces. 55

It is often regarded as the function of legal advisers to prove that that which is desired to be done is legal; and, having registered their protest, the Law Officers became tractable and eventually agreed to the passage of legislation which gave Gordon the position he sought. 56

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The Lands Claims Ordinance 57 provided that the Lands Claims Commission, strengthened by the addition of a barrister of seven years standing, should investigate claims to land. Its recommendations were to be submitted to the Governor in Council, who would make decisions on them, subject to an appeal to a special body consisting of the Governor in Council assisted by the Chief Justice and the Commissioner for Native Affairs. This meant that, in practice, Gordon's decisions were to be subject to review by a Judge who was a declared sympathiser with his native policy, and a subordinate officer whose duty it was to implement that policy. The decisions of the Board of Appeal were to be final and it would be incompetent for proceedings to be taken in a court of law for the enforcement of claims heard by this board.

Gordon had, at last, the power to reach finality in the settlement of European claims to land: the grants which his Government issued were to be indefeasible on the expiry of the time for appeal and the only way to secure a grant was to apply to the Lands Claims Commission. In accordance with his habit of ensuring that the implementation of contentious policies was in the hands of supporters, Gordon appointed to the office of Chairman of the Commission Victor A. Williamson, who had been a member of the Royal Commission which investigated and publicly approved his unpopular administration in Mauritius. 58

The only principle which had been laid down for the guidance of the Commission was the direction of the Secretary of State that they should establish that lands had been acquired “fairly and at a fair price”. Even allowing the assumption that the English sense of fair play is innate, traditional, and independent of external ethical systems, these directions were hardly adequate.

The Commission had to concern itself, above all, with Fijian traditional rights to land in order to discover whether the vendors of each claim were empowered, by their own custom, to alienate the land in question. On this matter there were a number of confused and conflicting authoritative opinions.

The most commonly held view seems to have been that represented by the oft-quoted maxim of William Pritchard, first British Consul in Fiji and self-confessed expert in the customs of Pacific islanders:

Every inch of land in Fiji has an owner. Every parcel or tract has a name, and the boundaries are defined and well-known. 59

Pritchard had propounded an obscure analysis of land tenure in which he variously located the right to alienate in different communal units of the people and in the chiefs who were their heads. Chiefs held - 20 the land, in Pritchard's view, under precisely the same tenure as commoners. Their personal rights attained only to the lands of their families. The whole tribe retained an interest in the land held by the component families as the collective tribal support given to the chief depended on the extent of these lands. But the chief was head of the tribe and therefore “certain rights to the whole lands of the tribe appertain to him. The tribe is the family, and the chief is the head of the family.” 60 His conclusion on the matter of alienation was as follows:

From this complicated tenure, it is clear that the alienation of land, however large or small the tract, can be made valid only by the collective act of the whole tribe, in the person of the ruling chief and the heads of the families. 61

It is not at all clear who are the “heads of the families” as distinct from the “chiefs”, what is the relationship between the families and the tribe, and in what way it is possible to ascertain whether or not the action of a ruling chief represents the “collective act of the whole tribe”.

A memorandum on land tenure had been prepared by J. B. Thurston, who was probably the most influential authority on Fijian custom at the time of the Commission's enquiries. 62 According to Thurston the Fijian tribal system and the tenure of land were neither complicated nor of a novel character.

From long and careful enquiry I am of the opinion that the people hold their lands from superior chiefs—that is to say, from their fathers or their gods—. . . under a system that has existed from time immemorial.
The principles of this system recognise the supreme chief as the grantor of the land and leave the usufruct only (subject to certain conditions) in the hands of the grantee.

Although this seemed to locate specifically the right to alienate land in the hands of the superior chiefs, the memorandum concluded with a qualification which made the matter obscure. Thurston claimed that, although the ruling chief had the right and the power (or he did not rule) to remove subject people from the land they occupied, such action would be regarded as unjust if there had been no failure on the part of the subject people to perform the services required of them at custom. There was some sort of reciprocal obligation, Thurston held, between chiefs and people, which gave both rights in the land: the subordinate chiefs and the commoners had no right to alienate the land which they occupied without the consent of the ruling chief, who possessed the most important rights in the land and whose position would be seriously affected by its loss; on the other hand, the ruling chief could not alienate land without the consent of the occupants so long as they rendered “the services - 21 demanded by their chief, and sanctioned by immemorial usage and custom.” Since Thurston expressed no view as to which of the many services paid by commoners to their chiefs were so essential to the weal-public that their omission would constitute just grounds for eviction, this statement of tenure did not ease the task of the Commission.

The uncertainties which surrounded traditional rights of alienation were, however, swept away on the eve of the commencement of operations by the new Commission by the definitive pronouncement of the Council of Chiefs. The arrival of the Chairman may indeed, in itself, have helped to dissolve the disunity which had characterised discussions of the chiefs on this subject. It is tempting to suggest that they were not unconscious of the effects which their pronouncement of traditional inalienability would have on the work of the Commission. It would, however, be inaccurate as well as uncharitable to put down their improbable statement solely to motives of expediency, for the basic principles which the chiefs had finally approved were set out, in April 1880, in a public lecture by the distinguished anthropologist, Lorimer Fison; they were that all land in Fiji was traditionally owned by mataqali and that all land was, according to the immemorial customs of Fiji, inalienable.

Lorimer Fison had been ordained on leaving Melbourne University, and had joined the Wesleyan Methodist Mission in Fiji. In 1869 there arrived in the group Lewis Morgan's far-flung questionnaire on kinship terms and Fison pronounced himself immediately enthralled. 63 He began a correspondence with Morgan and confirmed his original conviction of the total inerrancy of the unilinear evolutionist theories. Fison became an enthusiastic field worker for Morgan and contributed to the publication of Ancient Society. The views expressed in that work on primitive systems of land tenure are, therefore, particularly relevant to Fison's assessment of the situation in Fiji.

The Fijians, at the time of European contact, fitted appropriately into what Morgan called the “Middle Period of Barbarism”. At this stage in the development of society, lands were owned by communal units and were inalienable.

A right to sell an interest in such lands . . . and to transfer the same to a stranger would break up their plan of life. The possessory right, which we must suppose existed in individuals or in families, was inalienable, except within the gens, and on the demise of the person would pass by inheritance to his or her gentile heirs. 64

The communal ownership of land, in Morgan's experience, was frequently not recognised by untrained observers of primitive society, and - 22 he describes a situation which Fison can have had no difficulty in recognising:

The Spanish writers have left the land tenure of the Southern tribes in inextricable confusion. When they found a community of persons owning lands in common, which they could not alienate, and that one person among them was recognised as their chief, they at once treated these lands as a feudal estate, the chief as a feudal lord, and the persons who owned the land in common as his vassals. At best it was a perversion of the facts. One thing is plain, namely that these lands were owned in common by a community of persons. 65
Fiji had its equivalent of the “Spanish writers”: they were led by Thurston, whose analysis of the land tenure system seemed to Fison to have fallen into precisely the errors exposed by Morgan. He determined on a public correction.

Fison's lecture at the Mechanics Institute, Levuka, on 15 April 1880, was published by the Royal Anthropological Institute, included in a Government Blue Book, and reprinted separately by the Government Printer on the direction of a Governor of Fiji, Sir Henry Jackson, who wrote of Fison's analysis: “It was of material assistance to me in dealing with those most difficult questions, and has now been accepted as the standard authority upon them”. 66 Fison earned the gratitude of the Secretary of State for his work 67 and the lecture has become the accepted exposition of traditional land tenure in Fiji. 68

The lecture is not, however, an examination of institutions existing in Fiji during the period of Fison's residence there: “. . . let us suppose”, he wrote, “our examination to have been conducted in the heathen days, in order that we may get at the unadulterated customs of the people”. 69 This method of investigation by introspection rather than observation allowed Fison to present an analysis of a land tenure system which was at all points a confirmation of Morgan's theories. It was, indeed, an inevitable consequence of the stage of development reached by Fijian society; any practices which were not according to Morgan could be clearly stigmatised as corruptions recently introduced as a result of European contact. Fison was able to declare that, just as Morgan's teachings led the informed observed to expect, land in Fiji was communally owned and inalienable: - 23

The land was a public estate belonging to all the full-born men, and it was strictly entailed, the heir being the posterity of those men to all generations. It is impossible to cut off such an entail as this, for the heir can never be a consenting party. 70

Of course, Fijians were not all aware of this; their true customs had been corrupted. And Fison held that the corruption was the sole responsibility of the chiefs. The voice of the people represented ancient law, 71 and that of the chiefs the extent to which they had been able, through despotism, to set aside that law. Their conduct, in so doing, Fison held, “is more than lawless; it is impious”, for the ancient laws were made by the ancestors of the people, who were their gods. Such commentators as Thurston were led into their errors by heeding only the voice of the chiefs.

The canons of the ancient law provided for strict equality in the rights of chiefs and commoners to land. Services rendered to a chief were, Fison alleged, in no way connected with land use:

The chief is their lord, but he is not their landlord. He is but one of the joint tribal owners together with themselves. As a member of a landowning tribe he has his own share of the tribal land; and, as far as rightful ownership of the soil is concerned, he has not one acre more. 72

The feudal institutions which Thurston and others had supposed to exist in Fijian society were inappropriate to Fiji's stage of cultural evolution. Feudalism belonged, in Morgan's system, to the “Upper Stratus of Barbarism” which commenced with the production and use of iron. Fijians were still a stone-age people and the institutions of feudalism were possessed of a degree of sophistication beyond their stage of social development:

The Fijian was on his way to the feudal system, but he was a long way from reaching it. The lands were not vested in any chief to the exclusion of the commoners, and the service rendered to the chief was not rent for land held by his tenants. 73

As to the matter of land sales, Fison held that, in the view of the common people, which represented ancient custom, land could never be permanently alienated in any circumstances. According to immemorial tradition the link of the people with the soil could not be broken, even by total defeat in war:

It is certain that, though the taukei may be driven from their lands by a stronger tribe, they do not acknowledge the most crushing defeat as an extinction of their title. In fact they consider their - 24 title to be inextinguishable as long as they themselves are not extinguished. It may be held in abeyance, but it cannot be destroyed. 74

The alienation of land was, however, as the Commission quickly discovered, a very common practice among Fijians before the white men arrived. Evidence was frequently given of changes of ownership which had been a constant feature of the land practices in pre-cession times. The various ways in which land could pass from chiefs to their commoners in return for services were instanced; the practices of transferring land rights as dowry and in response to claims of the vasu 75 all appeared in evidence of land sales. Tales of large scale alienations between social units as a result of friendly intercourse or help in time of war were related to the Commission's native advocate, Edward O'Brien Heffernan, who preceded the members of the Commission into each area and attempted to record the pattern of ownership and land rights. In many cases the land had changed hands so many times before its final alienation that it was impossible to determine what rights were claimed by past occupiers at the time of the sale. 76 The Commission took note of these practices and acted in accordance with the belief that they were traditionally respectable. Whatever theory they may have held, witnesses before the Commission acted as if land was alienable at custom, and the Commission recorded their actions, recognising them as valid.

The rights of social units were lightly regarded by witnesses before the Commission. In spite of the pronouncements of Fison and the Council of Chiefs on the immemorial rights of the commoners, little evidence emerged that Fijians were aware of them. Throughout the group, the ruling chiefs had sold lands without consulting, or in many cases even informing, the occupants. In Cakaudrove, where the investigations had begun, the Commission recorded that all the deeds bore the signature of the ruling chief, Tui Cakau, and that most deeds bore his signature alone: “He never consulted the taukeis before selling, or vota'd the price afterwards, though he usually communicated to them the fact that he had sold”. 77 Passing on to Nadroga, they noted that all sales had been conducted by the leading chief, Ratu Kini Nanovo, “whose position and right to sell lands on this part of the coast is unquestioned”. 78 Moving across the island to Ba, they found that: “Every one of the sales appears to have been made upon the sole authority of Tawaki, Tui Ba, without the smallest reference to, or consideration for, the taukeis”. 79 On the island of Vanua Levu they found the powers of the chiefs undiminished. Of Dreketi, they wrote: “No taukeis were ever consulted by the chiefs on the sale of lands, and the munitions procured by such sales were dis-

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Photo by courtesy of Fiji Museum, David Wilkinson at work.

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tributed as appeared to him most advisable at the time”. 80 In Macuata, the high chief Ritova had alienated personally, by deed registered in the British Consulate, an area of 100,000 acres at Labasa, containing about fifty villages. 81 Finally, in Lau, where most of the alienations were on leasehold, they discovered that all had been issued on the sole authority of Ma'afu, Tui Lau. 82

Whilst the Commission declared its acceptance of Fison's canon of absolute inalienability, it did not attempt to apply the principle to the cases which came before it. Since the pre-contact wars had been constant and widespread, to have encouraged the belief that conquered tribes were unlawfully dispossessed of their lands would have plunged the whole group into confusion as there were few tribes which had not recently come into possession of the lands on which they were settled. 83 Carew, the Commission's expert on Fijian custom, enunciated the principle which guided their operations. Of the Viria people, who had been conquered by Cakobau, he wrote:

When dispossessed they were in active rebellion against their feudal lords, the chiefs of Naitasiri and Cakobau, the Vunivalu. Their lands were confiscated and sold by these chiefs by way of punishment, and also to defray part of the cost of subduing their insurrection, and that the chiefs were justified in every way in taking this action I submit to be undeniable. 84

Faced by the conflict between the principles of land tenure accepted as traditional and the practices which were brought to its notice, the Commission's normal practice was quietly to ignore the application of the principles and to judge each case empirically as it came before them.

Inconsistencies of policy and practice were not, however, allowed to interfere with the progress of the Commission's work. Gordon had foreseen that anomalies would be inevitable in making judgments without reference to established principles; it was necessary from the outset to restrict the allowance of European claims and Gordon saw that this would give rise to fierce criticism. 85 He therefore insisted that the recommendations of the Commission be sent in confidence to Executive Council so that the Commissioners would never be called upon to justify their recommendations publicly. In spite of constant pressure from the press, Gordon held to this practice and, in doing so, ensured that the Commission was at liberty to recommend whatever it felt to be appropriate in each case without worrying about precedents in its previous - 26 recommendations. Such freedom of expression in a public Commission is unusual and, in this instance, was made possible only by Gordon's imperviousness to public clamour and by his insistence on absolute control over alienations. The result of this liberty was that claims to land were settled far more equitably than would otherwise have been possible, for the justice of the decisions of any public tribunal is qualified by the necessity to defend those decisions against unsympathetic critics. The Lands Claims Commission was protected by Gordon from the stultifying effects of a scrupulous adherence to precedents; its recommendations have an inconsistency which is reassuring in its promise of their substantial justice.

The Commission, then, publicly announced its acceptance of principles which, if applied to its own work, would have rendered invalid every recommendation it made. The avowal that Fison's analysis of land tenure represented the true traditions of Fiji, though contrary to the evidence recorded by the Commission, enabled it to cultivate a public image of largesse and concern for the welfare of the white settlers which, it was hoped, would turn the edge of the strenuous attacks made upon it. If the Fijians who had sold land were acting in violation of ancient customary law, their actions could be held to be illegal, no claim to land could succeed as of right and claimants would be less dependent on the justice of the Commission than on its charity. The language in which Williamson couched his acceptance of Fison's theory is clearly intended to discommode the white settlers:

By Fijian custom, that is by Fijian law, the absolute alienation of land as understood by us was unknown, and, therefore, strictly speaking, illegal. . . . 86
The suggestion that Fijian customs had the inflexibility and precision of a legal system was contrary to all the evidence recorded by the Commission, as was the claim that the absolute alienation of land was unknown at custom. The use of the word “illegal”, which not only implies the infringement of a law but also has overtones of liability for punishment, was clearly inappropriate; it seems to have been designed, like the rest of the statement, to give the impression that claimants to Fijian land had acted improperly and stood in breach of the law. The principles of customary land tenure enunciated by the Williamson Commission were adopted as protective measures: their major influence in the work of the Commission was to discourage those who opposed it.


From the audience which heard Fison's lecture, Gordon spoke in support of its revelations. He did not like Fison, whom he had earlier described as a “clever, shallow, and not too scrupulous man . . .” 87 - 27 and had small respect for Fison's knowledge of Fijian custom. Gordon had, indeed, given way to an uncharitable flow of spirits when, two years earlier, Fison's limitations in this respect were disclosed by one Mr. Hay, a visiting Presbyterian clergyman:

I was greatly amused at the way in which he [Hay] turned that poor windbag Fison inside out, and quietly and courteously pricked, one after another, his gassy generalities. Fison knows a great deal about native laws and customs, but his theories are all built on unsound foundations, and will not bear Socratic questionings. 88

But Gordon shared Fison's enthusiasm for the emergent science of anthropology. He had a personal notebook for field records 89 and kept a copy of Maine's Lectures on the Early History of Institutions with him in Fiji. 90 His agreement with the unilinear evolutionary theories which it contained is evident from his description of Fijian culture as “the shape into which the first elements of society when emerging from barbarism naturally crystalise'. 91 Holding this belief on the development of human society, he was able to see parallels to Fijian traditional institutions in other parts of the world, and particularly in the clan organisation of his native Scotland. He compared the recommendations of the Council of Chiefs to:

. . . some of the short Acts of the ancient Scottish Parliaments in the first years of the fifteenth century; and it should always be borne in mind that the state of society for which they are intended . . . resembles that of the Highlands of Scotland some three or four hundred years ago. . . . 92

When, therefore, Gordon based his native policy on the preservation of the basic institutions of Fijian society, the nature of these institutions was known to him, not from careful observation in Fiji, but from the recognition that all societies at Fiji's stage of development from savagery to civilisation have the same characteristics. Gordon was further disposed to support Fison's view of Fijian society because his own position as interpreter of Fijian custom had been greatly strengthened by the revelations. Since the true and ancient customs of the people had been overlaid by corruptions, their distressing unfamiliarity with “immemorial traditions” was explained: the practices of alienating inalienable land and submitting unquestioningly to the eviction orders of chiefs who were, in the light of “true custom”, without authority over land could be put down to cultural degeneracy resulting from contact with the white race. Furthermore, it had become obvious that an arbiter was needed to distinguish between ancient and adulterated custom.

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Gordon fitted the role admirably having long concerned himself with the cultures of primitive peoples, being possessed of a unique sympathy with the Fijian race, and having been installed as its Supreme Chief. Further, as an aristocrat from the Highlands of Scotland, he considered himself peculiarly well bred to the task of leading Fijians along the evolutionary road so successfully negotiated by his ancestors. His minutes on the Lands Claims Commission files became more dogmatic; observed tendencies towards consistent patterns of behavour were set down as rigid customary laws.

Before Fison spoke, it was not generally held by Fijians, or those who governed or wrote about them, that customs which were of ancient origin were necessarily and on that account preferable to those currently observed. The attitudes encouraged by missionaries had predisposed Fijians against such an assumption. Earlier analysts of Fijian society, such as Pritchard and Thurston, had been concerned with the practical and observable characteristics of the contemporary situation. Fison made no such claim. He purported to describe the state of Fijian society in its purest form, before the settled pattern of life became disrupted by contact with European civilisation. His reconstruction of “the unadulterated customs of the people” gave rise to an antiquarian Orthodoxy dedicated to the discovery and preservation of those customs which drew lustre from their proximity in time to that still point in the turning world when the strict canons of Ancient Law prevailed.

The orthodox traditional system of Fijian land tenure devised by Gordon had, as its most important feature, the inalienability of land. Land was a strictly entailed estate handed down generation by generation from time immemorial. The existence of this feature of the traditional culture was justified pragmatically, for,

. . . if the living generation . . . had the power to alienate their land on the receipt of a consideration, their children, who had received no share of that consideration, would on growing up be destitute of any land whereon to plant, and any place wherein they had a right to live. 93

It might, perhaps, have been objected that this theoretical justification for the inalienability of land was irrelevant to a consideration of whether or not inalienability was a feature of Fijian culture: many of the traditional practices of the Fijians were not conducive to their well-being and it did not follow that, because a certain custom tended to the preservation of the race, that custom was necessarily part of their way of life. Fijian society was bound, however, in Gordon's view, by the inexorable laws of unilinear evolutionary development, and had reached the stage when the inalienability of land was an essential feature of its progress on the road to civilisation. Gordon therefore made traditional inalienability, - 29 which was in other respects useful to his administration, central to his theory of Fijian land tenure.

A further characteristic of societies which had progressed to Fiji's stage of development was the communal ownership of land. It was particularly satisfying to preserve this culture trait since it operated as an additional insurance against alienation. If the whole community possessed interest in the land, it would prove extremely difficult for a would-be purchaser to find a consideration sufficiently attractive to persuade all members to find it to their advantage to sell.

Rights to land were held by the Orthodoxy to be of ancient origin and clearly understood by all. Gordon was therefore able to make unequivocal statements on what was proper, at custom, in land practices, because he was dealing with what he called an “absolute possessory right, a right not merely theoretical, but exercised for centuries by permanent beneficial occupation and constant cultivation”. 94 When matters of dowry land, transmission by death, or vasu privileges were raised in the investigations of the Lands Claims Commission, Gordon was able to pronounce with confidence on the customs which belonged properly to the true traditions of Fijian culture. It eventually became possible for him to preface his opinion with the phrase: “Strictly speaking, and if the maxims of native law and custom were rigidly adhered to . . .”. 95

Once it had become established that traditional Fijian society was governed by a series of rigidly observed laws, it became the duty of the officers of the colonial administration to acquaint themselves with those laws in order to increase their understanding of, and authority over, the Fijian people. The Orthodoxy gradually evolved, dedicated to the preservation of the ancient Fijian traditions against the inroads of an alien culture. Rarity of observance and obscurity of origin were powerfully recommending factors for the inclusion of any custom into the orthodox tradition. Indeed it became a feature of the Orthodoxy that its adherents possessed exclusive entrée into esoteric Fijian circles which were closed to other white men. Fison was a master at projecting this image:

Presently, whilst we were talking, a woman passed by and, lowering my voice, I said, “Hush! the women must not hear these things.” This finished him. Covering his mouth with his open hand he said earnestly, in an awestruck tone: “Of a truth, Sir, you are a Lewe ni Nanga. I will tell you about it.” And he poured out his soul. 96

A growing band of Europeans emerged, whose status within their own society depended on their familiarity with the occult practices of the native people and who had a vested interest in the preservation of a uniform, unchanging culture. 97 These men were most often found in the senior ranks of the Civil Service, where they possessed the authority - 30 to bring powerful influence to bear on the Fijian way of life, since they assumed that their knowledge of Fijian culture was more subtle and profound than that of the Fijians under their charge.

As Fijians, having received a mission education, left their villages and took minor Government positions, they too respected the opinions of the European senior officers on the nature of Fijian traditions. 98 They turned with some relief from the confusion they had left to the clear outline of Fijian society presented by the Orthodoxy as the true and ancient tradition of the land: lands were communally owned and inalienable; boundaries were defined and well-known; rights of use and transfer had been handed down unchanged for generations and were beyond dispute; society was controlled by a finely structured hierarchy stretching from the village council to the Council of Chiefs. The educated members of Fijian society were urged to join their European mentors in their efforts to preserve the foundations of that society. This involved stressing the subservience of the individual to his community, as part of the “communal system”; preserving the outward show of respect to the chiefs (including Europeans and the newly-emerged leaders of society in the western areas where chiefs were not long-recognised); insistence on the communal ownership of land, which was interpreted as extinguishing individual rights; and, above all, the maintenance of respect for customs which were held to be ancient, hallowed, and unchanging.

Culture contact in Fiji began to produce social changes of an unusual type. In most parts of the world where the white representatives of western civilisation met primitive coloured races, the latter had attempted, with varying success, to adapt themselves to the ways of the former. In Fiji, however, the European officials of the Colonial Government made changes in the culture of the indigenes consciously directed at the establishment of a native culture wholly unsuited to the changing economy which their fellow white men had introduced.

To have preserved the actual institutions of native society might have stemmed the rapid decrease in the Fijian population; to have encouraged the adoption of European institutions might have enabled the survivors to adjust themselves to the changing world introduced by the white man. The establishment of the communal system throughout Fiji did neither.

The tenets of the Orthodoxy, conceived and propagated by a protectionist colonial administration, have been ineradicably absorbed into the Fijian national consciousness where they inhibit progress by activating all that is reactionary in the society they were designed to serve. And, in common with other forces of reaction, the living doctrine of the Fijian Way of Life has been sustained more by the energy and devotion of its protagonists than by its connection with the ethos of a historical past. 99

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  • Ai Vola ni Lawa i Taukei, 1902. Fijian Regulations. Suva, Government Printer.
  • BELSHAW, Cyril S., 1965. “The Effect of Limited Anthropological Theory on Problems of Fijian Administration.” In Roland W. Force, (ed.) Induced Political Change in the Pacific. Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press.
  • BRITISH GOVERNMENT, 1874. Report of Commodore Goodenough, R.N. and Mr. Consul Layard on the Offer of the Cession of the Fiji Islands to the British Crown. C. 1011, XLV:323.
  • — 1875. Correspondence Respecting the Cession of Fiji and the Provisional Arrangements made for Administering the Government. C. 1114, LII:153.
  • — 1908. Further Correspondence between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Governor of Fiji, relating to the Sale of Certain Lands in the Island of Viti Levu; in continuation of Papers laid before the House last year. H.L. 205.
  • CAREW PAPERS, Letters 1877-90, held in the Hocken Library, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.
  • CHAPMAN, J. K., 1964. The Career of Arthur Hamilton Gordon, First Lord Stanmore. Toronto, University of Toronto Press.
  • CHESSON, F. W., 1875. The Past and Present of Fiji. London, Unwin.
  • CUMMING, Constance Frederika Gordon-, 1881. At Home in Fiji. Edinburgh, Blackwood.
  • DES VOEUX, Sir G. William, 1903. My Colonial Service. 2 vols. London, John Murray.
  • FISON, Lorimer, 1874. “The Classificatory System of Kinship.” Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, X:154-79.
  • — 1881. Land Tenure in Fiji. London, Harrison.
  • — 1885. “The Nanga, or Sacred Stone Enclosure of Wainimala, Fiji.” The Journal of Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, XIV: 14-30.
  • — 1892. “Anthropology.” Reports of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science, IV:144-53.
  • FRANCE, Peter, 1966. “The Kaunitoni Migration: Notes on the Genesis of a Fijian Tradition.” The Journal of Pacific History, I:107-14.
  • GIFFORD, E. W., 1952. Tribes of Viti Levu and Their Origin Places. Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California, Anthropological Records, Vol. XIII, No. 5.
  • GORDON, Sir Arthur Hamilton, 1879. Paper on the System of Taxation in Force in Fiji. Read before the Colonial Institute. London, Harrison.
  • GORDON, Sir Arthur Hamilton. Fiji: Records of Private and of Public Life 1875-1880. 4 vols, published as follows: 1897:Vol. I; 1901:Vol. II; 1904:Vol. III; 1912:Vol. IV. Edinburgh, R. & R. Clark.
  • LANDS CLAIMS COMMISSION. The Commission's papers are all kept at the Central Archives of Fiji and the Western Pacific High Commission, Suva.
  • LEGGE, J. D., 1958. Britain in Fiji, 1858-1880. London, Macmillan.
  • LUCAS, T. P., n.d. Cries from Fiji and Sighings from the South Seas. Melbourne, Dunn & Collins.
  • M.A.T.E., (pseud.) [William Fillingham Parr?], 1886. Fiji Today. A Commercial and Agricultural Retrospect and Prospect. Sydney.
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  • MAUDSLAY, Alfred P., 1930. Life in the Pacific Fifty Years Ago. London, Routledge.
  • MORGAN, Lewis H., 1877. Ancient Society; or, Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilisation. New York, Holt.
  • Notes of the Proceedings of a Native Council, n.d. [Unpublished printed reports.] Suva, Native Lands Commission.
  • PARR, William Fillingham, 1881. Our Native Policy, Extracts from the Fiji Times and Fiji Argus 1875-80 on Native Policy. Levuka, n.p.
  • — 1883. Fiji 1880: The Bane of Sir Arthur Gordon's Disingenuous Utterances and the Antidote of the Fiji Times. . . . Sydney, Gibbs, Shallard & Co.
  • PRITCHARD, W. T., 1866. Polynesian Reminiscences; or, Life in the South Pacific Islands. London, Chapman, & Hall.
  • ROTH, G. K., 1951. “Native Administration in Fiji during the Past 75 Years: A Successful Experiment in Indirect Rule.” Occasional Paper No. 10, Royal Anthropological Institute, London.
  • THOMSON, Basil, 1908. The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Custom. London, Heinemann.
  • TOGANIVALU, Deve, 1925. “Fiji and the Fijians during the 50 Years now Ending 1874-1924.” Transactions of the Fijian Society for the Year 1924.
  • [WALLIS, Mary Davis], 1851. Life in Feejee, or Five Years Among the Cannibals by a Lady. Boston, Heath.
1   Chesson 1875:1.
2   See his letter to Lady Gordon, June 10, 1880, Gordon 1912:319. The most perceptive account of Gordon's administration in Fiji is contained in Legge 1958.
3   For Gordon's early career see Chapman 1964, which has a short but useful bibliography.
4   Gordon to Carnarvon, February 16, 1876.
5   Quoted in Legge 1958:160 f/n 3.
6   Gordon 1912:246.
7   Gordon 1897:293.
8   Gordon 1897:206.
9   See, for example, the entries in his journal, Gordon 1901:37, 88, 587.
10   Gordon 1901:84.
11   Gordon 1912:502.
12   The daily lessons in Fijian are frequently mentioned in his journal—see Gordon 1897:74, 161; 1901:104, 310, 571.
13   See, for example, Gordon 1897:151, 170, 427; 1901:79, 82, 91.
14   Gordon 1912:139.
15   See, for example, Wilkinson to Gordon, August 19, 1877, printed in Gordon 1901:557; and also Wilkinson to Gordon, January 8, 1879, discussed below.
16   There is a character sketch of Gordon by one who had spent some years closely associated with him in Maudslay 1930:82. His histrionic leanings led to the oft-quoted appearance on his return from leave in 1879, wearing the scarlet robes of an Oxford D.C.L. over his full dress uniform. Des Voeux 1903:I:407.
17   Gordon 1897:127.
18   Gordon 1897:128.
19   Gordon 1897:322-3; Cumming 1881:31.
20   Des Voeux 1903:I:335-6; Gordon 1904:151.
21   Maudslay 1930:98.
22   Fison to Chapman, June 30, 1876, correspondence of Rev. L. Fison from 1873 to 1878, Dixson Library, Sydney. I am indebted to Dr. Deryck Scarr of the Australian National University for this reference.
23   Gordon 1912:404.
24   See the strictures of Basil Thomson on Colonial Governors who “have been deceived into the belief that they really enjoy ex officio the prestige of a supreme chief . . .”. Thomson 1908:306.
25   Fiji Times, June 26, 1875.
26   Gordon 1879:180.
27   Gordon 1879:178.
28   Gordon 1879:180. He inherited the Roko, who were the Kovana of the Cakobau Government.
29   Toganivalu 1925:19.
30   Regulation 11 of 1877 by Native Regulation Board.
31   Ai Vola ni Lawa i Taukei 1902:13.
32   Roth says that Fijians frequently met in traditional councils and “In conformity with his policy of encouraging the use of native institutions wherever practicable, the Governor gave statutory authority to three such types of council.” Roth 1951:3.
33   [Wallis] 1851:384.
34   Wilkinson, although a pillar of the Orthodoxy, would not accept that the Council of Chiefs was a body based in Fijian tradition: “. . . the Fijian custom being that high Chiefs seldom, if ever, meet each other in Council.” Notes of the Proceedings of a Native Council, 1875:23.
35   Ai Vola ni Lawa i Taukei 1902:1.
36   Gordon 1901:653.
37   Roth 1951:2.
38   Regulation 12 (a) of Native Regulation Board.
39   Notes of the Proceedings of a Native Council 1877:4.
40   Notes of the Proceedings of a Native Council 1875:10.
41   Carnarvon to Gordon, March 4, 1875.
42   British Government 1874:10.
43   Gordon noted that the meeting lasted for 17 days, but “there was an absence of life and spirit in the proceedings.” Gordon 1901:200.
44   Notes of the Proceedings of a Native Council 1876:22.
45   Notes of the Proceedings of a Native Council 1877:40.
46   Notes of the Proceedings of a Native Council 1878:53.
47   Notes of the Proceedings of a Native Council 1878:50.
48   Printed in Gordon 1904:499.
49   Regulation 15, printed in Notes of the Proceedings of a Native Council 1879:75.
50   Regulation 25, printed in Notes of the Proceedings of a Native Council 1879:76.
51   Regulation 27, printed in Notes of the Proceedings of a Native Council 1879:77.
52   Article 4, Deed of Cession.
53   Article 7, Deed of Cession.
54   Carnarvon to Gordon, March 4, 1875.
55   Gordon to Herbert, January 22, 1878, printed in Gordon 1901:704-5.
56   Full details of Gordon's dispute with the Colonial Office, of which the above is an abbreviated account, are in Legge 1958:170-86.
57   No. XXV of 1879.
58   The Royal Commission's recommendations “closely paralleled the changes sought by Gordon . . .”. Chapman 1964:132. Gordon persuaded Williamson, during his leave in England, to accept the post of Chairman of the Lands Claims Commission without remuneration. Gordon 1904:287.
59   Pritchard 1866:242.
60   Pritchard 1866:242.
61   Pritchard 1866:243.
62   Printed in British Government 1875:213-6.
63   Fison declared that he was immediately convinced of the validity of Morgan's theories: “‘Here’, said I, ‘is something worth enquiring into. Similarities of language and customs may lead us into endless mistakes and bewilderment; but the fact of the intricate system such as this being found among tribes so widely scattered is conclusive in its evidence’.” Fison 1874:155-6.
64   Morgan 1877:545-6.
65   Morgan 1877:547.
66   Quoted in an article on Fison in Truth, April 30, 1924.
67   “I have read this valuable treatise with much interest. I entirely approve of your action in causing it to be reprinted by the Government Press, and I consider that the colony owes Dr Fison a debt of gratitude for his kindness in recopying the original manuscript.” Chamberlain to Jackson, July 31, 1903.
68   It was, until quite recently, the practice to issue all administrative officers, on appointment, with notes on Fijian custom including an exposition of Fison's views. The lecture is still highly regarded by informed anthropologists: it was recently referred to as “One of the most perceptive accounts of land ownership . . .”. Belshaw 1965:63.
69   Fison 1881:2.
70   Fison 1881:20.
71   Fison equated law and custom: “. . . with the savage everything is regulated by custom, and custom is law.” Fison 1881:1.
72   Fison 1881:13.
73   Fison 1881:17.
74   Fison 1881:12.
75   The mother's brother's son who has certain rights to claim goods and service from his uncle's people. Fison denied that, in those parts of Fiji where succession is agnatic, the vasu had any more than usufructory rights over his mother's dowry land. Fison 1881:8.
76   Heffernan's field notebooks, which give details of these early tribal movements, are preserved among the working papers of the Lands Claims Commission.
77   Lands Claims Commission Report 862.
78   Lands Claims Commission Report 107a.
79   Lands Claims Commission Report 992.
80   Lands Claims Commission Report 788.
81   Lands Claims Commission Report 1165.
82   Lands Claims Commission Report 930.
83   More than six hundred yavusa (the largest social division) in Viti Levu and the neighbouring islands gave evidence to the Native Lands Commission of their early migrations. Only twenty-one claimed to be still occupying their original sites. Gifford 1952:370.
84   Lands Claims Commission Report 333.
85   He was right. The most vituperative outpourings of the settlers were directed at his land policy. See Lucas n.d.; Parr 1881; 1883; M.A.T.E. 1886.
86   Lands Claims Commission Final Report No. 1328.
87   Gordon 1897:507.
88   Gordon 1901:654.
89   He sent the notebook to his more experienced officers for their comments. See Gordon to Carew, August 23, 1877, October 16, 1877, Carew Papers.
90   Gordon offered to lend his copy of Maine to Fison on the eve of Fison's lecture. Gordon to Rev. L. Fison, March 3, 1880, in Gordon 1912:219.
91   Gordon 1879:197.
92   Gordon 1879:180.
93   Memorandum on Ordinance XXI of 1880, printed in British Government 1908:93-6.
94   British Government 1908:93.
95   British Government 1908:94.
96   Fison 1885:29.
97   The immutability of custom is one of the tenets of the Orthodoxy. It was revealed by Fison in an image worthy of Teilhard: “Life, to the savage, is a sort of charmed circle, of which custom marks the never-changing circumference.” Fison 1892:148.
98   The influence of the mission schools on the growth of Fijian tradition is examined in France 1966.
99   The ideas contained in this article are further developed in my book, The Charter of the Land, to be published by the Oxford University Press in late 1968.