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The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Custom

Province of Tailevu

page 382

Province of Tailevu

The tenures of land in Tailevu vary with the status of the tribe occupying them. They may be classified as follows—

Land which is admitted by the occupiers to be the absolute property of the Mbau chiefs subject only to their occupation on the condition of paying regular tribute in the form of lala of food and labour.

Instances of this tenure are to be found in Kamba and Nambua. The people do not claim any rights in the soil, but represent that they are only occupying at the will of the chiefs, who have the absolute disposal of it. They are subject to levies of food whenever a large feast is to be made at Mbau, but they plant no special gardens for the chiefs, and they are unstinted in the use of the cocoanuts and other fruit. The tribute is called drawe ni vanua, perhaps the nearest equivalent for the word "rent" that can be found in the language of any primitive people. The people account for their position by stating that they formerly lived with the chiefs as their servants, and that when the chiefs removed from Kamba they were left upon the land to cultivate it under the present conditions of tenure.

Roko Tui Tailevu asked that the land should be registered in the name of the tenants subject to his rights as overlord.


Land which is the joint property of the chiefs and their tributaries, who both plant gardens for their superiors and pay regular tribute in food to the chiefs to whom they are attached.

This form of tenure is to be found in the lands occupied by the people of Namuka, Nakoroiwau and Natila. These tribes hold a peculiar position. In former times they did not tamaka1 any but the chief of the Vusarandave, and at the death of a Vunivalu they alone could prepare the body for burial. This may be accounted for by the tradition that they page 383originally formed part of the Tui Kamba family, and that they were left behind to occupy the tribal lands when the Mbau chiefs moved to their island.


Lands of which the occupiers, though nkali (tributary), claim to be the proprietors, acknowledging only the overlordship of the chief at Mbau, to whom on that account they are subject to lala.

An instance of this tenure is to be found in Mokani. The people account for the difference in their status from that of the other nkali tribes by saying that they were given their lands by the Ndravo people, to whom they are related. In this case the land was registered in the name of the people, endorsing the register with a statement of the usual tribute due to the overlord.

It should here be noted that it is only in these cases that the turanga-i-taukei, provided for in the Regulation of 1883 as the recipient of forty per cent, of the rents for lease moneys, can be said to exist, and as a measure of justice to the people, the Regulation should be so amended as to allow ninety per cent, to be divided among the people in all cases in which the Native Lands Commissioners certify that there is no turanga-i-taukei (overlord).


Lands which are owned by the tribes independently of Mbau, and are subject only to the overlordship of their own local chief.

Namata may be cited as an instance of this kind of tenure. The clan was mbati to Mbau, and therefore subject only to military service. As a consequence the Mbau chiefs have no power to levy food or personal service from Namata.


Land of which the local chief claims to be the absolute owner.

The only instance we have found of this tenure is in Nakelo, which was a very powerful tribe until the introduction of firearms by Charles Savage about 1802-7 enabled Mbau to reduce it.

In spite, however, of the assertion of Tui Nakelo it is doubtful whether the chief's rights could ever have been exercised without the assent of his own tribe. In these days page 384at any rate, they could not be so exercised without shocking native opinion.


Lands owned by the commune without the overlord-ship of any chief either local or central.

Nausori and Kuku afford instances of this tenure. It is the natural result of their geographical situation between the mbati (borders) of two rival confederations, Mbau and Rewa —of being in fact a "buffer state."

In these communes there is a difference between waste and cultivated land. The yavu (house foundation) is held by the individual and is inherited by his heirs. The teitei or nkele (cleared and cultivated land) is also regarded as the individual property of the occupier; the waste lands are held in common, and may be appropriated, cleared and cultivated by any member of the tribe with the consent of the rest. A man thus owns individually neither more nor less than he can keep in cultivation.


Lands owned by a commune who have been fugitives from a distant part of the country, and have been placed on their lands by the chiefs under whose protection they have placed themselves. Until their position was assured they paid tribute both to their protector and to any other neigh-bouring chief strong enough to annoy them. An instance of this form of tenure is to be found in the Kai Naimbosa, who came from the Vungalei country, and for some time paid tribute both to the chiefs of Mbau and Namata.

Among all the coast tribes are to be found small communities of fishermen, who by the nature of their occupation are debarred from cultivating the soil. As might be expected, therefore, their tenure of land is quite different from the tribes surrounding them. In Mbau there are two of these tribes Lasakau and Soso; in the Rewa province the Kai Naselai and the Kai Vutia. The Kai Soso claim all the shallow shore reefs from Kamba Point to Uthui Kumi. They use fences only, a kind of fishing that cannot be carried on unless the right of a reef is exclusive. The Kai Lasakau are fishermen using both traps and nets, but not fences. They claim the exclusive right to fish on all the deeper reefs from Waikelia page 385in Sawakasa to the Suva Point, including those near Moturiki. There is a clear understanding between them and the Rewa fishermen of Naselai and Vutia that they shall not interfere with the shallow reefs on the Rewa coast. The members of this clan live almost entirely by their skill. As soon as a man returns from the reef, his wife takes the fish and hawks them from house to house, in exchange for yams or taro. Failing to dispose of them in Mbau, she takes them to the villages on the mainland. This system of barter has greatly taken the place of the old system, under which the fishermen were fed by the chiefs to whom they owed allegiance, that is, they were a continual tax upon the chief's tenants. The Kai Soso have acquired a plot of land by right of occupation, and their claim is not disputed. The Kai Naselai used in return for their fish to be allowed the run of the plantations. They would go and take whatever food they required, provided they confined themselves to the gardens of those who had received fish from them. Now, however, they have acquired land in right of occupation. The Government here encounters another difficulty. At the cession all the reefs were declared the property of the Crown, and unless the fishermen were made a charge upon the lands registered as the property of the natives they would have no means of subsistence. They must either be given land belonging to other people, or the reefs belonging to the Crown must be handed over to them. It is to be feared that the Government will adopt a middle course, that of giving them a right to fish upon the Crown reefs and withholding that right from others. But this is a course that will inevitably lead to trouble in the future. If rights are to be defined, now is the time to define them, before holders have had time to acquire property by prescription.

Under the pressure of European land customs the Fijian conception of land has begun to break up. Owning two-thirds of the land of their islands, it was impossible that they should be left in useless possession, and though they may not sell an acre of it they have been encouraged to lease to planters at a fair rent all that they do not require for their own support. As soon as they understood that they were to page 386have the spending of the rent, land, to which they had hitherto attached little value, became their most precious possession, and their natural earth-hunger was keenly whetted. In some instances the proprietary unit had dwindled to a few individuals of low birth, and these men, contrary to all custom, found themselves courted by powerful neighbours on account of their wealth. This sudden acquisition of money without effort has been demoralizing, but it has quickened the growth of new tastes and new wants, which is the first step towards material progress. On the other hand, it is fostering a spirit of lying and cheating in every transaction concerned with the ownership of land. Happily it has not led to one form of demoralization—that of drinking—thanks to the rigid enforcement of the liquor law, which forbids the sale of alcohol to natives under heavy penalties.

1 Shout the cry of respect.