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Sanitation and Seeing: The Creation of State Power in Early Colonial Fiji

  • Nicholas Thomas (a1)

British rule in the former Crown Colony of Fiji was a paradoxical affair in several ways. The first Governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, had been shocked by the dispossession of the New Zealand Maori and was determined to subordinate settler interests in Fiji to those of the indigenous population. From the time of cession by a group of paramount chiefs in 1874, administrative policies and structures aimed to defend, protect, and institutionalize the traditional Fijian communal system. For example, what were thought to be traditional chiefly privileges, such as rights to produce, were legally enshrined and articulated with an indirect rule system of appointed village, district, and provincial chiefs. Land was made the inalienable property of clan groups of certain types (which Fijians were obliged to create where they did not already exist).

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1 Peter France's book (The Charter of the Land: Custom and Colonization in Fiji [Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1969]) is a notable but neglected precursor in “the invention of tradition” genre. In this essay I focus on the people of the interior of the large island of Viti Levu (see Figure 1). Known derogatively as kai Colo (hill people), they were not consulted prior to cession to Britain in 1874 and subsequently rebelled. The rebellion was suppressed, but since then the region has been characterized by sporadic dissent and opposition to the eastern chiefs who collaborated with the British. For stronger claims, see Durutalo S., “Internal Colonialism and Unequal Regional Development: The Case of Western Viti Levu, Fiji” (M.A. thesis, School of Sociology, University of the South Pacific, Suva, 1985).

2 Colo East Provincial Council, 12–13 October 1892, National Archives o of Fiji, Suva (hereinafter NAF).

3 Timothy J. Macnaught, The Fijian Colonial Experience (Canberra: Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 1982), 36.

4 Macnaught , Fijian Colonial Experience, 1.

5 On the dichotomous structure of contemporary Fijian culture, see Toren C., “Implications of the Concept of Development for the Symbolic Construction of ‘the Fijian way,’” in The Effects of Development on Traditional Pacific Islands Cultures, Clerk C., ed. (London: Institute for Commonwealth Studies, 1984), 3952;Thomas N., “Substantivization and Anthropological Discourse: The Transformation of Practices into Institutions in Neotraditional Pacific Societies,” in Tradition, History and Articulation in Melanesian Anthropology, James W. Carrier, ed. (forthcoming).

6 Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon (Lord Stanmore), Fiji: Records of Private and of Public Life, 1875–1880 (Edinburgh: privately printed, 18971912), I:210, 212 transposed. The country was divided into provinces and (smaller) districts (yasana and tikina); the Roko Tuis and Bulis were heads of these units respectively. In the Fijian translation that would have been delivered, the analogy between laws and a net presumably played upon the word lawa, which refers to both (not because there is a Fijian metaphor but simply because of the way in which “law” is translated in Fiji) but, given Gordon's rudimentary knowledge of the language, it is not certain that this was intentional.

7 Mitchell Timothy, Colonising Egypt, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 32, 60; on the “curios,” see Thomas Nicholas, “Material Culture and Colonial Power: Ethnological Collecting and the Establishment of Colonial Rule in Fiji,” Man, 24:1(1989), 4156.

8 See the collection, Essays on the Depopulation of Melanesia, Rivers W. H. R., ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922) and Rivers G. H. L. F. Pitt, The Clash of Cultures and the Contact of Races: Depopulation of the Pacific and the Government of Subject Races (London: Routledge, 1927).

9 Goldie John F., “The Solomon Islands,” in A Century in the Pacific, Colwell James, ed. (Sydney: Methodist Book Room, 1915), 564.

10 In the Fiji case, the extent to which this tenet was accepted is apparent in an important missionary overview, which devoted a full chapter to depopulation (Burton John Wear, The Fiji of To-day [London: Kelly, 1910], 192216), much of which summarized the 1896 report. The spectre of “the passing of the Fijian” was singled out in the preface (p. 8) and it insisted both that “The Fijian people are dying” (p. 194, italics in original) and that this is not related or not wholly related to contact: “[Statistics indicate] a loss of over 1,500 per annum. This rate, alarming as it is, is independent of epidemics; for in the period instanced, no serious sickness has visited the islands” (p. 194).

11 For example, Vital Statistics of the Native Population for the Year 1887 (Suva: Government Printer, 1889) considered, in a manner informed (or misinformed) by social evolutionary notions, connections between infant mortality and the position of women in various parts of Fiji: “It is a fact that in some provinces women perform the work that in more civilized communities falls to the lot of man—work that might be called hard labour—and are in fact but slightly advanced beyond the ‘chattel’ position of life, whilst in other provinces their status more nearly approximates that of European women; and I think it will be found that the position of the female population in this respect has much to do with the infantile death rate” (p. 32). The areas were women were (and still are) engaged in garden work with men were in the interior and west of Viti Levu, which is seen as a more “Melanesian” area as opposed to the aristocratic, “Polynesian” cultures of eastern Fiji.

12 This refers to women of childbearing age, not just those who are actually pregnant.

13 Report of the Committee Appointed to Inquire into the Decrease of the Native Population (Suva: Government Printer, 1896), 67.

14 Report, 23–29.

15 The most important single factor was the 1875 measles epidemic, which severely affected the interior of the large island of Viti Levu (as well as the rest of Fiji, to a varying degree): “[T]he decrease in the number of births each year coincided with the years in which the presumably depleted cohorts born just before and just after the 1875 measles epidemic attained reproductive age, whereas the deaths each year probably reflected more of the current epidemics or their absence than the distorted age structure of the population… after 1905 the birth and death rates were practically equal, and from 1911 onwards the Fijian population increased…” (McArthur Norma, Island Populations of the Pacific, [Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1967], 6667). These subsequent ramifications were completely overlooked, it seems, by those involved in the 1893–96 inquiry.

16 Report, 73–74.

17 (Governor) Donald Cameron, 1925, quoted in Iliffe John, A Modern History of Tanganyika (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 321.

18 On Thurston's “horror of miscegenation” and related attitudes, see Young John, “Review of The Majesty of Colour (vol. 1) by Deryck Scarr,” Journal of Pacific History, 9 (1974), 214. The matter is obscure in the biography itself.

19 My understanding of the construction of cults as reified disorder draws upon Kaplan Martha, “Luveniwai as the British saw it,” Ethno history, in press.

20 See, for example, Mayne A. J. C., Fever, Squalor and Vice: Sanitation and Social Policy in Victorian Sydney (St. Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1982), especially 89140.

21 On Fiji's Indians generally, see Gillion K. L., Fiji's Indian Migrants (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1962) and The Fiji Indians: Challenge to European Dominance 1920–1940 (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1977). For more recent and critical perspectives, see the work of Brij Lal, for example, Veil of Dishonour: Sexual Jealousy and Suicide on Fiji Plantations,” Journal of Pacific History, 20:3/4 (1985), 135–55; and of Kelly John D., for example, “Discourse about sexuality and Fiji Indian History,” History and Anthropology, in press. My statements here relate only to the question of sanitation and plantation management; in later periods, the free Indian population would have been subject to Public Health legislation, and there are, no doubt, papers in the National Archives of Fiji which would permit exploration of that topic.

22 Annual Report on Indian Immigration for 1900 (Fiji Legislative Council Paper 28 of 1901), 23. That mortality statistics are not generally analysed is consistent with this report. While assessments of figures for Fijians would always have featured speculation about the causes for fluctuations, the Indian rate is typically “fairly satisfactory” (for example, Annual Report… for 1899, CP 24 of 1900, 19). There are a small number of other passing references to salutation, infant care, etc., but these mainly blame the filth upon those obliged to inhabit it (sickness among children derived from the “apathy and ignorance of mothers”), sounding a note familiar both in the accounts of Fijians and of the metropolitan poor (Annual Report… 1898, CP 25 of 1899, 16; cf. Mayne , Fever, Poverty and Vice, 9899). Even such statements, however, were marginal within reports overwhelmingly concerned with the management and legitimation of a labour system, a concern expressed in statements such as “[T]here is no doubt that prosecution is indispensable to enforce work from a considerable minority of labourers” (Annual Report… for 1898, 25).

23 Fiji-based missionaries expressed some of this (see, for example, Burton , Fiji of To-day, 272–3; though there is a tendency to blame the “coolies” themselves [p. 312]). For more principled and critical accounts, see the reports of the remarkable Charles Freer Andrews: with Pearson W. H., Report on Indian Indentured Labour in Fiji (Delhi, 1916); also India and the Pacific (London: Allen and Unwin, 1937). Observations on sanitation figure, for example, at 44–47 of the later work.

24 For example, Annual Report… for 1894, CP 24 of 1895, 1314.

25 That is, as opposed to preparing it by infusion. Kava chewing is still practised elsewhere in the south Pacific, but so far as I know is virtually unknown in Fiji today. This was a case in which the anthropological knowledge of members of the administration was used to separate out the properly customary from other things which Fijians happened simply to do. The chewing method (which was widely disapproved of by missionaries) and the premastication of infant food were both proscribed, partly on health grounds and partly because these customs were in any case only recent “foreign importations” from Tonga (Joske in Colo East Provincial Council, 1898 minutes, NAF). The distinction thus conveniently drew a line between practices which were acceptable, and those which were conveniently not really traditional and happened to be also unpalatable from the British perspective.

26 Colo North Provincial Council, 1913 Minutes, resolution VII, NAF. This particular set of rules is quoted because it conveniently presents regulations as one group which were otherwise passed in different contexts and on different occasions. Laws and regulations relating to sanitation were initially made substantially earlier and a few were enacted by the pre-Cession planters' government (the Cakobau government). See, for instance, the Cemeteries Act of 1871 (copy in S. W. Dutton, Historical Records of Fiji, ms A1487, Mitchell Library, Sydney). The Native Regulations Board of the colonial administration made it unlawful for any burial to be made within “the limits of a town” (signalling colonizers' preoccupation with demarcation) or “near a sea beach” (Regulation no. 14 of 1877). This would have created considerable difficulties in some areas, because the practice, for example, in the eastern interior of Viti Levu was to bury the dead in the yavu (the foundation of a house), which had tremendous significance (as it still does) as a site of ancestors and a family line. The rule seems to have been circumvented through burying people just outside of the village fence (mostly also a colonial innovation), which could be later extended around a new house built over the place of burial (Marzan Jean de, “La Culte des Morts aux Fiji,” Anthropos, 4:1[1909], 8889, 96). Provisions were also made to protect drinking water and penalise those responsible for pollution and for the compulsory construction of latrines (Nos. 5 and 6 of 1882, in Regulations. Native Regulation Board 1877–1882 [London, 1883]). Failure to use latrines was punishable by a fine of a shilling.

27 Williams F. E., Orokaiva Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930), 68.

28 Again, there are parallels both in other colonized societies (compare Mitchell, Colonising Egypt) and in the Victorian social management of the urban “lower orders” (see Mayne , Fever, Squalor and Vice). For a wide-ranging collection on these and cognate issues, see Arnold David, ed., Imperial Medicine and Indigenous Societies (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988).

29 Colo West report for January and February 1902, Colonial Secretary's Office Minute Paper (hereafter CSO) 1496/02, NAF.

30 Colo East Provincial Council, 26/27 April 1899, NAF.

31 Colo East Provincial Council, 10/11 December 1901, NAF.

32 The specification that kitchen walls had to be unthatched (Part j of the 1913 resolution cited above) was aimed to ensure that the structures were too cold for sleeping.

33 E.g. Colo East Provincial Council, 26/27 April 1899, NAF.

34 Colo East Provincial Council, 8/9 December 1903, NAF.

35 Ibid. In fact, a few beto are still used in such interior districts as Noikoro and Navatusila. The name for the priestly/men's house also means “clan” in these dialects the structure is elsewhere called the bure kalou (literally, spirit house), and there is still a sense that the dwelling stands for the group in important ways.

36 Colo North Provincial Council Minutes, Resolution IV, NAF. This was later judged an unreasonable restriction and abandoned in 1913 (Colo North, special Provincial Council, 19 February 1913).

37 The misunderstanding was expressed in the statement that “any ‘solevo’ [ceremonial presentation] or small gathering is apt to deplete the supply, it being the easiest property to give away” (Colo North Provincial Council, 1913). This use of mats had nothing to do with portability or facility; rather, like pots and barkcloth, they were produced because they were to be exchanged.

38 Colo North Provincial Council, 1904, NAF.

39 Marzan De, “La Culte des Morts,” 97; also interviews with Seveloni Mocenicagi, Samueli Mataitoga, and others, Noikoro, November-December 1988. Although it is said that “the church is strong now,” similar divination was certainly practised until recently; and the same notion of disease causation seems salient.

40 Joske A. B., later Brewster, author of The Hill Tribes of Fiji (London: Seeley, Service and Co., 1922) and a number of papers in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute in the early 1920s.

41 Colo East Provincial Council, 10–11 December 1901.

42 Ibid. The people seem to have been saved by a senior official, who noted, “Better let them make some small solevu.” There are details of this case that are not absolutely clear; it is probable that mats were not commoditized at this time (this has gradually happened since, but even now it is the rolls of prepared pandanus, not mats themselves, which are seen in Fiji markets). Hence, in effect, Joske's suggestion that the iyau could be purchased is likely to have precluded the event.

43 Colo East Provincial Council, 26/27 April 1899, commissioner's comments on resolutions II and III. Joske even made the remarkable suggestion that “to these ancient debts the statute of limitations should be applied”—as if Fijian cosmology could be rewritten along the lines of British commercial law.

44 For typical cases, see CSO 3295/1891 concerning grievances at Nakorosule on the Wainimala (eastern interior); in this instance the commissioner refused to discuss allegations concerning excessive demands for garden work and housebuilding but did find that the Buli had used labour to do a job worth £19 for the Fiji Tobacco Company, which he had kept. Also see CSO 1375/1891 concerning the chiefly appropriation of barkcloth taken to solevu held at Provincial Council meetings, there having been “complaints… that the Bulis make no return to them.” The Resident Commissioner, who would not even be drawn into this and suggested that “you chiefs should follow from old customs,” blithely ignored the differences arising from pacification, indirect rule, Christianity, and partial engagement with a cash economy.

45 Colo West report for July and August, 1902, CSO 5083/02, NAF.

46 This further manifests the rigidifying nature of administrative inscription. The complex matter of land tenure and registration was discussed by France in The Charter of the Land.

47 Colo West report for March 1888, CSO 801/1888, NAF.

48 For example, CSO 3295/1891. It was also acknowledged in the 1896 inquiry that there seemed to be no difference in statistics from sanitary and insanitary sites (Report, 82).

49 Colo North Provincial Council, 1902 minutes, NAF,

50 In fact, Nadrau is just to the west of the divide down the centre of Viti Levu and is a dry area—in general more healthy than the wetter interior of eastern Viti Levu.

51 Report, 212. These matters were discussed under the heading of “Decentralization,” which placed village distribution in a negative state of dispersal that could logically then be rectified.

52 Colo North Provincial Council, 1904 minutes, NAF.

53 Between 1900 and 1912 there seem to have typically been between a thousand and two thousand cases dealing with offences under the Native Regulations through provincial courts (Blue Books; the figures are not, however, specific about the nature of offences of their regional distribution).

54 Report, 212.

55 For example, Weber Max, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York: Free Press, 1947), 156;Poulantzas N., Political Power and Social Classes (London: New Left Books, 1973), 4450 and passim. For a useful review of some debates, see Giddens Anthony, A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism (London: Macmillan, 1981), 202–29.

56 Althusser's essay on “Ideological State Apparatuses” in his Lenin and Philosophy (London: New Left Books, 1971) of course marked a turning point in debate within Marxism—although the subsequent perspectives in part only expressed notions which had been commonplace in anthropology for decades.

57 Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 13.

58 Negara, 123.

59 Foucault M., Discipline and Punish (New York: Viking, 1979). A number of his other works, and other studies of the same genre, are of course also relevant.

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