Fiji chiefs unlikely to support a flag change | Pacific Beat

Fiji chiefs unlikely to support a flag change

Fiji chiefs unlikely to support a flag change

Updated 3 January 2013, 10:30 AEST

Fiji's traditional chiefs are unlikely to be happy with any possible change to the country's flag.

That's according to Adi Litia Qionibaravi, a former CEO of the Ministry of Fijian Affairs, and herself a chief.

She says the Union flag symbolises Fiji's longstanding connection to Britain, and the coat of arms represents Ratu Cakobau, who ceded the country to the United Kingdom in 1874.

Adi Litia says even if most Fijians did want a different flag, an unelected government has no right to make such a serious change to national symbols.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speraker: Fijian chief Adi Litia Qionibaravi, a former CEO of the Ministry of Fijian Affairs

LITIA: But if any decision is to be made and the changes … for Fiji or the official flag for Fiji, I think it should come from people who are … into parliament, and there should be wide consultation on this major issue.

HILL: Is this an issue that you think the Chiefs, the iTaukei traditional representatives should have some sort of an input in?

LITIA: Definitely Bruce, it should be an issue that should involve the Chiefs of Fiji. The Chiefs have been part and parcel of the government of Fiji, even before Fiji was ceded to Great Britain. It was through the Chiefs of Fiji that Fiji was seeded to Great Britain, and it has been involved in the governance of Fiji since pre-colonial times in Fiji. The original coat of arms, I think it was firstly adopted from the flag of Ratu Cakobau who was the leading Chief who together with other Chiefs had ceded Fiji to Great Britain and her Majesty Queen Victoria. And I think there was a change in about 1908 and the change again further when Fiji became independent in 1970. At all instances the views of the Great Council of Chiefs has been sought, but as you know they have purposefully abolished the Great Council of Chiefs. But we know that there is a mention of the ?? in the draft constitution, that was sent to the President of Fiji in late December. I think that the Chiefs have a say in what is in the coat of arms.

HILL: Well the interim Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama says that what he's looking for is a new sense of Fijian identity as it moves into the future. Does this flag with the British Union flag in the top left-hand corner have any role in this new Fiji that he's talking about?

LITIA: However we may see the history of this country is linked to Great Britain, there's nothing we can do to change that. And for indigenous Fijians that link remains special to us, the link to Great Britain, the royal household of which the Queen is also the Queen of Fiji. She has been given, she has been bestowed, she was installed as the principle Chief, the head of all tribes in Fiji by our Chiefs on two occasions. Previously that has not been revoked, the Chiefs have not gone back to request for that recognition of the … Chief of all tribes in Fiji to be returned to them. Neither has Great Britain formally returned that chiefly position. She remains the Queen of Fiji.

HILL: That's only a traditional iTaukei position of course, Fiji is officially a republic and the Queen is no longer constitutionally the Queen of Fiji is she?

LITIA: You could say that but traditionally, by custom a Chief … conveyed, has installed behind the Chief position in Fiji to the Queen of Great Britain and Fiji. And to us that remains today, even though Fiji has become a republic.

HILL: In the draft constitution, which has been circulated, there is a recognition there of the role of the Great Council of Chiefs. It recognises that it's the custodian of iTaukei culture and tradition, and says that it's a non-partisan organ of civil society. At the moment I believe the Great Council of Chiefs has been formally abolished by the government, so in this draft constitution it sort of puts you back again doesn't it?

LITIA: Yes it has put the Bose Levu Vakaturaga back but only with a very limited role. As you said it'll be the custodian of iTaukei culture and tradition of course that is correct, but it has a very wider role in the previous constitution of Fiji. And it is better than not having, not been totally absent, absent in the governance of this nation.

HILL: Do you think that the Chiefs will be happy with this sort of advisory non-partisan role, or do you think the Chiefs would want to play a more central role in the political life of Fiji in future?

LITIA: I think that as of now they will accept it because in a way it brings the Bose Levu Vakaturaga back into the governance of the nation. But ultimately they will want the total responsibility, the role that was … to be reinstated.

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