Thursday, February 7, 2008

Tui Labasa Dispute

Chiefly subjects seek pardon

Thursday, March 13, 2008

THE people of Labasa yesterday shed communal tears when they sought the forgiveness of their high chief, Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma, for hurting her through words and acts over past months.

At the bose vanua in Naseakula Village, in the North, the turaga ni mataqali Tuatua, Nemani Tomasi could not hold back his tears as he led the people to the forgiveness ceremony.

Speaking in Fijian, he asked Adi Salanieta to forgive them for the hurt her people had caused.

Mr Tomasi offered a tabua (whale's tooth) and a feast as a token of atonement and requested.

He also promised the day would be the beginning of a new relationship between the people and their chief.

Adi Salanieta was formally recognised by the Native Lands Commission two weeks ago.

Although the Drauna family, the faction that challenged the chiefly title did not attend the ceremony, Mr Tomasi said the ceremony was being done for the vanua of Labasa.

Adi Salanieta accepted the apology and encouraged the vanua to work together and acknowledge God in everything they did.

With tears streaming down her cheeks, Adi Salanieta said she was humbled by the ceremony.

She said that the ceremony meant unity and brought about oneness to the vanua.

Adi Salanieta encouraged her people to work together as a family and in unity.

Silence prevailed as people shook her hand and made peace with each another.

District reps and chiefs of the vanua were glad that such a reconciliation ceremony amongst the vanua was held, saying this would help in achieving goals set for the district of Labasa.

The meeting was its first ever since the ruling of the Native Lands Tribunal Appeals last month. It ruled Adi Salanieta as rightful holder of the chiefly title of Tui Labasa.

A meeting of the tikina held at Naseakula Village decided that Adi Salanieta would be installed on October 31.

The meeting agreed it needed to fulfil its traditional obligation as Adi Salanieta's name had been gazetted as the Tui Labasa, following the tribunal's ruling. Labasa district rep Paula Maleau said the vanua would approach the kingship of Caumatalevu at Naduri Village and inform them about the decision.

"It is part of Fijian protocol because by right, the Tui Macuata always serves the grog of bowl to the Tui Labasa and that is why we have to approach him and ask him to perform this highly respected duty in installing our chief."

Tui Labasa to officially claim her seat
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

THE Tui Labasa, Adi Salanieta Lomaloma, will be installed on October 31.

This was agreed at the Labasa tikina bose vanua yesterday at Naseakula Village in the Northern Division.

District chiefs and church leaders agreed that Adi Salanieta should be traditionally installed after the Native Lands Commission tribunal ruled in her favour last month.

The meeting agreed that the vanua needed to fulfil its traditional obligation as Adi Salanieta's name had been gazetted as the Tui Labasa, following the tribunal's ruling. Labasa district rep Paula Maleau said the vanua would approach the kingship of Caumatalevu at Naduri Village and inform them about the decision.

"It is part of Fijian protocol because by right, the Tui Macuata always serves the grog of bowl to the Tui Labasa and that is why we have to approach him to inform and ask him to perform this highly respected duty in installing our chief."

The traditional practice, known as vakagunuvi, will involve the Tui Macuata, Ratu Aisea Katonivere.

Mr Maleau said they would approach Ratu Aisea to ask for his presence at the installation and give Adi Salanieta his blessings.

Last month, the tribunal found no evidence in the claim by Ratu Epeli Drauna and his faction which resulted in the tribunal ruling in favour of Adi Salanieta.

The tribunal announced that after looking through documents made available to them and the ones kept in their records, they reached a decision that Adi Salanieta was the true holder of the title.

The two factions that belong to the same mataqali of Wasavulu have been on a stand-off since the decision by the NLC in 2006 which ruled in favour of Adi Salanieta.

Tribunal settles Tui Labasa title dispute

Friday, February 29, 2008

Adi Salanieta with her close family members and friends+ Enlarge this image

Adi Salanieta with her close family members and friends

TUI Labasa Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma has retained the chiefly title of the Vanua of Labasa after the Native Lands Appeals Tribunal found no evidence to support the claim staked by Ratu Epeli Drauna and his people.

The tribunal yesterday announced that after sifting through documents made available to them and the ones kept on their records, they reached the decision that Adi Salanieta was the true holder of the chiefly title. Speaking in Fijian, tribunal chairman Ratu Inoke Seniloli said the reasons of the appeal put forward by the Drauna family had no evidence to support it.

He said the documents that NLC had and the ones presented by the claimant faction and the vanua of Labasa did not support the reasons of the Drauna family.

After announcing the rightful holder of the title, Ratu Inoke urged the two groups to make peace and reconcile.

He told the meeting that publicising such issues in the media had become a practice of the modern day something the Fijian's forefathers treasured and never made known publicly except to discuss within their own mataqali.

Defeated claimant Ratu Epeli thanked the tribunal for its decision and said he would visit Adi Salanieta to make peace with her.

He said he would want to reconcile with her and the people of Nasekula Village and make a new start.

Adi Salanieta said that in the next vanua meeting, she would ask the chiefs to organise a reconciliation ceremony for the people of Labasa.

"I feel it's important and we need to do that so that we can put the past behind and start afresh and look after one another as a family and as villagers of Nasekula," she said.

The two factions that belong to the same mataqali of Wasavulu have been involved in a dispute since the decision by the Native Lands Commission on July 28, 2006 ruling in favour of Adi Salanieta.

D-Day for Tui Labasa title

Thursday, February 28, 2008 -

THE Native Land Appeals Tribunal will announce the right holder of the Tui Labasa title today.

Tight security will be provided by police during the judgement to be delivered at the Commissioner Northern's office.

Deputy divisional police commander northern Superintendent Anand Narayan could not be reached for a comment but two senior officers said security would be provided.

The chiefly title is being claimed by a faction of the mataqali Wasavulu headed by the Drauna family, of which the present Tui Labasa, Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma, is a member.

Two factions of Nasekula Village in Labasa in Macuata province have been on a stan-off since the Native Lands Commission ruled in favour of Adi Salanieta on July 28, 2006.

Representatives of the two factions and 18 clans of the tikina of Labasa made presentations at the first appeals tribunal hearing this month.

Yesterday, spokesman for the Drauna family, Maikali Drauna, said they would accept any decision made by the tribunal.

The tribunal is chaired by Ratu Inoke Seniloli and co-chaired by Ro Epeli Mataitini and Ratu Solomone Buaserau.

At the first hearing, Ratu Inoke had told the two factions that all the presentations submitted would be considered before they made a decision

Tui Labasa issue - 12 Feb 2008

Faimanu Mua's account on the origin of the current Qomate family in your paper (FT 8/2) is way off the mark and a feeble attempt at trying to prove that their Rotuman connection was maternal.

Siblings Ratu Viliame Baleilevuka, Adi Salanieta's father and his sister Adi Tui were children of Ratu Viliame Lautiki and Donalesi McGoon and not of Rotuman woman Rosarine and a son of a Tui Labasa as claimed by Mua.

Ratu Lautiki was born to Raobe Lailai, Gagaj Varomua's son and Adi Losalini Watimasirewa of the chiefly clan Wasavulu.

Meanwhile Timoci Delana's defence of Stan Whippy (FT 7/2) has somewhat indicated an indirect admission of the widely held perception that current claimant Salanieta Tuilomaloma is of Rotuman paternal bloodline.

This is the principal reason as why we have strongly appealed against her being declared as Tui Labasa because chiefly titles are normally passed down the paternal bloodline.

We still hold the view that Ratu Epeli Katonivualiku Drauna's claim to the title is legitimate not only by way of his bloodline but also because of the fact that about 90 per cent of the chiefly Yavusa Wasavulu which comprises of three mataqali's render him support.

We can only pray that the truth prevails.


Rotuman link to Tui Labasa title

Friday, February 08, 2008

AS the dispute over the holder of the Tui Labasa title escalates, a woman claims the Rotuman blood link to the chiefly family was through the maternal and not the paternal side.

According to distant relative Faimanu Mua, her family has evidence and pictures of how the people of Malhaha in Rotuma traditionally welcomed Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma Ritova and Ratu Viliame Ritova, and descendant Rosarine, a woman of Rotuman chiefly rank.

A faction that appealed the Native Lands Commission decision that the chiefly title rightfully belonged to current holder Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma, had claimed at the NLC Appeals Tribunal hearing this week that the chiefly family had links to Rotuma through the paternal side.

But Ms Mua, whose aim was to clear the air on the issue, said that in the 1900s, her grandfather Gagaj Varomua' Muamea travelled to Fiji from Malhaha to learn to speak English and to return with his uncle Tukaha who had left the island to dive for pearls.

"My grandfather, while in Fiji, found himself a job as a sailor where they travelled to islands around the country delivering water," she said.

"On one of these trips, he was told of how a tafaga (Rotuman canoe) drifted towards Labasa and remained there."

The story goes that the natives of Labasa slaughtered everyone on the canoe except for a young woman called Rosarine and her elderly father.

Ms Mua said when her grandfather Gagaj Muamea heard about this, he travelled to Labasa and asked to be taken to Naseakula Village where he found Rosarine.

"But by this time, her name had changed to Losalini and she was old and she told my grandfather their sad story and that she was married to the Tui Labasa's son at that time," she said. "My grandfather promised to return to the village to take her to Rotuma but when he returned in the 1920s, Losalini had died and her two children Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma Ritova and Ratu Viliame Ritova were there.

"These two then came to Rotuma and were accorded full traditional ceremonies and my mum still has pictures of that function when Adi Tui and Ratu Viliame as they are known to the people of Malhaha, visited the village."

Ms Mua said the two were taken to Malhaha by the people of Naseakula, some of whom remained in Malhaha where they found jobs at the copra plantation of Ono and Gasta.

"I know that some people in Naseakula Village will still remember this and in the 1960s, my mum, who is still alive and 94 years old, attended the funeral of Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma Ritova at Naseakula Village."

Qomate challenge
Letter to Fiji Times Editor 7Feb 2008

Maikali Drauna's letter (FT 4/2) and his challenge to Stan Ritova to admit to the "truth" of his Rotuman heritage show a deep-seated prejudice based on a mythical notion of Fijian racial purity and homogeneity.

If we applied Mr Drauna's logic that the present Tui Labasa, Adi Salanieta, has no claim to the title of Tui Labasa because her great-great-grandfather was Rotuman, then Queen Elizabeth II has no right to claim the throne of England because her great great-grandfather, the Prince Consort, Alfred, was German.

For heaven's sake, Mr Drauna, give us a break.

My readings tell me that we Fijians are a mixture of Melanesian and Polynesian stock and we are genetically linked to the aboriginal people of Taiwan from whence we originated.

Some of us might not like this idea but hey, that's what the scientific evidence tells us.

Recent research into mitochondrial DNA confirms indigenous Fijians have the highest genetic diversity of all Pacific Island peoples and the ancestral mother of all indigenous Fijians living today, was wait for it Polynesian.

Linguistically, Fijians also have a closer affinity to Polynesians than they have with their cousins in Melanesia. Dr Paul Geraghty can expound more on this.

In light of these facts, my immediate reaction on reading Mr Drauna's letter was "... so what then, is so alien about Adi Salanieta's great, great-grandfather being Rotuman (if indeed he was) when the facts show extensive gene flows between Polynesians and Melanesians in the indigenous Fijian makeup"?

If we look around us today many of the chiefly families in Fiji as well as ordinary Fijians, have either Samoan, Tongan, English, Scottish, Irish, Chinese or even Indian blood in their veins (and I contend they are better persons for it).

So too does Adi Salanieta, if indeed she has the blood of a noble Rotuman chief in her veins.

She has conducted herself thus far in the good grace that I expect of a bona fide Fijian marama which confirms to me that she is indeed descended from a chiefly line.

But it seems Mr Drauna and his group won't allow these facts to stand in the way of their prejudice which must have a deeper motive.

Nonetheless, what this issue demonstrates is that indigenous Fijians do suffer from an identity crisis that is loaded with false perceptions of racial purity where we insist on homogeneity, scientific facts to suggest diversity.

We have been programmed by British colonialism to believe we are a special people, superior to other people in the Pacific, when in reality we are very much part of them, albeit a highly diversified version of the rest of our own kind which probably explains our present confusion and political travails.

For me, as a Fijian from Tailevu, I do think while our cultural values are basically patrilineal we should acknowledge and promote our matrilineal or vasu bloodlines because they have so much to offer in terms of enriching our own lives.

Culture is an evolving phenomenon and if we don't change with the times, we will be doomed.

Timoci Delana

Qomate legacy

I AM amazed by the special editorial privilege accorded to Stan Ritova, also known as Stan Whippy, in an article he wrote titled 'Defending the Qomate legacy' (ST 20/1).

The author has a direct interest in the Tui Labasa title dispute which is the central issue at stake here.

What Stan has smartly concealed or may have tried or deliberately ignored in his defence of his cousin Salanieta Tuilomaloma as the legitimate claimant to the title, is their Rotuman origin, which is why the latter's contention is being vigorously challenged.

It is a known fact within the yavusa Wasavulu and Caumatalevu that the male bloodline of the Labasa warrior Qomate is extinct.

Native Lands Commission chairman Ratu Viliame Tagivetaua was explicitly explained this by the sauturaga of the Vanua of Labasa, Maika Raiqiso, when an inquiry into the dispute was held at Nasekula in July, 2006.

Stan and Salanieta are from the male bloodline of Rotuman chief Gagaj Varomya of Malhaha who was rescued from sea by Kia people and brought to Vuo. He married a princess from Caumatalevu by the name of Adi Mairara who gave birth to a son named Raobe Lailai. Raobe married a woman from the chiefly clan of Wasavulu known as Adi Losalini Watimasirewa.

They had a son named Viliame Lautiki who married a part-European from Kadavu, Donalesi McGoon, and had two children Ratu Viliame Baleilevuka, who was Salanieta's father, and Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma, Stan's mother.

This blood connection is well known in Rotuma and I challenge Stan to come forth with the truth.

Maikali Drauna

Defending the Qomate legacy - Sunday, January 20, 2008

Labasa was defended by Ratu Tevita Qomate against marauding tribes The fight for the position of Tui Labasa has been on going for generations with two family members of Labasa's chiefly Mataqali Wasavulu, the Draunas and the Dimuris, forever vying for a position they know is not theirs traditionally.

The current holder is Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma Qomate Ritova of the Qomate clan, who has been officially declared by the Native Land and Fisheries Commission (NLC) in Suva, as the rightful holder of theTui Labasa title. But this has been challenged by factions of Labasa's chiefly mataqali (land owning unit) of Wasavulu and the NLC appeals tribunal is sitting in Labasa on February 8 to hear the appeal.

Adi Salanieta succeeded her younger brother, Ratu Joeli Tinai Ritova, when he died in 2004. Ratu Joeli in turn succeeded his older brother Senator Ratu Tevita Qomate Ritova, who passed away prematurely in July 1997.

I am their first cousin because my late mother, Adi Salanieta Tuilomaloma Qomate, and their late father, Ratu Viliame Baleilevuka Ritova, were siblings and the recognised paramount chiefs of Labasa when their father, the then Tui Labasa, Ratu Viliame Lautiki died in the late 1800s.

He was allegedly killed by Fijian sorcery (draunikau) administered by his enemies, according to my information which I've explained in my book, which is in the throes of completion.

Ratu Viliame Lautiki was the son of Ratu Tevita Qomate, the true paramount chief of Labasa, and who was a descendant of the adventurous and colourful chief Ratu Ritova. He was one of the two chiefs from Macuata province who signed the Deed of Cession ceding Fiji to Queen Victoria in October 1874. The other chief was Ratu Katonivere, whose great-grandson, Ratu Aisea Katonivere, is the current Tui Macuata.

Ratu Tevita Qomate was adored and revered by the people of Labasa because he defended them repeatedly against marauding tribes who tried to conquer Labasa and never did.

He was reported to have been seriosly wounded during one of those conflicts and was taken to his island of Yanuca situated between the two Labasa rivers, the Labasa and Qawa rivers, to recover. Labasa Town is on banks of the Labasa River and the Fiji Sugar Corporation sugar mill is on the Qawa River.

Where were the other so-called chiefs claiming the Tui Labasa title, when Ratu Tevita Qomate was busy defending Labasa and her people in those early wars?

For their qusi ni loaloa (the Fijian custom of washing off of the war paint) and in gratitude for his leadership, the people of Labasa presented him with just under 1400 acres of some of the best land in Labasa listed officially in the records of the Native Land Trust Board and the NLC as the land of the Descendants of Qomate. And that is proudly us my first cousins and I and a surviving half brother plus all our children and grandchildren.

I think this is a unique situation in the annals of the NLTB and NLC and we treasure it.

In actual fact the people of Labasa also presented Ratu Tevita Qomate with all their fishing rights because the NLTB and NLFC records show that the Labasa fishing rights belong to Qomate and is listed as Qomate's Fishing Rights, which extend seaward to the main sea reef from the Wailevu river just south of the Labasa river mouth,and northwards from there to the Mataniwai river.

The records are there for public information.

Other factions of Wasavulu Mataqali muscled in after Ratu Viliame's Lautiki's tragic passing and took over the position of Tui Labasa and ruled without any people because the people continued to recognise my mother, Adi Salanieta and her brother, Ratu Viliame, as their chiefs and have contined to do so with us, their children.

About 60 years later in 1975 my first cousin, Ratu Tevita Qomate Ritova, later appointed a Great Council of Chiefs Senator representing Macuata province, and the eldest son of my mother's brother, was named Tui Labasa, returning the title to its true owners, but only after official intervention.

The late Ratu William Toganivalu, who was Minister for Fijian Affairs at the time, intervened and recalled Colonel George Mate who had just retired in 1975 as Chairman of the NLC and requested him to "straighten out" the situation which he did.
I know this because I was involved.

Col Mate ruled then and informed the elders of Mataqali Wasavulu, many of whom have since passed on, that only the direct descendants of Ratu Tevita Qomate as head of the mataqali were entitled to the title of Tui Labasa and no one else. Period.
The descendants of these family factions who are now claiming the title, know this but have chosen to ignore the information.

Ratu Tevita's installation was a historical and colourful affair in the rara (village green) of Nasekula, the chiefly village of Labasa, in June 1975.

The Tui Macuata at the time, Ratu Raio Katonivere, assisted by his close relative and also high chief of Macuata, Ratu Vuki, and members of the chiefly clan of Caumatalevu conducted the installation ceremony and all the pomp that went with it on a typical beautiful sunny Labasa day.

The fact that the Tui Macuata agreed to conduct the ceremony was in itself evidence that he recognised and believed the true holder of the chiefly position.

And what's more, it had never been done before not in a long time anyway.

Ratu Tevita and I later undertook to build Ro Qomate House for the people in Labasa. This being rented to the Fiji Government for office space.

It was started in 1996 and when Ratu Tevita passed in 1997, I took it over and with the help of Ratu Joeli who succeeded him, finished it in 1998 free of charge apart from being paid for air fares from Suva to Labasa and telephone charges to show our allegiance to the vanua of Labasa and its indigenous people.

And though I live in Sydney now for the time being for the sake of convenience, my allegiance and pride for the place where I was born and lived my early life is still very strong and undying.

The records of the Qomate dynasty are available at the NLC for the public to inspect.

There is nothing sinister or secret about them.

The information was recorded during the Veitarogi Vanua in 1948 organised and administered by the late Fijian high chief and statesman, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, when he was inquiring into Fijian-owned land boundaries and fishing rights for the NLC and NLTB records shortly after he established the organisations to administer and control all Fijian-owned land.

And it is just as well he did because unfortunately there are no dedicated written records of early Fijian history and what transipred in the early days apart from early missionary records, after Christianity arrived on our shores in 1835.
Fijian family history is handed down by mouth and fortunately I took note when the aged told stories of the olden days.

I might just add for the record that during my mother's and her brother's early life they did not complain to anyone about the title of Tui Labasa being taken away from them.

They just carried on with the work of the vanua spending their personal earnings from the six-monthly proceeds of rent from the descendants of Qomate land on their people and their needs.

The British colonial Government recognised them and no one else as the paramount chiefs of Labasa.

We, their surviving children, were also brought up on this money and were well cared for.

In actual fact we did better than most but my mother was always concerned about her people who adored her, visiting them regularly in the 43 villages in the district at the time with me as a young boy, in tow.

Our mode of transport was by taxi as there weren't any buses back in those days the late 1930s, the 1940s and 1950s. It was just after the cart and horse era. I am afraid it is always the colour of money that inspires people to claim something that is not theirs.

The appeals tribunal is going to sit in Labasa next month. The question the tribunal should ask these pretenders is, "where are your people and whom do you represent?" Simple.

Meanwhile, the Tui Labasa, Adi Salanieta is in Suva preparing for the NLC appeals tribunal and has engaged the services of top Suva lawyer, Wendell Archibald, to represent her and the Qomate family. "Meanwhile, life goes on," she said.

Stan Ritova

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