eJournal of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies
Issues 1.2 and 2.1, April 2010


  1. Does it sometimes seem difficult not to wonder whether the fiction component in the 'faction' that Brij Lal admits to writing may be reaching into other work of his? Have double standards entered? And are they perhaps at work in the essay to which I am invited to respond here?
  2. As long ago as 1988 it hardly struck me that disclaimers of detachment in Lal's Power and Prejudice: the making of the Fiji crisis[1] could justify its attempts to show why people of a different culture should not
    and in fact had not behaved in the way that, since 1962 to my knowledge, Fijians at large had been indicating that some among them would be likely to act if government ever passed from Fijian hands. I cannot now recall how far we had to read into a book-without-index to learn how small a percentage of Fijians voted for the minority coalition government overthrown in May 1987. Indian support for Ratu Mara was greater. At the time and on the basis of my concurrent Politics of Illusion: the military coups in Fiji,[2] I gathered that we differed on first principles and here I quite agree. Conceptual shadow boxing on thin empirical ice to escape unpalatable conclusions has never struck me as appealing.

    Figure 1. Emeritis Professor Deryck Scarr

  3. Now Professor Lal describes me as in my 'element' in those days with my 'disturbingly sympathetic account' of the coups. Is there an unscholarly value judgment here? And even a communal response? Actually my account in Politics of Illusion is all too accurate. So far as supporters of the overthrown government at that time in command of what we would now call 'the narrative' were concerned, it was their myths that were disturbed. Among the reactions was an imaginative defamatory leaflet from democrats in Suva with university connections there in effect denying freedom of informed discussion, if not all discussion, except by their sympathisers. In light of the present essay I am not sure that much has changed; at any rate the 'element' in which I worked then as now was defined by E.P.Thompson – 'the disciplined historical discourse of the proof consists in a dialogue between concept and evidence, a dialogue conducted by successive hypotheses, on the one hand, and empirical research on the other.'[3]
  4. Uninvited but no doubt obligingly, Lal outlines my career or some of it – to 'English-born' might be added 'into a family of Gladstoneian Liberals'; and in light of the space Lal requires for other purposes he reasonably
    omits studies of labour recruiting, Mascareignean slavery, plantation economies, cultures-in-communication, colonial rule, reactions to it, and so forth. The label 'the historian of the Fijian establishment' does not appear, as earlier it did in his article or chapter entitled 'Telling the life of A.D. Patel'.[4] There Lal congratulated himself on a book with limited archival research and at one major point reliant on the convenient but, in this instance, unsound opinion of J.W. Davidson. In Davidson's day there was no Colonial Office archival access to the 1965 constitutional conference. Lal is understood to have read these records. I have done so and otherwise Tuimacilai would not and could not have been written. It may also be worth noting that Sir John Thurston died a colonial governor but had gone to sea at twelve and remained essentially a rebel. As to the Ratu Sukuna biography, death had removed a prospective author – James Pope Hennessey. If Peter France had taken it on he would have done an excellent job but adulation for his Charter of the Land from Lal seems to stem from misinterpretation. Tuimacilai, according to Dr France, is 'racily written, beautifully researched, and really puts over the reality as I understand it.'[5]

  5. But Lal as he lets us know while applauding his biography of Patel feels sore that worthy non-Fijian people rarely star in public iconography; this is despite assiduous attendance on prominent figures like Ratu Mara while Fijians maintain a polite distance; and one can only wonder now at the psychology behind Lal's comic remark in his essay on Tuimacilai that 'the author seems to have had only one sustained conversation with the subject, in September 1978, in connection probably with the Sukuna book. There were most likely chance encounters later on, but nothing related to the subject of this book.' A comparable command of evidence appears in 'Telling the Life…' where Tuimacilai is described as 'partly taxpayer-funded' which, so far as taxpayers in Fiji are concerned, is untrue. As to readership and writing, Tuimacilai may even have a short sentence or two on a page here and there. I confess to finding the general run of writers quite often almost painful to read, but I plug on and am aware of the present judge as a sparkling stylist of the 'as we have seen' and 'as we shall see' school. Literacy-challenged individuals may proliferate among his acquaintances, but theirs is not the universal condition.
  6. So, then, is there 'carping' about academics at the University of the South Pacific in Tuimacilai? or mild and hardly avoidable comment about staff-members who played or seemed to be playing background politics while supposedly pursuing pure scholarship? Are there 'pot-shots' – or a decent reticence about far from reticent authors who might not benefit from being faced with error or undeclared involvement? And very remote though this must be from any point of view outside the world according to Lal again, I was equally far from 'disliking' P.D. Macdonald. In Tuimacilai he does exactly what he was doing as acting governor – which was running Fiji before the winds of change much faster than I think anyone alert to the world around him would say was safe. This was not solely or necessarily from independence of mind, as Lal declares – it was in accordance with London's wishes and if Lal has read the Colonial Office documents he must or should be very well aware of it. Adi Kuini Vuikaba Bavadra knew whether I 'disliked' her or not. No such questions arise – the proposition is fantastic. Oskar Spate I say more about in Tuimacilai than Lal remembers. And so far as Spate's published report goes, Lal's declamation is irrelevant. Spate did not much consider getting ideas across except by diktat. All the acclamation from non-Fijians whose interest in changing indigenous society sometimes tended to be interested indeed was counterproductive too – this did not prevent some implementation, but not always with good effect and I show some of this as well.
  7. On R.D. Patel and the rest, legislative council during the late 1960s could be revealing. If Lal indeed has the full verbatim proceedings of the secret inter-party constitutional discussions he too should be able to work out how Ratu Mara might react. On the other hand, one may need to have been an observer since Cession Day in 1962. At the 1965 constitutional conference, again to controvert Lal's version of it, virtually the whole British negotiating team from the Colonial Office (pace Lal once more it was not yet the FCO) to Under-Secretary of State Mrs Eirene White wanted constitutional change ideally on the basis of a common electoral roll. Britain disliked communal rolls. As compromise came in, the British team would have preferred much reduced European representation at least. Mrs White was very forthright on this in the bar at Marlborough House. But if anything could have shaken Fijians into accepting more cross-voting seats than they did in the end accept, it was not the Federation's inflexibility on common roll. And the Mara-cum-Sukuna-related 'tremor' misdated by Lal to the late 1950s occurred on Ratu Mara's return from London in September 1962. In the biography I suggest that he had got wind of Britain's desire to leave after putting a multiracial state into being with no great privileges for Fijians.
  8. Within the parallel counterfactual universe where Lal sometimes seems to live, I cannot help him understand what other readers find clear. And I'm equally sorry that on questions he raises at random about events broached before the White Commission and examined in Tuimacilai I can only be unmoved again by his declaration that 'Another controversial episode of the 1980s goes unanalysed'. Has he perhaps been asleep? I can only feel much the same about his 'very grave doubts' on Ratu Mara's mention to cabinet of credible sources in Canberra about an active Russian interest in Fiji. With so many governments represented, Canberra has its moments and not long before Fiji's 1982 election there were visits to the ANU by an emissary from the Russian embassy who dropped more information than perhaps he intended and brightened at the thought that Fiji might become unstable. Naturally Russian interest was real, and Tuimacilai demonstrates this from archival evidence. Open diplomacy was one thing, but I gathered from these visits that there was more. Contacts in Fiji were mentioned when the diplomat came calling and, as Lal again should know, names came up before White; but allegations about a flood of money to the National Federation Party hardly rated, as I also point out, and the Koya Letter was only ever available as a photocopy but seems unreal from start to finish.
  9. In the analysis of events up to and including 14 May 1987 raised at random by Professor Lal, or on anything else, I have never been inclined to follow his example in Power and Prejudice. There he announces that 'No smoking gun has yet been found, but as in the case of the allegation about CIA involvement in the coup, the real question is not whether Ratu Sir Kamisese had foreknowledge of the events but how deeply he was involved.'[6] No 'CIA involvement' ever came to light and Occam's Razor disposes outright of the assumption along with this declamation too. Like everyone else, I have heard many 'intriguing stories' and some visibly concocted ones about the coup, have pursued them but found none with foundation enough for an airing before self-respecting audiences except the information I have published. We know what Ratu Sir Kamesese said that Ratu Finau Mara told him that night – although Lal may not notice it in Tuimacilai. And purely at a venture, one could suggest that judging on performance during its month in office an alerted Labour-National Federation Party government might well have tried calling out the army. It had done so on an earlier occasion. This time, would the army have obeyed? Might there have been risk of civil war? One could certainly argue that a degree of responsibility attaches to leaders and advisers pressing on regardless in face of warnings that a government coming in like theirs, without much Fijian support, might not last long.
  10. Lal's complaint that Ratu Mara's 'well known dynastic ambitions remain unexplored' seems to me to be of about the same order of logic as the CIA-related shadow boxing. Were ambitions 'well-known' or were they assumed or projected in the gossip? I refer to the idea sufficiently in passing. By the 1990s when the children were of age and perhaps especially following the death of the second son, there was good reason to know what the chances of any dynastic succession at the centre would be.
  11. And so far as Tuimacilai is concerned, once more according to Brij Lal, Ratu Mara's thoughts on the new constitution 'remain unexplored beyond words gleaned from newspaper reports'. Really? That may be as Dr Lal of the Reeves Commission may wish but Tuimacilai relies on the Reeves verbatim proceedings. Lal's membership had been challenged. A coming leader of rioters warned him that 'If you are here to try and push, you are not here as a member of the Commission, to listen to the presentation, you are pushing your own personal agenda. Very dangerous.' Ladies of Bau spoke sharply as well. And whatever Lal may 'know for a fact', if Ratu Mara thought of returning to the 1965 constitution he was not recorded saying so here. As Tuimacilai shows, he and the Lau provincial council committee seem to have preferred 1970's; he or they or all of them together doubted whether a president under the then existing constitution was more than a toothless tiger but did not want reserve powers as in Australia, would have been glad to see the back of the senate, disliked the exclusion of non-Fijians from cabinet and probably was or were against a Fijian majority in parliament, favoured common roll for the near future, preferred first-past-the post voting…and so forth.
  12. By all means let A.D. Patel be seen as a very great hero, but such shrill protests against questioners seem questionable themselves. It is stretching points again to imply that it must or should not be possible to leave the party that Patel established without being abused later on; and yet in a political culture where a number of people moved from one side to the other almost as a hobby, or to disparage former associates, or for a job, Surendra Prasad is called a 'political turncoat' and by definition, apparently, could not know anything about the party's inner workings either. 'Envy' as a charge thrown in my direction in relation to a lawyer-politician – or anybody else – reads oddly. And Patel's domestic circumstances are relevant where they spoke to attitudes actually prevailing in an India that he presented as an example for Indians in Fiji. An eminent Gujerati is my direct authority for the comment on status that Lal deplores. His expansion is useful. My description of Patel as 'a confessedly slavish follower of the Indian National Congress' derives from a speech he made in Congress dress and with avowedly slavish sentiments on returning from India. And Lal's belief that Apisai Tora is not as good a judge of character as anyone can hardly derive from much acquaintance. Lal's supporting assertions do not stand up either. Tora's underlying nationalism was real; his joining the Federation might be described as opportunistic; and 'his unparalleled record of party-switching' amounts to moving from Federation to Alliance along with party-formation on his own account. Tora's joining the Federation enabled it to become 'National' and was praised to the skies yet he and other Fijians felt treated like foster-brothers, not that Lal notices.
  13. But when he defends the Pacific Review so passionately, extolled as this newspaper is in his biography of Patel despite the paper's attacks on 'whites and their black sycophants' and 'diehard white supremacists, Fijian civil servants, and Indian hangers on, who are openly hated by the Indian community' – then I admit to serious surprise. 'Scarr calls the Pacific Review an "intermittently racist weekly"', Lal declares and in this at any rate he is quite right. 'It was not racist' he continues; 'it was anti-colonial, and there is a difference even if it is not obvious to Scarr.' There is indeed a difference, but resoundingly not such as Professor Lal seems to imagine.
  14. The 1965 constitutional conference is consistently represented very oddly indeed in Lal's essay; there are no known or inherently logical grounds for him to describe Trafford Smith's comments as 'untenable but self-exculpatory' – unless the latter phrase means that his correspondent P.D. Macdonald would be sorry to learn how the conference had ended. So he was, and so were the British in London and the governor who was there and carried the can in Fiji. 'Very unpalatable indeed to the Federation Party' is how Lal might have described the new constitution – but 'untenable' follows party propaganda or at best Federation perception of the conference producing it. In fact, and as Tuimacilai shows from the Colonial Office archives, the Federation was assisted by Britain's reticence in making public what had happened, in order to spare Federation leaders. If their party had possessed voters' confidence across the board, they could have formed government anyway. And unless there is some occult Colonial Office repository known only to Professor Lal, surely no grounds can be found for his claim that 'in truth it was the UK delegation that channelled the conference to orchestrate a pre-determined outcome as the official record so clearly shows.' From the record available to the world – with much of it secret, while 'private' had a technical sense – Lal's claim will not stand. There is not much substance in his case for Hall of the Colonial Office as an influential man among people in London whose links with Ratu Mara 'paid rich dividends for him and his cause later on. The Fijian leaders had important contacts in London that Indian leaders did not.' In Tuimacilai as in reality, Henry Hall had been sidelined by his colleagues because he did feel that Britain had better remain or let Fijians govern under guarantees to other people. He lost his point – the policy was clean contrary. And Ajodhya Prasad and Andrew Deoki had been calling at the Colonial Office. Other Indian notables had contacts in London and the Federation leaders had summoned E.F.N. Gratiaen, Q.C. to the conference.
  15. Perfectly obviously no 'insult' is offered to Ba or persons either, and once more a curious term is employed. For Vulagi or Strangers to import policy from India tended to be seen as inappropriate on most grounds; in terms of internal security, it was reckoned unwise. As to Patel on sugar in 1961, there was no Alliance Party in being and my sources are identified. Quite possibly Patel did want a Denning-style inquiry. But however inconvenient this may be, 'colonial officialdom' was commonly very far from ill-informed. And no one was 'privy to the conversation between the two peeing peers', because it never took place. Lal describes it as occurring 'in a London urinal, of all places, between Trustram Eve and Lord Dening [sic] with Eve saying, "Tom you have made a bloody mess of the Fiji sugar industry"' – but this is Lal's garbled version of two distinct conversations.
  16. They appear on page 167 following my suggestion that in praising Patel's advocacy in a pleasant de mortuis nil nisi bonum letter to Lal, Denning was excusing himself against cogent criticism. This misreported and yet not absolutely taxing passage actually reads:

      Praise for advocacy over evidence amounted to a covert admission or subtle reflection, in reality, because while standing in an adjacent stall of the Inns of Court urinals during a break in a Bar dinner on his return from Fiji Lord Denning had asked Kermode whether the inquiry could be reopened so that he could make good errors in his facts and reasoning which were exposed by the millers and had been brought up by his predecessor on the sugar scene, Lord Silsoe, the former Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, at a cocktail party in London. 'Tom, you have made a bloody mess of the Fiji sugar industry!' was Silsoe's robust private comment.

  17. The late Justice Sir Ronald Kermode who had represented the millers before Denning was my informant for the first sentence, and Sir Robert Sanders is my source for the second. The Denning Award was certainly good for cane-growers because a very substantial share of the unexpectedly high price negotiated by Ratu Mara went to them.
  18. Lal is perfectly free to be so impressed by the credentials of the National Federation Party's counsel appearing before Street; on the other hand, 'mischief' hardly comes into my comment about the Flower faction's joining Labour. Another very odd suggestion from him, surely? As to the ensuing Bavadra minority government with not a single Fijian communal seat to its credit and some highlighted pre-election threats in its armoury, is not Lal once more protesting too much? I bow of course before the cry – 'And Scarr expects us to take him at his word?' – but the fact is that Dr Bavadra was a neophyte parliamentarian with an Indian majority of voters in a cross-voting seat commonly held for the National Federation Party. If he was his own man, then he could give good impressions to the contrary. Less than ten per cent of Fijians turning out had voted for this government, there was far more crowing along communal lines from the victors than seemed wise, at least one Indian cabinet minister later admitted he had no idea how strongly iTaukei would feel about losing government, and so it went on, then and now, with strategic forgetfulness in some quarters but not a great deal learned in others.
  19. After not nearly forty years but actually almost fifty of the kaleidoscope that makes Fiji so enjoyable, I could have been more careful with names – I note this and when there are a few weeks to spare will repay Brij Lal's care with suggestions for attention he may like to give to his work. They may not be insubstantial. Effectively Sir Robert Foster was appointed to be governor-general-in-waiting. Professor Lal may take the complaint before which he cringes to the proceedings of the White Commission. And if it was news to him that Fiji had been designated as a homeland for Lord Shiva's devotees, then he has forgotten the pandit who said so in July 1987.
  20. How it can be declared that Ratu Mara helped to 'un-make' Fiji is beyond me. There are limits to the number of chestnuts that mortals can pull out of fires, and on a president's power to amend a loosely-drafted new constitution or its over-complicated voting system as well. Many years before the end when Tora declared that a government of national unity being broached by Ratu Mara with the Federation would always need Mara to run it and yet he was not immortal, the civil reply from Tui Nayau had been that there would be dozens of Maras. A shudder may have gone around the Fijian Association. Certainly there was relief when the other side did not respond to the proposal. A shy but strong-willed and hot-tempered man with a high-chiefly heritage and ten years or more of education overseas was not always easy for his own people to communicate with and yet he was prepared to contemplate taking considerable risks for a partnership with their opponents. Political heirs still seem to be far away below the horizon.


    [1] Brij V. Lal, Power and Prejudice: The Making of the Fiji Crisis (Wellington: New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, 1988).

    [2] Deryck Scarr, Fiji: The Politics of Illusion: The Military Coups in Fiji (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 1988).

    [3] E.P. Thompson, The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (London: Merlin Press, 1978), p. 39.

    [4] Brij V. Lal, 'Telling the Life of A.D. Patel,' n.d., online: http://dspace.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/47166/1/ch13.xml.

    [5] Email from France to author, 18/3/2010.

    [6] Lal, Power and Prejudice, p. 80.


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