Issue Nº XIII (N.S.) – September/October 2009
All over the Pacific, traditional hierarchy and structures have been maintained. In the initial Pacific cultures, systems were already in place to ensure peace, justice and substance in the governance of a tribe, group or community.
Tribe ceremony in Papua New Guinea.
© Reporters/Eureka Slide
Samoa has long been an intriguing democracy case study due to the success of the integration of cultural democracy and the imposed system of democracy.
According to Dr. Graham Hassall, Professor and Director of Governance at the University of the South Pacific, the Samoan system like others in the Pacific has been successful because it ensured the voice of the people.
He believes that there is a strong linkage between people agreeing to follow certain leaders, and the leader then serving the community, protecting, allocating resources, solving disputes, etc.
In Fiji, the traditional tribal system, governed by the Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga in Fijian) has been severely undermined and ignored. The Council was established in 1876. All of the chiefs belong to one of three confederacies: Kubuna, Burebasaga, and Tovata. For the most part, the boundaries of the confederacies correspond to the boundaries of the provinces. During the colonial era, meetings of the Great Council of Chiefs were held every year or two. In 1963, this function of the Council was abolished as indigenous Fijians obtained the right to elect their representatives to Parliament.
In Fiji, there is another cultural representation to leadership and that is the House of Chiefs, a larger body which includes all hereditary chiefs. Fiji’s first Constitution, adopted upon independence in 1970, gave the Council the right to appoint eight of the twenty-two members of the Senate.
The Council was suspended in April 2007 by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, instigator of the December 2006 military coup. On August 5, 2008, it was announced that the Great Council of Chiefs was ready to reconvene.
Solomon Islands challenge
According to Michael Kwa’ioloa, of Kwara’ae in Solomon Islands, his country does not have caste or class divisions. In Melanesia (Solomons, Papua-New-Guinea and Vanuatu) they have what is called the Big-men system and in certain parts the chiefly system. The country also has different tribal groups found on the different islands.
According to Kwa’ioloa, in the past Solomon Islanders lived under a system of equality of wealth based on exchange. “Furthermore, Western ideas of economics convinced Solomon Islanders educated overseas to behave naively, contradicting the traditional religious and cultural values of cooperation which suit the people of the country best.”
The ethnic groups of the Solomon Islands reflect the natural division of the islands. It was only in the late twentieth century that ethnic relations became politicised, resulting in violence.
There is a collective cultural conscience in the Pacific that identifies each island. In time, the value of tribal culture and traditional hierarchy became diluted in the bid to become successful democratic states, although not all have been successful cases. The common trait is that tradition is still the rule of law.
* Samoan journalist.
Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson*