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Journal of Pacific History
June, 2002

`The dark races against the light'? Official reaction to the 1959 Fiji riots.

Author/s: James Heartfield

`For many years various people in Fiji have been spreading a gospel of racial antagonism of which the motto is "the dark races against the light races.'" (1)

IN DECEMBER 1959 OIL WORKERS OF THE SHELL AND VACUUM OIL COMPANIES IN SUVA and nadi took part in a strike called by the Wholesale and Retail General Workers' Union (WRGWU). The strike, led by General Secretary James Anthony, of mixed Indian and Irish descent, and a Fijian, Apisai Tora, (2) president of the North West Branch, provoked a dispute that rapidly escalated into rioting and the imposition of a military curfew. In the aftermath, an official enquiry concluded that `there was a very pronounced anti-European feeling throughout the disturbances'. (3)

The Suva riots provoked an extensive soul-searching over the future of Empire and the presumed problem of race, which extended way beyond the shores of Fiji. In London, The Times editorial perceived the `Winds of Change blowing over Fiji' and warned that `a strain of anti-European feeling has been detected in the current riot'. (4) Bertram Jones, of the Daily Express, `flew into riot torn Fiji' to report that `it is against the British Community that the island has turned'. (5) Jones added that `the easy-going, good-natured Fijians, who only stand to lose if the British brake is taken off Indian ambition, have joined the Indians in howls that the whites should go'. In Sydney the Morning Herald took the view that `the rioting is the symptom of a growing malaise in the colony'. The Morning Herald's editorial writer suggested that `Fijians watching the rapid strides to home rule made by other British dependencies have become dissatisfied with a constitution on traditional Crown Colony lines'. (6)

The Fiji Times was bemused that `last week's events have caused world wide sensation'. (7) The Hon. R.G. Kermode of the Fiji Legislative Council demanded to know: `In view of the considerable publicity the colony had received in the Autralian and New Zealand Press, both from Fiji correspondents and press association releases since early December 1959, what steps has the government taken to see that any incorrect or misleading reports were corrected?' (8) The governor, Sir Kenneth Maddocks, an Englishman with a long record of colonial service, most recently as Nigeria's deputy governor, `decided that a Commission [of enquiry] was desirable to put some ill-founded press reports and the events themselves in proper perspective.' (9)

The Suva riots had come to have a symbolic importance beyond their immediate impact. Coming at a time of self-doubt for the imperial project, the events in Suva were made to bear the burden of British imperial angst. In particular, it was the question of race that taxed the distant reflections on the Suva riots. The riots were seen to be racially motivated and anti-European by Fiji Times editor Leonard Usher. Usher, who arrived in Fiji in 1930 to teach at Levuka Public School before serving as a government information officer, protested that the London `Times has undoubtedly erred in judging this week's events at Suva in the light of the post war racial and political upheaval in some of the Empire territories in Africa and Asia'. Usher suggested that `The Times, through the haze of distance, has found explanations too simple and too sweeping to account for the Suva outbreaks'. (10) (The source for The Times's story, though, was in all likelihood the Fiji Times itself, which first introduced a racial element into the reporting of the riots on 11 December, saying that `gangs of youths threw rocks and stones at European motorists driving along the Rodwell Road'.)

Evidently disturbed by the implications of the presumed racial sentiments expressed in the riots, Usher returned again and again to the issue. On 14 December, he fulminated `to suggest that the mass of the Fijian people ... whose tradition of unswerving loyalty to the Throne is unsurpassed anywhere else in the British Commonwealth have elected to follow the extremist mania long evident in parts of Africa and Asia is utter nonsense'. (11) On 21 December, though, Usher wrote these `Afterthoughts':

   The indications are that the hooligan violence which was directed primarily
   against Europeans and European property is part of a wider pattern. It is
   probable that the `dark races against the light' talk that has been going
   on quietly since the war is part of that pattern.

It was the racial interpretation of the riots that shaped the outcome of Chief Justice A.G. Lowe's report to the Fiji Legislative Council the following April, when it was established beyond doubt that the riots contained an anti-European motive. But was it true?

The initiators of the strike were clear that their goals were far from being racially motivated. The Wholesale and Retail General Workers' Union strike newsletter emphasised that `never before in the history of this country has the need for unity been so great', and `the workers must stand together'. (12) In January of 1960, B. Lakshman, Indian member of the Legislative Council and strike supporter, told a public meeting: `in Fiji at the moment we have no anti-British movement of any kind. We have an anti-poverty movement. In this movement we have Fijians, Indians, Chinese and Europeans.' (13) As far as the leaders were concerned, the protests and strike were not racial at all, but the means to advance a legitimate economic demand. The response on the part of the European minority and the authorities, however, tended to reinforce the racial interpretation of the conflict. Before the strike, the authorities had been committed to reducing racial tensions, forcing through the desegregation of the Suva Public Baths, for example. But in the heat of the conflict, they tended to interpret a challenge to the established order as necessarily racial in its motivations. In this, they revealed more of their own fears than anything else.

Justice Lowe, a New Zealander who had previously served in Tanganyika, sought to discredit the strike leaders, and laid the blame squarely on the union for the disturbances: `The basic reason for all the trouble was the methods employed on the part of the union'. (14) (Though 40 years later, former-Governor Maddocks recalled that `low wages and delays on the part of the employers had contributed to the trouble'.) (15)

By this Lowe meant that the escalation from negotiation to strike action created the conditions for a riot. Lowe repeats the charge that the riots were racially motivated, but shies away from the conclusion that anti-European feeling was widespread. Rather `the expressed anti-European feeling and actions ... were confined to the criminal elements and their supporters' with whom Anthony was accused of associating. (16)

The secret Monthly Intelligence Report to the Governor characterises the Commission's findings, saying they `established a definite link between James Anthony the strike leader and criminal elements. The report is careful to say that there is no evidence to suggest that Anthony actually gave orders which resulted in outbreaks of hooliganism and rioting, but there is an inference that such was in fact the case.' (17) By restricting the problem to `criminal elements' the Commission of Enquiry was seeking to moderate the view that anti-European sentiment was endemic amongst Fijians and Indians. To say so out loud would be to concede the failure of colonial rule. But nonetheless, the evidence to the Commission from Europeans emphasised again and again the fear that non-whites hated them.

In evidence to the Commission of Enquiry, Sir Reginald Eric Smith gave estimates of the cost of damage to property, differentiated by race: European 14,304 [pounds sterling]-3-5; Indian 1,792 [pounds sterling]-19-0; Chinese 513 [pounds sterling]-6-0. (18) The greater European loss reflects greater European wealth, with Europeans, though numerically a small minority, still being the majority of those assessed for tax with an income over 5,000 [pounds sterling] in 1960. (19) Though Smith's estimates never found their way into Justice Lowe's report, they did present something of a difficulty for the racial interpretation of the rioting. If there was damage to Indian and Chinese shops, then that spoke against an anti-European motivation for the attacks on property.

In his report, though, Lowe dismissed `damage to some Indian properties in the back streets. That, I consider was done for the mere excitement of it.' (20) Lowe quotes Charles Stinson, the Mayor of Suva, making light of damage to the (Indian) Councillor Bidesi's kiosk: `I believe had one small louvre of glass broken, although I personally didn't see any damage'. Similarly the mayor dismissed `the threat of damage to Indian owned buses and taxis which was heard of in evidence' as `quite a different matter from the damaging of European premises. The threat was not made for any racial reason but in order to bring about a stoppage in road transport.' (21) Indeed, from their comments, the mayor and Justice Lowe both seem positively disappointed that Indians did not suffer more, dwelling on the fact that `many Indians in a substantial way of business in premises in the same vicinity had their premises completely untouched'--a matter of relief, rather than irritation, one might have thought.

In his fictional account of the strike, Horns Faintly Blowing, Mark Sadler, a New Zealander who worked with James Anthony in the WRGWU office, puts these words in the mayor's mouth on the night of the riots: `If you Fijians don't like the wages in Suva, you should go back to your villages'. (22)

To demonstrate the existence of anti-European feeling Justice Lowe and the mayor are forced to minimise the damage to Indian property as merely incidental, without racial motivation. The fact that Indians' shops were damaged is merely `high spirits'. But is there any evidence that the damage done to the shops and cars of Europeans was anything more than high spirits?

The evidence for the anti-European sentiment cited by Lowe, apart from the damage to European shops, was drawn largely from the testimony of Mr Lane, works manager of Union Shops Ltd, who was advised by his staff not to go out as `it was not safe for Europeans on the city streets', and Mr Patton of British Petroleum, who was barracked in his car by `young Fijians' who `used abusive anti-European language directed at him'; also, cars driven by Europeans were stoned. (23) But both of the gentlemen in question were targets of the strike action and might be expected to perceive the attack on them as an attack on all Europeans. Justice Lowe did entertain the possibility that the reason that Europeans were attacked was related to their greater wealth, rather than their race. `The evidence suggests that the feeling was probably engendered by the fact that the Europeans own the largest shops and have, at least, an appearance of wealth'. The anti-European sentiment was `In other words the attitude of the "have-nots" to the "haves"'. (24)

Lowe continues `the fact that the Police were European-led also had an influence on those who were responsible for the show of anti-European feeling, and it is important to remember that the Oil companies are European owned'. But Lowe is not making the point that the race of the targets of the strikers-cum-rioters was incidental to the fact that they were in positions of authority. On the contrary, he adds that they `were, I consider, deliberately chosen for strike action'. This is a curious statement. Plainly, employees of the oil companies chose to strike against their own employers. In the context, it appears that Lowe means that they were `chosen' as a target for action because they were European-owned, suggesting that the strikes were merely the cover for an underground struggle of the `dark races against the light'. Lowe's somewhat paranoid speculations were shared by the mayor of Suva, Charles Stinson, who told the Commission of Enquiry that the strikes `were an organised attack on Europeans long planned by an organisation that was not the striking oil-workers union'? Governor Kenneth Maddocks endorsed Justice Lowe's findings in a telegram to the Secretary of State for the Colonies:

   The Commissioner has reinforced my belief that the rioting was directed
   principally at Europeans and European owned commercial and trading
   establishments. Whilst this came as a shock to many Europeans, it was
   certainly no surprise to me because I have been aware in other contexts
   that anti-European feeling in the colony has been steadily growing. (26)

The authorities' preoccupation with race spilt over into the composition of the enquiry itself. Responding to demands that Indians and Fijians be represented on the Commission of Enquiry, the Chief Justice informed the governor `that if there is any question of adding racial representation he would ask to be relieved of his appointment'. (27)

What did happen during the strike? The strikers numbered between 250 and 300 employed by Shell and Vacuum Oil Ltd, and were demanding a basic wage of 6 [pounds sterling] as opposed to 3 [pounds sterling]-0-6. On 7 December, 50 men met outside the Shell Company's Rodwell Road Depot, at which gathering Anthony insisted that `the law is the law and we must stick to it'. (28)

While the strike was on, the Colony's Legislative Council debated the budget, and in response to questioning from the Indian member Vijay Singh, Labour Commissioner Pearson insisted that wages in the colony had risen faster than prices. The appointed Fijian Member, Mr Ravuama, welcomed wage increases but warned `the leaders of labour groups to exercise reason': `The ignorance of the working classes should not be exploited for the benefit of the few'. Acting Colonial Secretary J.A.H. Hill issued a statement criticising the strike an action that Justice Lowe considered to be provocative.

On the third day, strikers again gathered to hear Anthony say: `we would like to stress very strongly that this strike is an entirely peaceful one'. The police, however, saw the gathering differently and Superintendent Mersh ordered his men to throw `smoke bombs' (subsequently shown to be tear gas grenades) (29) at the crowd. (30) Though Justice Lowe reverses the order of events, so that the alleged use of anti-European language and stoning of cars precedes the use of tear gas, the contemporaneous reports put the police action first: `Men in the crowd retaliated by hurling stones and rocks at the police squads'. (31) Assistant Superintendent E.R. Smith and Corporal Sunia Ganilau were hit by stones.

Reflecting on the troubles in his memoirs, Governor Maddocks allows that `efforts made by the government to ensure supplies of petrol for essential services inflamed passions'. (32) In his testimony to the enquiry Apisai Tora insisted that the men `were angry because of what the police had done at Suva'. Contrary to Justice Lowe's conclusions Tora insisted that `the police had caused the trouble that led to the breaking of shop windows'. (33) The character of subsequent rioting seems closer to this reaction against the use of tear gas by the police than it does to a groundswen to anti-European feeling. Reporting that the `Smoke Bomb Incident had a Brisk Sequel', the Fiji Times describes how `a Fijian and a Fijian detective sergeant had a brief fist-fight in front of Morris Hedstrom's Service Station'; `The crowd booed a policeman'; two Indians and two Fijians, when stopped by police, tried to `wrest the section leaders' rifle from him' and `in the ensuing struggle the man was shot twice in the buttocks'; Corporal Inoke told the courts that `about 100 people at Walu Bay ... were shouting "Kill the Police!"'. (34)

If the Suva crowd's reaction against the police action was intense, so too was the Acting Chief Secretary J.A.H. Hill's reaction to the disorder. On 10 December, the Executive Council put in place Public Safety Regulations that allowed the prohibition of meetings and processions and--indicating a fear of alternative sources of authority--banning the wearing of `uniform, badge, armband or similar means of identification'. Most telling, though, was the regulation `Persons who do not reside in a city, town or township or have not a sufficient reason for remaining in it may be removed from it by the police'. (35) In 1959, the Native Regulations that restricted indigenous Fijians' movements outside their villages were still in place, and this new regulation shored up those existing limits.

The reaction of the colonial authorities, with its mix of heavy-handed policing and race paranoia raises an interesting question: who were the rioters? The Commission of Enquiry reported `Six or eight people parading through the crowds ... described as "Tongans, Rotumans or Fijians", calling out "Strike, strike strike!"' (36) The Wholesale and Retail Workers' General Union took for its membership the slowly increasing number of urban labourers in Suva and Nadi. Trade union organisation had been more advanced amongst the Indian cane-growers and mill-workers in the sugar industry, whose militant strikes disturbed the colony in 1921 and 1943. (37) In 1957 alone there were three strikes against the Colonial Sugar Refinery. (38) Militancy amongst Fijians, though, such as in the gold mines, or in the sugar mills, was thought to be exceptional. `To Europeans in Fiji ... the fact that Fijians joined in the riot and demonstrated against them came as a painful surprise', according to the leader of the Commission of Enquiry, Sir Alan Burns. (39)

Under the separate Native Administration, indigenous Fijians had largely been excluded from the cash economy, principally cane-farming and shop-keeping. But in the 1950s, the numbers of indigenous Fijian wage-earners was growing, from 8,664 in 1954 to 10,053 in 1957, when, according to Oskar Spate, they made up as much as 43.4% of the total number of wage employees. (40) Indigenous Fijians were especially well represented amongst gold and manganese miners (900 out of 1,600 and 300 out of 419 respectively) and amongst stevedores. (41) The growing numbers of Fijians separated from the village-based subsistence economy had been a source of anxiety for the Native Administration under Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, who advised Governor Mitchell on the revision of the native regulations in 1944 to contain the problem of Fijian servicemen returning from the Second World War. In 1959, ex-servicemen--Apisai Tora amongst them--again swelled the numbers of urban Fijians, except this time it was the Malaya emergency that was winding down.

The reports of those arrested and convicted shows that indigenous Fijians were not just a part of the disorder, but perhaps the majority. On 11 December, four Fijians and four Indians were charged with breaking the curfew. Reports of sittings in Suva show a majority of Fijian names amongst the accused. (42) The colonial authorities, as well as the more privileged amongst the European population, had come to take the loyalty of the indigenous Fijians for granted, as a welcome counterbalance to the Indians' presumed capacity for disloyalty and militancy. Now it appeared that urban Fijians were succumbing to the same faults. More than any supposed `anti-European' sentiment, it was the racial solidarity between Indians and Fijians that was feared. To European eyes, any such collaboration was by definition `anti-European'. Usher's slightly hysterical fears about the `dark races against the white' tell us more about his own preoccupations than they do about the actual course of events in December 1959. There was some basis for Usher's mutterings. Indian leaders had long aspired to appeal to Fijians to unite with them against the colonial authorities--but for the most part these appeals were half-hearted and rebuffed.

During the strike, though, Indians and Fijians readily co-operated in their common struggle to raise their wages. The mixed Indian and Fijian workforce of the oil companies was supported by Indian members of the Legislative Council like B. Lakshman and Suva Councillor C. Bidesi, and by Fijian trades unionists like Ratu Meli Gonewai. Food was collected from Fijian villages (43) and Indian farmers from the northwest `offered money, rice and sugar to the strikers'. Indian taxi drivers refused fares and displayed `On Strike' notices. (44)

For all that the general response of the colonial authorities, in Fiji and throughout the Empire, is more indicative of their own fears of a revolt of coloured peoples against Europeans than of real-life events. The co-operation between Tora and Anthony seemed to epitomise the colonial authorities' worst fears. What to the strikers and their supporters was an act of mutual solidarity seemed like racial antagonism to the over-sensitive authorities. The racial motivation was not in the actions of the strikers, but in the response of the colonial authorities, as the aftermath would pointedly indicate.

The response of the authorities to the Suva disturbances was to see them in racial terms. At first, opposition to authority was instinctively seen as `anti-European'. But as the authorities reflected on what they imagined to be the problem of race in Fiji, they instinctively anticipated racial divisions between Indians and Fijians. While visiting Auckland, Fiji's governor, Sir Kenneth Maddocks, said that things were back to normal after the Suva riots, and reflected on the presumed problems of Fiji: `we have to find a solution to racial problems that is acceptable to everybody', he said. And, somewhat surprisingly, Maddocks insisted `strife was largely between the two major racial groups Fijians and Indians' (not something that Justice Lowe had uncovered). `The Fijian people did not actually resent the Indians, but they were apprehensive of them', said Maddocks. (45)

Maddocks returned to the theme of the `industrial disputes of the last twelve month' in his address to the Legislative Council on 25 November. As the real events receded into the distance, the governor seemed to think that the lesson to be learnt was this:

   the fact must squarely be faced that there are great differences of outlook
   and way of life amongst the different communities ... while avoiding any
   step which could hinder closer understanding between the main racial groups
   ... we must avoid the mistake of trying to force the pace, and by doing so,
   to increase doubts and fears. (46)

In light of the common cause that Indians and Fijians had made to better themselves, Maddocks's reflections make little sense. In fact, the wish that there might be divisions between Indians and Fijians is father to the thought that such divisions were paramount. What Maddocks was actually talking about was relations between the British-fostered Fijian leadership and the Indians. In his memoirs, Maddocks recalls

   The Fijian leaders, who greatly valued their traditional alliance with the
   Europeans, blamed the Indians for starting the trouble and as a result,
   race relations, which hitherto had been remarkably good, suffered a
   setback. (47)

Between December 1959 and November 1960 the campaign on the part of the Fijian Association to divide off Fijian workers from Indian union leaders was well under way. Justice Lowe commented that:

   There was evidence which suggested that the Fijian Chiefs were asked to
   speak to their people. Whether or not they chose their own approach to the
   matter, I do not know but their words had an excellent effect in restoring
   more peaceful conditions. (48)

The Fijian Chiefs were the Fijian appointees on the Legislative Council, for the most part employed as part of the Native Administration by the colonial government. As Noel Rutherford put it, `the most effective action of the Government' in restoring order `was made through the medium of the Fijian Chiefs'. (49) Laying claim to chiefly authority in the rural setting of village life, their authority over the newly urbanised Fijians had not at that time been tested. The test came with the announced meeting of trade unionists at Albert Park on Thursday 10 December, where 3,000 gathered expecting to hear from Anthony and Tora. `However, when the crowd gathered in Albert Park at 2.00pm they discovered that they were to be addressed not by the strike leaders, but by the highest chief in the land, the Vunivalu Ratu George Cakobau.' (50)

Ratu K.T.T. Mara, Fijian representative on the Legislative Council, recalls that `with other Fijian chiefs and B.D. Lakshman ... I spoke to crowds at Albert Park appealing for calm'. (51) The chiefs were assisted by the fact that Anthony had been prevented from addressing a public rally the previous day by the authorities, (52) and grabbed the platform to address the largely Fijian crowd. In the event, the chiefs' intervention was so cautiously cryptic as to go over most people's heads. Ratu George Cakobau told them: `We do not want to stop your meeting. I want to speak of the damage you have done ... remember the name of Fiji. The reputation of the Fijians is up to you. That is all.' (53) Sadler recalls that the chiefs `adopted a "neither-for-nor-against attitude" which did not arouse much enthusiasm'--but then their purpose was to dampen enthusiasm. (54)

Over the weekend, the chiefs held a number of public meetings of their own to put their arguments more directly to the Fijians of Suva. Judging by the common threads of the arguments put, the chiefs had discussed closely, either amongst themselves or with Governor Maddocks, the line that they should take. A crowd of between 2,000 and 3,000--mainly Fijians--attended a rally called by the Fijian Association in the grounds of the Boys' Grammar School in Suva on Saturday 12 December, which was followed by a further meeting that afternoon at the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB), held for people of Macuata, Cakaudrove and Bua. (55)

The most pointed message was that Fijians should not follow `others', namely Indians. At the NLTB Ratu Penaia warned Fijians `not to follow what others did' and Ratu Tui Macuata, Jesoni B. Takala, warned that `some people have sweet mouths and what they said could rouse others', while Ratu Josefa counselled `don't take the advice of trouble-makers'. At the rally Ratu Edward Cakobau said there `was no intention to "cajole the Fijians away from those who worked with them"', but Semesa Sikivou warned Fijians that `other people might be using them for their own ends'.

The chiefs had little doubt that Fijians had been involved in the disturbances. `Most of those arrested were Fijians', said Ratu Edward Cakobau. Ratu Penaia was blunter, saying `you have brought this on yourselves'. Their attitude to the events was overwhelmingly one of shame. `The people who started this situation are the people who blackened our names', said Ratu Josefa, while Ratu Tui Macuata lectured `the Chiefs and people of our various villages are ashamed of this', adding `the outbreak of violence has made world news'.

Ratu Josefa in particular appealed to Fijians' feelings for their villages: `What you do here will be borne by the people in your villages'. Ratu Mara lectured that `because of the trouble people in the Western District would not receive their lease money [i.e. the rents paid by Indian farmers on native land, disbursed centrally through the Native Land Trust Board] for Christmas'. Reminding the urban Fijians of traditional village structures was a way of reminding them of obligations and allegiances that would contain them. Ratu Penaia was blunt: `those of you that have no jobs, my advice is go back to your villages'.

Plainly the chiefs felt insecure about the lines of authority over these urban Fijians. Ratu Edward Cakobau said `he had always been against the leaders being too far away from the Fijians in industry'. `Those who lived at Suva', he said, `should use the Fijian Association as a channel through which they could get their leaders to make contact with the government the firms and the city council'.

The intervention by the chiefs was without doubt influential in shaping the outcome of the dispute. Whether it was decisive is less clear. The influence of the strike had already peaked, leaving the field open for more moderate voices. A compromise settlement arranged by Ratu Mara and Ratu Meli Gonewai was struck with the oil companies. And extensive curfews and arrests contained the rioting. The following January an arbitration panel made up of James Anthony and Ratu Meli Gonewai for the Union, J. Falvey for Vacuum Oil and Maurice Scott for Shell, with Ratu Mara as umpire, agreed to an increase in wages, though not to the 6 [pounds sterling] Anthony demanded. (56)

While the Wholsesale and Retail General Workers Union addressed its own members as members of no race, or any, the Fijian Association addressed them as Fijians, first and foremost. It appealed to the emergent Fijian labourer as a product of the village, and in such a way extended the racial division that existed in the countryside, between Indian cash-croppers and Fijian subsistence farmers, into the town. The initial appeal of the chiefs at Albert Park on 10 December was tentative because they did not know what kind of reception they would get, but two days later, they were more confident of their authority. By contrast, meetings held by Anthony and the WRGWU after 12 December gathered mostly Indian crowds. (57) The chiefs had reasserted a racialised opposition between Fijians and Indians on the new terrain of urban Suva.

The effect of this reassertion of racial difference on the part of these colonial representatives was backward-looking and potentially destructive. The colonial authorities were in the process of trying to undo some of the constraints imposed by the Fijian Administration, a process motivated by Sir Alan Burns's commission of enquiry that had been hearing evidence in the summer of 1959. But this attempt to liberalise and modernise Fijian society was set back by the response to the riots. Maddocks recalls:

   It was unfortunate that the excellent and forthright report of the Burns
   Commission, which had a lot to say about customary practices and racial
   problems, was published very soon afterwards, when the atmosphere was still
   very uneasy. (58)

The governor's monthly intelligence briefing records that sales of Justice Lowe's Report into the Suva Disturbances `were higher than those of the Burns Commission report'. (59) The effect of the disturbances did not just distract attention from the attempted modernisation, they entrenched a degree of racial hostility on the part of the authotities and of the Fijian chiefs.

Fijian representative Semesa Sikivou was forced to backtrack in the Legislative Council when the Pacific Review reported him saying Fijians should attack Indians. (60) A somewhat melodramatic Ram Mara shocked the Commission of Enquiry by suggesting that Fijians would lose nothing but the record of their debts if Suva were burned down. (61) In May 1960, a labour adviser for the Colonial Secretary, E. Parry, protested against Labour Secretary Pearson: `I cannot accept the proposition which he makes that the lack of moral qualifies among Indians is responsible for the confused labour question'. (62)

More problematic was the pressure from the Fijian chiefs to organise separate unions on an ethnic basis. Jacqueline Leckie notes that `the years between 1959 and 1962 saw a steady upsurge in splinter unions for ethnic Fijians such as the Fijian Domestic Restaurant and Allied Workers Union (1960-63) and the Suva or the Lautoka Municipal Council (Fijian) Workers Union (1960-65)'. (63) Ratu Meli Gonewai left the WRWGU to form the Fiji Oil Workers' Union; the Fiji Stevedores' Union changed its constitution excluding non-Fijians in April 1960.64 Anthony, Tora, and Lakshman met the governor on 22 April to complain about the `formation of [a] breakaway union', only to be lectured on `the tight of freedom of association of workers'. (65) Michael Howard records that militants were `expelled from the ... Wholesale and Retail General Workers' Union during 1961 and 1962'. (66) In practice, employers could scarcely allow the complete segregation of the workforce on racial lines, and in 1962 the Colonial Office sent the Parliamentary Under-Secretary G. Foggon to persuade the authorities in Fiji against support for `Fijians who wanted to form their own racial unions'. (67) The breakaway Fijian unions, though, were abandoned, and in the 1970s and 1980s unions, especially public sector unions, emerged with a far greater Indian membership. (68)

The actions on the part of the governor and the Fijian representatives were principally taken to limit the militancy on the part of protesters and strikers who were for the most part ethnic Fijians, albeit urban workers outside the rural village structure. The Fijian chiefs proved their worth as a conservative influence on the Fijians to the colonial authorities. Three years later they were put up as candidates in the first Fijian elections. The only serious challenge to these chiefly candidates was Apisai Tora, who stood for the Western seat, but was roundly beaten by Ratu Penaia Ganilau. (69) It was the test of loyalty that made an orderly withdrawal a possibility for the British colonial authorities. It also consolidated the racial divisions that have continued to dog independent Fiji since. Those pressures divided Tora and Anthony. While Anthony was persuaded that Fiji had no future for him, and left to study in Hawaii, Tora carried on militant trade unionism, and attempted to ride the tiger of Fiji's ethnic politics. For some years Tora worked to win Fijian voters to the largely Indian-backed National Federation Party, but by 1987 he was rallying the ethnic nationalism of the Fijian taukei movement to overthrow the elected Labour government. Anthony, meanwhile, returned from Honolulu to support the radical Labour leader Timoci Bavadra, denouncing his old comrade as a CIA stooge. (70)

Rutherford concluded that `the cooperation between Indian and Fijian workers, which was the most significant aspect of the 1959 strike proved ephemeral'. (71) But in retrospect, the most significant aspect of the events of 1959 was the official hysteria that the strike provoked. Seeing the conflict in racialised terms of a revolt against Europeans, the colonial administration's subsequent attempts to restore order further entrenched racial divisions between Fijians and Indians.


My thanks to Robert Norton, Mark Sadler, Suke Wolton, and Jonathan Fraenkel for advice and comments. I am indebted to David Frank and Eve Kay of RDF Media who made my stay in Fiji possible, and to the staff of the National Archives in Suva for their assistance.

(1) Editorial, Fiji Times, 12 Dec. 1959.

(2) For an update on Tora's subsequent career, see James Heartfield, `Ancient feud that haunts the cane-fields', Fiji Times, 8 July 2001.

(3) A. G. Lowe, Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Disturbances in Suva, 1959, Council Paper No. 10, Legislative Council of Fiji (Suva 1960), 27. Hereinafter, Commission of Enquiry.

(4) The Times, 11 Dec. 1959.

(5) Daily Express, 12 Dec. 1959.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Fiji Times, 14 Dec. 1959.

(8) Legislative Council Debates, Session of May 1960 (Suva 1961), 3 May.

(9) Background note prepared for a parliamentary question put to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 16 Feb. 1960, from the Colonial Office records held at the Public Records Office, Kew, London (hereinafter PRO), CO1036/659.

(10) Fiji Times, 12 Dec. 1959.

(11) Maddocks recalls that one of the Directors of the Fiji Times, speaker of the Legislative Council Maurice Scott, was a keen supporter of the Fijian Association. Kenneth Maddocks, Of No Fixed Abode (Wolsey Press 1988), 120.

(12) Reproduced as Appendix XI to the Commission of Enquiry.

(13) Fiji Times, 8 Jan. 1960.

(14) Commission of Enquiry, Conclusion, 21.

(15) Maddocks, Of No Fixed Abode, 130.

(16) Commission of Enquiry, 27.

(17) Monthly Intelligence Report to the Governor, in PRO, CO 1036/658.

(18) Fiji Tunes, 17 Feb. 1960.

(19) Sir Alan Burns, Fiji (London 1963), 125.

(20) Commission of Enquiry, 27.

(21) Ibid.

(22) Mark Sadler, Horns Faintly Blowing or Uprising in Fiji (Wellington 1988), 322.

(23) Commission of Enquiry, 6, 8.

(24) Commission of Enquiry, 27.

(25) Reuter, 1 Mar. 1960.

(26) Lowe to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 2 May 1960, PRO, CO1036/658.

(27) Report by H.P. Hall to the Colonial Office, 7 Jan. 1960, PRO, CO1036/658.

(28) Tunes, 8 Dec. 1959.

(29) Commission of Enquiry, 9.

(30) Fiji Times, 10 Dec. 1959.

(31) Fiji Times, 10 Dec. 1959.

(32) Maddocks, Of No Fixed Abode, 130.

(33) Fiji Times, 6 Feb. 1959.

(34) Fiji Times, 11, 10, 12, 17 Dec. 1959.

(35) Fiji Times, 11 Dec. 1959.

(36) Commission of Enquiry, 6. They were Fijians, and, according to Sadler, `a motley collection of people followed them as though they were the chorus of a Pied Piper of Hamelin show'. Horns Faintly Blowing, 307.

(37) See Ahmed Ali, Plantation to Politics (Suva 1982); K. Gillion, The Fiji Indians. Challenge to European dominance 1920-1946 (Canberra 1977); Brij V. Lal, Broken Waves (Hawaii 1992).

(38) John Coulter, The Drama of Fiji, a Contemporary History (Melbourne 1967), 117.

(39) Burns, Fiji, 183.

(40) Oskar Spate, The Fijian People: economic problems and prospects, Legislative Council of Fiji, Council Paper No. 13 of 1959 (Suva 1959), 71. Howard et al. give this rather down-beat assessment of the Fijian urban working class: `Lacking education, skills, and tied to many pre-capitalist traditions inhibiting capital accumulation, large numbers of Fijians belong to the lower level of the class structure. Urban and rural working classes have a significant number of native Fijians, who are employed in unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in construction, manufacturing, tourism and now the forestry sector.' Michael Howard, Nii-K. Plange, Simione Duratalo, Ron Witton, The Political Economy of the South Pacific (Townsville 1983), 188.

(41) Spate, The Fijian People, 71, 72; Coulter, The Drama of Fiji, 69.

(42) Fiji Times, 12 Dec. 1959.

(43) `Dalo [a traditionally Fijian root crop] for strikers' supplies', reported in Fiji Times, 15 Dec. 1959.

(44) Fiji Times, 8, 10 Dec. 1959.

(45) Fiji Times, 26 Feb. 1960.

(46) Legislative Council Debates, Session of 1960.

(47) Maddocks, Of No fixed Abode, 130.

(48) Commission of Enquiry, 20.

(49) `The 1959 Strike', in Peter Hempenstall and Noel Rutherford, Protest and Dissent in the Colonial Pacific (Suva 1984), 83.

(50) Ibid.

(51) Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, The Pacific Way: a memoir (Hawaii 1997), 65.

(52) Fiji Times, 23 Dec. 1959.

(53) Fiji Times, 11 Dec. 1959.

(54) Sadler, Horns Faintly Blowing, 325.

(55) Both meetings are reported in Fiji Times, 14 Dec. 1959, and see Hempenstall and Rutherford, Protest and Dissent in the Colonial Pacific, 85.

(56) Fiji Times, 23, 28 Jan. 1960. Mara, The Pacific Way, 64.

(57) Fiji Times, Letters, 9 Jan. 1960.

(58) Maddocks, Of No Fixed Abode, 130.

(59) Monthly Intelligence Report to the Governor, in PRO, CO1036/658.

(60) Pacific Review, 17 Dec. 1959; Fiji Times, 9 Jan. 1960.

(61) Mara, The Pacific Way, 65.

(62) Report in PRO, CO1036/947. Sadler, though, makes the Pearson character a `big friendly man, and ex-British trade unionist' who had `failed to fully adjust to the realities of the Fijian situation'. Horns Faintly Blowing, 296.

(63) Jacqueline Leckie, `Workers in colonial Fiji, 1870-1970', in C. Moore, J. Leckie and D. Munro (eds), Labour in the South Pacific (Townsville 1990), 60. And see J. Leckie, To Labour with the State (Dunedin 1997), 127.

(64) Lal, Broken Waves, 169.

(65) Inward Telegram to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 27 Apr. 1960, in PRO, CO1036/658.

(66) Michael Howard, Fiji: race and politics in an island state (Vancouver 1991), 57.

(67) Record of a meeting held on 19 Oct. 1962, in PRO, CO1036/947.

(68) Michael Howard, `The trade union movement in Fiji', in Michael Taylor (ed.) Fiji future imperfect? (London 1987).

(69) Norman Meller and James Anthony, Fiji Goes to the Polls: the crucial Legislative Council elections of 1963 (Honolulu 1968), 101.

(70) Len Usher, Letters from Fyi, 1987-1990 (Suva 1992), 40-2.

(71) Noel Rutherford, `The 1959 strike', in Hempenstall and Rutherford, Protest and Dissent, 86.

JAMES HEARTFIELD--teaches economics and international relations on the University of Delaware's London programme

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