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Disturbing History

Resistance in Early Colonial Fiji, 1874-1914

Robert Nicole

Publication Year: 2011

Disturbing History focuses on Fiji’s people and their agency in responding to and engaging the multifarious forms of authority and power that were manifest in the colony from 1874 to 1914. By concentrating on the lives of ordinary Fijians, the book presents alternate ways of reconstructing the island’s past. Couched in the traditions of social, subaltern, and people’s histories, the study is an excavation of a large mass of material that tells the often moving stories of lives that have largely been overlooked by historians. These challenge conventional historical accounts that tend to celebrate the nation, represent Fiji’s colonial experience as ordered and peaceful, or British tutelage as benevolent. In its contribution to postcolonial theory, Disturbing History reveals resistance as a constant but partial and untidy mix of other constituents such as collaboration, consent, appropriation, and opportunism, which together form the colonial landscape. In turn, colonialism in Fiji is shown as a force shaped in struggle, fractured and often fragile, with a presence and application in the daily lives of people that was often chaotic, imperfect, and susceptible to subversion. The book divides the period of study into two broad categories: organized resistance and everyday forms of resistance. The first examines the Colo War (1876), the Tuka Movement (1878–1891), the Seaqaqa War (1894), the Movement for Federation with New Zealand (1901–1903), the Viti Kabani Movement (1913–1917), and the various organized labor protests. The second half of the book addresses resistance manifested in the villages and plantations, including tax and land boycotts, violence and retributive justice, avoidance protest, petitioning, and women’s resistance. In their entirety these forms reveal a complex web of relationships between powerful and subordinate groups and among subordinate groups themselves. The author concludes that resistance cannot be framed as a totality but as a multilayered and multidimensional reality. In the wake of Fiji’s present volatile climate, this book will aid readers in understanding the continuities and disjunctures in Fiji’s interethnic and intraethnic relations.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

History telling is an active participatory process and this book has been as much a collective journey as it has been a personal one. I have been fortunate to have many relatives, friends, and colleagues join me in this journey and to have benefited from their help. In their various capacities they made this journey a life-altering experience. First I must thank Professor Peter Hempenstall, Professor ...

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pp. 1-13

In Fiji, as elsewhere in the world, numerous signs and inscriptions, including the major landmarks, statues, building and street names, public holidays, and school textbooks, denote the triumph of authority. By comparison, little is known of those historical figures who dared to be different and defiant—Fiji’s rebels and dissidents. These individuals and their deeds have been edited out ...

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Chapter One: The Colo War of 1876

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pp. 14-44

The Colo War has its origins in the twenty-year period that preceded the signing of the Deed of Cession, the document that formalised the British takeover of the Fiji Islands in October 1874. In piecing together the complexities of the war, the chapter begins with a reconstruction of the nineteenthcentury Colo world.1 This first section is important because it sketches the ...

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Chapter Two: Navosavakadua and the Tuka Movement

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pp. 45-69

While it suppressed further armed resistance and brought the area of Colo under the ambit of colonial rule, the Colo War did not take away the underlying antagonism that had been at the source of the conflict. Neither was the antagonism confined to Colo. It resonated among the tribes of the Ra Province and around the northwestern quadrant of Viti Levu, where the ...

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Chapter Three: The Movement for Federation and the Viti Kabani

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pp. 70-97

Apolosi Nawai is one of Fiji’s most well-known rebels and has received relatively more attention from historians than other dissidents. The Viti Kabani is the best-known of Fiji’s resistance movements. When Nawai formed the Viti Kabani (Fiji Company) in 1913, he and his supporters mounted the single most important popular challenge to the colonial administration. When it ...

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Chapter Four: Organised Plantation Protest

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pp. 98-127

Aside from dealing with the insurgency that brewed in the hills, Arthur Gordon faced another daunting task when he took control of the government in 1875. Like any governor, Gordon was expected to render his colony profitable to the British Empire and run it at minimal cost to the government and its metropolitan taxpayers. To make the economy viable, Gordon needed to raise ...

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Chapter Five: Everyday Resistance in the Villages

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pp. 128-158

Having examined organised resistance, we turn to the covert, non-momentous, and unspectacular actions through which ordinary people subverted authority in their day-to-day lives. Here the large conflagrations are replaced by “ordinary” forms of struggle at the village level. These are stories and voices from history’s underground—those characters and utterances that ...

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Chapter Six: Everyday Resistance on the Plantations

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pp. 159-186

The prevailing wisdom about organised resistance on Fiji’s plantations is that it was rare. In this chapter, a window is opened into the everyday world of Fiji’s plantation microcosm to examine the everyday forms of resistance that labourers used between large conflagrations. Because the bulk of labourers on Fiji’s plantations were Indian indentured immigrants, the discussion examines ...

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Chapter Seven: Women's Resistance

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pp. 187-213

In this chapter, the complex world of Fiji’s women is explored with a view to deciphering the circumstances under which women questioned and confronted colonial and patriarchal power. This is a difficult task because the lives of indigenous and migrant women were recorded mainly through the lenses of European and Fijian male elites. While women had a long tradition ...

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pp. 214-225

The principal propositions that emerge from this study are best framed as answers to the following questions. What does the study reveal about the history and nature of resistance in Fiji? What kinds of continuities and discontinuities emerge? What kinds of deductions can be made about people’s colonial experience in Fiji based on their resistant behaviours? What kinds of ...


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pp. 227-275


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pp. 277-278


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pp. 279-292


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pp. 293-298

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860981
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824832919

Publication Year: 2011