Wailoku SUVA (28/09/23 – An emotional Paterisio Nunu couldn’t hold back his tears while addressing a Government delegation during the “First-ever Consultation on the Formalization of Melanesian Settlements in Fiji.”
The former Civil Servant passionately addressed the plight of the descendants of the Melanesians who were brought to Fiji by blackbirders, highlighting their long-felt sense of being forgotten over the years.
“We are a forgotten group of people, yet we played a major role in the development of Fiji in the early days,” he emphasized. “Now that this Government has seen fit to address our plight, we are relieved. A burden that has been with us and our forefathers has been lightened.”
He expressed gratitude, saying, “I thank the Coalition Government for this initiative, and now that consultations have begun, we, the Melanesian descendants, look forward to a brighter future.”
In the latter half of the 1800s, our Melanesian compatriots first arrived in Fiji through the blackbirding system. Their unwavering determination led them to play a pivotal role in our nation’s development, working diligently on cotton plantations and undertaking essential road construction.
The enduring legacy of their contributions is intricately interwoven into the very tapestry of Fiji’s history.
Despite their seamless integration into Fijian society, a significant majority of them currently reside in informal settlements.
Government has undertaken the noble objective of formalizing these settlements, recognizing the incredible journey of these communities marked by unwavering strength and resilience—a journey that remains largely unfamiliar to many Fijians.
Chairing the consultation on Thursday night (28/09/23) in Wailoku, Suva, the Assistant Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Hon. Sakiusa Tubuna
, said the Consultation on the Formalization of Melanesian Settlements in Fiji, unveiled a significant government initiative to rectify historical injustices and acknowledge the enduring contributions of Fiji’s Melanesian descendants.
Providing historical context, Hon Tubuna emphasized the challenging circumstances under which Melanesian ancestors arrived in Fiji.
“Their arrival, dating back to July 5, 1865, predated that of many other communities. They were brought to Fiji as indentured laborers, enduring hardships that included the loss of cultural ties and family bonds,” said Hon Tubuna.
“This legacy deserved recognition and the restoration of their rights and Government is committed to formalizing Melanesian settlements representing a monumental step forward in Fiji’s history, highlighting the indomitable strength and contributions of these communities to the nation’s development.
The Assistant Minister also shed light on the historical injustices faced by Melanesian communities, who were forcibly relocated from the Suva city area between 1920 and 1960.
“In the era of Colonial rule, these individuals provided invaluable, yet often overlooked, cheap labor. Their sacrifices extended beyond the physical toil; many of them lost their cultural connections, severed from their roots, and tragically, were unable to reunite with their families.”
“Despite these adversities, Melanesian descendants continue to grapple with the consequences today, including land disputes and restricted access to their ancestral lands,” he said.
However, Hon. Tubuna’s address celebrated the enduring spirit of the Melanesian communities and their significant contributions to Fiji’s development. He acknowledged their strong bonds with indigenous Fijians, highlighting the unique journey of resilience that defines their history.
Hon. Tubuna emphasized Government’s commitment to formalize informal settlements aimed at providing land security, addressing community disintegration, creating livelihood opportunities, and alleviating poverty.
“This commitment goes beyond addressing past wrongs; it is a profound promise of a more equitable future for the Melanesian descendants,” Hon. Tubuna elaborated
“Hon. Rabuka’s leadership ushered in the establishment of a task force committee, charged with overseeing the formalization project. This initiative aims to extend land tenancy rights to Melanesian settlements throughout Fiji while also exploring new sites to accommodate the growing populations.”
Furthermore, Hon. Tubuna emphasized the necessity for authentic collaboration between the Government and Melanesian communities to collectively address shared challenges and pave the way for a brighter future for all. This call for collaboration came just before the official launch of the “Project for the Formalization of Melanesian Descent and Settlements in Fiji.”
The historic event laid the foundation for a more inclusive future in Fiji, where the contributions of Melanesian descendants would be celebrated and their rights fully reinstated.
Consultations similar to this one will be conducted in all Melanesian settlements across the country. Also present at the consultation was the Permanent Secretary for iTaukei Affairs Mr. Pita Tagicakirewa.