Washington International Law Journal


John Crosetto


In an effort to ease racial tension and the resulting political unrest, recent law reform in Fiji has focused on land tenure. Political coups in the wake of expiring agricultural leases demonstrate that the current tenure system fails to provide the security and predictability demanded by both Fijian owners and Indian tenants. Current law reform theory advocates adapting the rule of law to the local context to promote human rights and self-determination. A problem lies, however, in identifying the institutions and interests that define Fiji's local context. In addition to the country's divided ethnic population, Fiji's "tradition" is largely defined by the former colonial institutions, while custom continues to define daily life. The current constitution, which provides for the "paramountcy" of Fijian interests, supports land management policies that preserve traditional communal tenure. The practice of customary tenure by farmers, however, continues to diverge from the "law" as defined by tradition. Adapting the laws governing the Native Land Trust Board to better reflect customary practice may successfully address the land tenure conflict. To this end, the Native Land Trust Board should reevaluate the mataqali system and legitimate vakavanua leasing arrangements, which manifest a grass-roots transformation from subsistence to market economy. Those arrangements may better preserve what the constitutional provisions for paramountcy were intended to protect, namely, Fijian cultural identity expressed in vakavanua, the transformation between the past and present in the way of the land.

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