Ratu is a title inherited by Fijians of chiefly rank. An equivalent title, Adi (pronounced ahndi) is used by female chiefs.
The Fijian nobility consists of about seventy chiefs, each of whom descends from a family that has traditionally ruled a certain area. The chiefs are of differing rank, with some chiefs traditionally subordinate to other chiefs. The Cakobau clan is regarded as the highest chiefly clan. They are descendants of Censored page, the Tui Bau (Paramount Chief of Bau, on the eastern side of Viti Levu, Fiji's most populous island), who was the first chief to unite the entire country under his authority in 1871, when he was proclaimed Tui Viti (King of Fiji). He subsequently ceded the islands to the United Kingdom in 1874. Other prominent chiefly clans include Mara (the traditional rulers of the Lau Islands ), and Ganilau . Use of surnames is not universal in Fiji, however, and the last name of many chiefs does not always indicate the clan to which they belong.
In its near-century of colonial rule (1874-1970), the British upheld Fiji's traditional chiefly structure and worked through it. They established what was to become the Great Council of Chiefs, originally an advisory body, but which grew into a powerful constitutional institution. Constitutionally, it functions as an electoral college to choose Fiji's President (a largely honorary position, modelled on the British Monarchy), the Vice-President, and 14 of the 32 Senators, members of Parliament's "upper house" which has a veto over most legislation. The remaining 18 Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister (9), the Leader of the Opposition (8), and the Rotuman Islands Council (1); these appointees may, or may not, be of chiefly rank also. (The Senate was modelled on Britain's House of Lords, which consists of both hereditary nobles and Life Peers).
The Presidency, Vice-Presidency, and fourteen Senate seats are the only constitutional offices whose appointment is controlled by persons of chiefly rank. In a departure from the generally-followed British constitutional model (which banned Peers from election to the House of Commons prior to the constitutional reform of 1999), in post-independence Fiji Ratus have always competed for parliamentary seats on an equal footing with commoners. In the years following independence, this favoured the chiefly class, as the common people looked to them as their leaders and generally voted for them. For several elections, almost all ethnic Fijian members of the House, which is elected by universal suffrage, were Ratus; in recent elections this has diminished and fewer than half of the Fijian Representatives are currently of chiefly rank. The distinction between Ratus and commoners is slowly narrowing, as commoners are becoming better educated and have begun to work their way into the power structure. The chiefs, however, retain enormous respect among the Fijian people. In times of crisis, such as the coups of 1987 and the third coup of 2000, the Great Council of Chiefs has often stepped in to provide leadership when the modern political institutions have broken down. Although the distinction between chiefs and commoners will inevitably continue to lessen, the chiefly institutions are unlikely to disappear any time soon.
Last updated: 02-10-2005 05:20:57