'You are not a white woman!' Apolosi Nawai, the Fiji produce agency and the trial of Stella Spencer in Fiji, 1915.
Journal of Pacific History, June, 2003, by James Heartfield
'How can I keep quiet? I am a white woman ...' 'You are not a white woman!'
THE ABOVE EXCHANGE TOOK PLACE BETWEEN STELLA SANGORSKI SPENCER AND Robert Crompton, the prosecuting council in a case in Fiji in March 1915 before Acting Chief Police Magistrate Roger Greene. Spencer, who had been charged with slapping a Fijian, Williame Ralali, was convicted and sentenced to pay one pound, or be imprisoned for a week. In fact, she had already been imprisoned and had refused food for four days. (1)
Stella Spencer had come to Fiji from Melbourne seven months earlier, with her husband Albert, who was employed by a novel venture, the Fiji Produce Agency. The company had been established by a native Fijian, Apolosi Nawai, to provide an alternative outlet for the produce of the Melanesian Islanders, in competition with European traders. In imitation of a similar venture, the Tonga Company, Nawai adopted the slogan 'Fiji for the Fijians'. (2) Though it appeared to be just a commercial enterprise, Apolosi's Fiji Produce Agency proved a direct challenge both to European prestige and to the colonial authorities, the first in Nawai's long career of agitation and imprisonment. Stella Spencer's own imprisonment came about as she was swept up into Nawai's cause out of a sense of the injustice faced by the Fijians, and punished by the courts for betraying her race.
Before Apolosi Nawai's enterprise, the only other secular avenue for indigenous Fijians to further their ambitions was the Native Administration, which was run on traditional lines, with men of chiefly families recruited as local administrators, Rokos (District Commissioners) and Burls (Village Headmen). The Lawa-i-Taukei, or Native Regulations, enforced strict obedience to the chiefs, to whom was owed lala, or labour service, and punished such offences as talaidredre--'disobedience'--and Vakatumburararawa--'allowing one's anger to arise'. As well as financing local government, including the payment of the officials, indigenous Fijians raised 16,205-7-6 [pounds sterling] for the colony in taxation. (3) Fijians were mostly dissuaded from paid employment by the Native Regulations that kept them obligated to their villages and a subsistence economy. The prospect of a Fiji Trading Company was immediately popular, and its enterprising, if cavalier, founder soon raised 1,050 [pounds sterling] through the issue of 6,456 shares, (4) raising fears amongst European traders and colonial authorities alike.
The immediate success of the Fiji Produce Agency's precursor, the Fiji Company (or Viti Company) in raising subscriptions from native Fijians persuaded some Europeans that it would be wiser to get on board, and they registered the company with the support of some of the Fijians active in it. Managing director A.J. MacKay and Secretary H. Taylor were directors with H. MacIntosh, W.H. Cuthbert, Dunne Woods, Good and Brough. (5) Some amongst the European community initially thought that the company was a positive development, which would integrate Fijians into the free market economy. These Europeans resented the restrictions on employing Fijians as labourers, and they especially resented the restriction on the sale of native lands, the lion's share of all land in Fiji, which were held on their behalf, inalienable, by the colonial authorities. (6) Amongst those who welcomed Apolosi's original venture was Crompton, 'a great enemy of the Native Regulations as well as an eager proponent of the universal merit of British law'. (7) Crompton had been Apolosi's legal advisor, and, he boasted, his eminence grise, defending Apolosi's lieutenant Joeli Cava against charges under the Native Regulations. (8) Then he changed sides to lead the prosecution against Stella Spencer, and a popular crusade against Apolosi's Fiji Produce Agency.
It did not take long for Apolosi to challenge the European board of directors, who were plainly using his venture to enrich themselves. Even though they protested that 'this company, having been started in the interests of the natives cannot possibly succeed unless it receives their loyal support', the European directors had no intention of allowing Fijians to control it. Caring little for the niceties of company law, Apolosi simply acted as if he was the head of the company, which for all practical purposes he was, since it relied entirely on the goodwill of the Fijians, who proved loyal to him. By their account, it was Stella and Albert Spencer, among the Europeans, who persuaded Apolosi that he ought to try to win legal control of the company. Under cross-examination from Crompton, Stella Spencer acknowledged, 'Apolosi is living at my house ... at Mr Spencer's request because we wish to keep him away from further trouble until this Viti Company business is settled'. (9)
The 'Viti Company', or Fiji Produce Agency, was a reincarnation of the Fiji Company, this time wholly under Apolosi's control (though most people found it difficult to remember which was which, and the names were constantly confused). The European directors of the Fiji Company warned that 'some of the natives who originally interested themselves in the formation of the company have been collecting money for purposes which are not authorised in any way by the directors'. (10) Acting Chief Police Magistrate reporting on the substance of the hearing to the governor, wrote--using the alternative spelling of Apolosi's first name--that 'the defendant became a sort of advisor to Avolosi and that, on hearing that the Articles and Memorandum of Association did not give the Fijians any active part in the Viti Co., Avolosi, with her assistance, set about to form or start an opposition company'. (11) The new company led to conflict between the European directors of the old company, whose strategy of securing control of the venture was jeopardised.
The European directors were not Apolosi's only opponents. The Great Council of Chiefs meeting in May 1914 debated the problem. Defending himself against the charge that he ought to have prohibited a meeting of the Viti Company, the Roko Tui Tailevu protested 'what could I have done' if instructions to desist 'were disregarded?' The Council passed a resolution asking the governor to 'prohibit the collection of money' for the company. (12)
By contrast, the governor was reluctant to act against Apolosi. Fifty-eight-year-old Sir Ernest Bickham Sweet-Escort, from an illustrious Somerset family, had taught Classics before turning to Colonial Administration in Mauritius, the Seychelles and Honduras. As late as September of 1915, Sweet-Escott annotated a report from the Acting District Commissioner, Colo East, alleging that Apolosi was raising money under false pretences: 'see no reason for acting in any way ... the natives are very foolish to subscribe, but no-one suffers but themselves'. (13) The pressure for the governor to act, though, was rising, as Apolosi's company came to represent an alternative source of authority to the colony's Native Administration.
Advised by Stella Spencer, Apolosi organised a Bose, or council of the Fijian subscribers to the Viti Company, in the village of Draubata in the southeast of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu, not far from the European capital Suva. At the time of the Draubata meeting, which lasted for two weeks in January 1915, it was still possible for Europeans to use the example of the Fiji Company to show up the shortcomings of the Native Administration, as does the author of these 'Notes from Nausori' in the Fiji Times:
I think Messrs McKay, Good and Brough can congratulate themselves on having got together a larger and more enthusiastic meeting of natives than any governor could hope to do--so much for the Native Office influence.
The author continues, though, with a slight to both the governor and the Viti Company:
Tons and tons of food were sent up from the river to the Bose and now that the people in the giving parts are foodless it is to be hoped the Government will not feed them but that the Viti Co. will do it. (14)
The Notes from Nausori's congratulations to 'Messrs McKay' etc. are sarcastic, since Apolosi used the Draubata meeting to challenge their authority and expose discriminatory Articles of Association that excluded Fijians from being company directors. In the list of resolutions passed at Draubata, the first are simply technical details of the formation of a cooperative society. Resolution 12 proposes to buy out the existing directors and 11 that 'the chairman of the directors of our company should be Apolosi Nawai'. (15) Other resolutions deal with similar matters of company policy, such as leaving the question of Chairman Taylor's status open, and naming Napoleon Ragigia as clerk.
But judging by other resolutions passed that January, the novel experience of being consulted directly on matters of policy encouraged the subscribers to the company to extend their brief dramatically. Beyond simply asserting control of the company, the Bose also demanded that 'there should be no dealing with Europeans' and that 'we natives should make our own contracts' with 'the idea of keeping our lands in our own hands and all the produce therefrom'. Emboldened, the meeting took on a more explicitly political character, saying that 'the government should be petitioned to raise rents and prices on the sale of land' and to 'hand over to us the Crown grants', i.e. government held land. As the demands became more explicit, the form of the debate as a company meeting became less important. One resolution was passed that 'the pay of Fijians should be increased to 5/- a day'. Others proposed the abolition of the compulsory labour service, lala, as well as church levies. (16) In their enthusiasm, the native subscribers conceived of the Fiji Company as an alternative authority to the Native Administration. They discussed pensioning off the Native Officers, Roko Tui Sawuau Lutunuaga and Ratu Joni Tabaiwalu. They also appointed a company 'Head of Police', Ratu Bola, and proposed that there should be a Company's Magistrate.
As Josefa Ralima, the Buli for Nasau, discovered in February, the Fiji Company was prepared to put its words into action. Ralimi reported to the governor that three members of the council at Draubata re-posted the resolutions in his village. 'Many are the duties for Government and the Church which they have forbidden', reports Ralima. One Asesela Delai stood up and said 'do not weed villages or paths or do housebuilding' (typical lala tasks). Later Delai and his associates visited Ovalau, calling a meeting to read the following to all members of the Fiji Company in the District:
I order you members of the Viti Company, not one of you to attend this [scheduled] housebuilding. Do not be afraid but disregard either (or both) Buli or Roko (i.e. Commissioner). If in any difficulty name Asesela Delai (and) his orders as overseer for Nasau of the Viti Company. If anyone is not in the company, let him go and build houses.
The nod to voluntary association was little comfort to the Buli, since, as he glumly reported 'now there is not one left, all are members of the company, I only am outside the company'. (17) Ten other Bulis had to be dismissed for abandoning their work at the request of the Viti Company, and it was claimed 'most of the Bulis in the district [of Nausori] are working for the Viti Co.' (18) The pressure on the laconic Governor Sweet-Escott to act against the Viti Company was mounting--not just because of the challenge to the authority of his Native Administration, but also because of heightened anxieties amongst the European population.
Fiji's European community in the early century was at a turning point. White people had been encouraged by the authorities to come as planters, (19) but the days of making a fortune in the colonies were over. The abolition of indentured labour in 1921 denied the planters the cheap workforce they needed to succeed. Worse still, the Colonial Sugar Refining company (CSR) was trying out cane bought from Indian cultivators. (20) European colonists latched on to the demand for more native land to be made available--more as an expression of their frustrations than a viable plan for advancement. In 1909, Sir Charles Lucas of the Colonial Office, while visiting, was told by 'an angry Suva Chamber of Commerce' that 'only freehold tenure for former Fijian land ... would satisfy the kind of rich young Englishmen the business community wanted to attract'. (21) Explaining native disturbances to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Governor Sweet-Escott said 'there are natives here in the colony beside the members of the Legislative Council who follow the debates of the council and it is not extraordinary to conceive that such natives have taken note of motions brought forward by Elected Members to obtain control of native lands'. (22)
The leader of the Suva businessmen was Sir Henry Milne Scott, born in Levuka in 1876 and educated in Australia before serving as a barrister in Fiji from 1899. By 1915, Scott was president of the Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor of Suva, a member of the colony's legislative and executive councils as well as Acting Attorney General. Scott was 'warmly supported by his fellow lawyer and fellow member of the legislative council Robert Crompton', as well as Sir Henry Marks and Sir Maynard Hedstrom. (23) The Lancashire educated Crompton was 46 years old when he prosecuted Stella Spencer, having settled in Fiji in 1904, after working as a solicitor to the British Supreme Court. A later governor described the group as 'an oligarchy of local Barons'. (24)
For these men, though, the standing of the European population of Fiji was a particular concern. In the 1860s and 1870s, Fiji's European population had established an unfortunate reputation for lawlessness and drunkenness. In the decade 1910-20 unable to recruit 'rich young Englishmen', the colonial capital was home instead to 'many Australians', (25) like Albert and Stella Spencer; indeed an American visitor, Harry Foster, remembered that: 'In Suva's white colony ... there were a few Englishmen and New Zealanders, but the Australians predominated'. Foster reports that 'the Aussie held all sorts of lowly jobs ... and all British theory to the contrary he seemed somehow to hold the respect of the dusky housewives upon whom he waited'. (26) The 'British theory' that Foster alludes to is that of 'White prestige'. (27) This was the theory that held that other races would judge the white race collectively, and if some among them failed to live up to the standards of the elite, that would jeopardise the whole. The Australians that Foster encountered, though, were unembarrassed to serve 'dusky housewives' as shop clerks, or, in the case of Albert Spencer, to serve under Apolosi Nawai as a representative of the Fiji Produce Agency.
It was in relation to other races that the prestige of the white race was measured, and Fiji's European elite were preoccupied with demarcating the differences between themselves and the Fijian natives. The historian Deryck Scarr notes that, even though European leaders were noisily committed to 'equality of opportunity before the law', the better to open up native land and labour to economic exploitation, in the social arena differences were maintained. (28) Planter Charles Parham wrote to the Legislative Council demanding 'separate cabins for white women and girls, on all subsidised steamers'. (29) Europeans, like the journalist George Barrow, projected their own antagonism onto the natives. He wrote to the governor warning that: 'everything seems to point to an approaching conflict between Black and White'. (30) When the Fijian constabulary failed to clear native Fijians from the town by 11.00p.m. the Fiji Times complained that 'residents of Knollys Street extension were subjected to the most awful yells and cries of these half-civilised cannibals'. (31) White soldiers recruited from Fiji for the British army in 1915 displayed the placard 'We are from the Fiji Islands, Pure White--non-cannibalistic--speak English' (presumably to forestall leg-pulling, though it was gleefully reported back home in Suva). (32) Fijians were barred from active service. J.L.V. Sukuna, a fast-track trainee for the Native Administration, had to join the French Foreign Legion. Returning, decorated, Sukuna served as a Commissioned Officer in the local Defence Force, provoking one 'Tacitus' to write to the Fiji Times: 'Everyone agrees that Ratu Sukuna is a fine fellow in every sense of the word--yet there is "something" which makes some Britishers reluctant to salute a native ...' (33) Subsequently, Defence Force Regulation 28 was amended to read 'Officers in uniform shall salute the governor and every European officer in uniform'. (34)
The activities of the Fiji Company were particularly provoking to the theory of white prestige, because the natives were, so to speak, taking on the Europeans at their own game. It was in the name of commerce that the Europeans wished to see the Native Regulations, as a limitation on trade, abolished. But commercial activity implied intercourse without consideration of race, leading to an ever-greater emphasis of difference. The letters page of the Fiji Times was for some weeks embroiled in a debate over whether there was or was not a 'stench' at the meeting at Draubata. (35) Fijians were ridiculed for their pretensions after failing to make a going concern of a shop they bought: 'fancy expecting them to work at menial store-keeping', commented the Fiji Times's columnist sarcastically. (36)
In particular, it was the Europeans involved in the Fiji Company who were the target of criticism. The scurrilous columnist 'Chop Chop' awarded the 'Iron Cross' (while Britain was at war with Germany) to one correspondent who attended the Draubata meeting. (37) 'Chop Chop' reports that Apolosi 'will always be remembered as the man who made the company too big--and I hope too hot--for its European parents'. (38) During Stella Spencer's trial 'Chop Chop' added a new twist, defending Apolosi from the abuse heaped upon him (mostly by the columnist himself): 'if one pauses to think who has made this rather smart Fijian what he is perhaps one will find the abuse misplaced'. (39) In other words, the Europeans who had collaborated with him were to blame more than Apolosi himself. The European directors were forced to distance themselves from Apolosi's new company, joining in the general clamour against the Fiji Company, and writing to the governor charging that Apolosi was guilty of sedition. (40)
It should not be thought, though, that the emphasis upon difference from natives was invariably aggressive. Europeans also romanticised indigenous Fijians as exotic, and sought to partake in their culture. The amateur scholars of the Fijian Society heard papers on 'Fijian Heralds and Envoys' while Stella Spencer was in the dock. (41) Chief Medical Officer Sir William MacGregor adopted the Fijian skirt, the sulu, and named his daughter Viti, as did District Commissioner Sir William Allardyce. (42) Many Europeans sought out the company of well-born Fijian chiefs, recording folklore and sketching native scenes. (43) Fijian customs like the ceremonial drinking of the mild narcotic kava (from the root of the yaqona plant) were fashionable amongst Europeans. T.R. St. Johnstone remembers that 'many of the old-stagers in Suva' dropped in as a regular thing 'for their "morning kava" at the store of old Viereck, a German trader'. (44) Though Viereck was interned during the war, the taste was catered for: 'Ladies should try a course of Kava at Crowder and Sons Universal Kava Saloon. A restorative for all medical ailments.' (45)
Sexual relations between Europeans and Fijians were a particularly fraught terrain for the assertion of racial difference. From the standpoint of the early 20th century, the European residents of Fiji in the early years of the pre-colonial Cakobau government were judged to be of poor quality--a fact underlined by their relations with natives. St. Johnstone describes how 'the flotsam and jetsam of the civilised world drift[ed] to the ever hospitable shores' where 'many of them made what were euphonistically [sic] called "native marriages"'. (46) With the carefully circumscribed colonisation of Fiji following her Cession to the British Crown in 1874, European settlers brought their wives with them, formalising the difference between the white household and the native village. (47) 'Ladies accustomed to the decencies of European life prefer almost any way of getting ashore to being hugged in the arms of a half naked savage', wrote the Fiji Times. (48) In Levuka in 1902, a Fijian was whipped for an attempted assault on a white woman, his guilt being readily assumed. (49) By claiming a civilised domestic life, Europeans asserted their difference in such a way that sexual relations between white and black were seen principally through the prism of molestation.
However, where in family life difference was asserted as repulsion, there was another strand to the European attitude to the Fijian, of the attraction of the exotic. Furthermore, the exotic could easily turn into the erotic. Claudia Knapman cites Islands Far Away, in which author Agnes Gardner King 'found excitement in the lali (drum) which "... in the old days used to summon the people to horrible cannibalistic feasts ... The dull, penetrating, half-musical thud sent a shiver down my back'. (50) Where upright English ladies could sublimate the erotic impulse in an innocent fascination, the newer arrivals might not prove so trustworthy. Harry Foster records that the Australian arrivals brought a great contribution to the colony, their sisters and girlfriends:
There was an abundance here of European [i.e. white] girls ... many of them young unmarried and working in the shops and offices themselves. They were usually attractive, these Australian misses, rosy-cheeked and jolly. As athletic as their English cousins, yet with a dash of American coquetry.
Of these younger arrivals Foster wrote:
In general the white people of Suva do not look down on the natives. On the contrary, they even fraternized with them to an extent seldom found in tropical colonies ... and they seemed thereby to lose no prestige.
Foster goes on to describe 'an Irish woman ... who was an especial admirer of the Fijian boys'. (51) The reassertion of white prestige, and the re-imposition of the tabu on fraternisation between whites and natives, however, was not far away.
Stella and Albert Spencer were a part of this Australian immigration. A modern couple, they had travelled in North Africa before arriving in Fiji. He had been a civil servant in Australia, and she had worked as a journalist and had been married before. Stella Spencer embraced the work of the new model Fiji Produce Agency. She was proud to take up 'the cause of the unfortunate and downtrodden'. (52) Stella addressed meetings of Fijians in the cause of the Fiji Produce Agency, where she was nicknamed 'Little Mother' and the 'Russian Princess' (a play on her Polish name). She also wrote to the newspapers defending the Draubata meeting. In an 'open column' in the Western Pacific Herald Spencer wrote that, counter to reports by the European director MacKay, it was safe to say that 'the meeting was strongly representative; that there was no confusion; that the natives were furious when the articles of association were read to them; and when they realised that the memoranda of association excluded them from taking any part in the management of their company'. (53) Spencer is probably the author of the letter (signed 'Square Deal') in the Fiji Times that argued 'The Fijian has no quarrel with the Government ... but I fear that experience has taught him that he has nothing to gain by trusting his commercial interests to certain white traders in Suva'. (54) In a column in the Western Pacific Herald, Spencer claims to have attempted a reconciliation between Apolosi and MacKay, who refused to meet him, and Taylor, who did, but 'his manner was insulting to Avolosi'. (55) At every turning point, Stella Spencer backed up the Fijian leader unflinchingly and with enthusiasm--qualities that she was widely attacked for.
In rebuilding the company, now registered as the Fiji Produce Agency, Apolosi and the Spencers were competing for the loyalties of Fijians with the European directors of the existing Fiji Company--who continued to hold authority with some, such as Williame Ralali, a Native Medical Practitioner. On 11 March, Apolosi and the Spencers went to Ralali's house in Toorak, the Indian settlement just north of Suva, to persuade his tenant Naibuka to join them. Ralali argued with Stella Spencer accusing her of 'injuring our Viti Company and causing dissent' (56) and, more scandalously, 'trying to take Naibuka from his wife'. (57) Calling her a 'bad woman' provoked Stella Spencer to slap Ralali in the face--the assault for which she was imprisoned. That Spencer was tried at all for assaulting a Fijian was remarkable. Though gruesome physical assaults on non-whites by whites were commonplace, (58) the colony regularly compiled statistics showing a nil crime rate amongst Europeans. (59) The prosecution of Stella Spencer, though, was not motivated by a desire to protect Fijians, but to punish those Europeans who failed to observe the policy of separation from the natives.
'Chop Chop' provides a characteristic expression of the false sympathy for Ralali, lecturing Spencer after the trial. The columnist pretends to sympathise with Spencer, while at the same time suggesting miscegenation: 'doubtless you feel bound to correct the erring ones of your big black family'. In defending Native Medical Practitioner Williame Ralali, 'Chop Chop' feels obliged to slight the sanitary conditions of the Fijians, asking Spencer to 'remember that the Native Medical Practitioners look after large tracts of dysentery-riddled country alone, and we can't afford to have them knocked about'. (60)
In cross-examination, Crompton made clear what Spencer's real sin was: 'You have placed yourself in the position of associating with Fijians', he told her. Crompton's most damning piece of evidence--damning in the terms of the theory of white prestige that is--was a note she wrote to Naibuka that makes it clear they were romantically connected. The ungrammatical note, read out by Crompton in the courtroom, tells Naibuka that, because he is seeing another woman, Spencer must break off with him: 'Somebody tell me last night you leave me for her If this is true I am quite finished as I am only making myself ill about it I have loved you too much.' (61) The evidence supported a vicious attack on Spencer's character, of an explicitly racial nature.
Crompton said 'I think this lady has as little respect for the truth as she has for the colour she unfortunately represents.' Spencer protested, 'Oh I cannot listen to this, you unspeakable cur!' Crompton: 'There is no halfway step--' Spencer, interrupting: 'You are not a man, you are a thing!' Magistrate: 'Keep quiet!' Spencer: 'How can I keep quiet? I am a white woman--' Crompton, interrupting: 'You are not a white woman.'
The meaning of Crompton's charge is that Spencer had put herself outside white society by consorting with natives. Under the gravity of the attack on her character, Spencer appealed to the discourse of white solidarity. Questioned by the Magistrate Greene about her outburst, Spencer said 'I am to be put down by a load of natives and I am a white woman'. (62) This in all probability is what Spencer meant to say when Crompton interrupted her. It is a measure of the seriousness of the charge that Spencer felt compelled to reply within the terms of white prestige, claiming it, unsuccessfully, for herself. To Greene, she continued to qualify her claim, saying 'I have been hounded by a certain white section'. Unfortunately, Spencer's attempt to formulate her case within the discourse of white prestige was bound to fail, only leaving her open to the charge of failing her race. Plainly, she understood that in the conditions of the day, a charge of sexual relations with a native would have damaged her standing irreparably. At one point, Crompton clarified for her 'if you are fighting for your honour, the sooner you drop these natives the better'.
In his closing remarks, Crompton did not hesitate to make clear the danger to the standing of the Europeans that Spencer's behaviour posed:
I admit that it is not a part of my duty to show that this woman is what I think she is. But in this Colony it is the Duty of every white man and every white woman to be very, very careful of this manner in which they associate with the natives. A woman who goes about with natives, making love to them--a woman like that is an absolute danger to the community ... she is ... acting in a way that is a disgrace to her colour.
Passing sentence, Greene wondered at the Spencers' judgement, saying they 'have been seven months in this country. They have attached themselves for some reason or other to the Fijians.' For the Spencers, to 'come to the conclusion that the Fijian is an amiable loving creature I think are suffering from an hallucination'. She 'admits herself that she was for a certain time a week in front of the natives dressed in a "demoralised native fashion". If this is going to raise the tone and respect in which our women folk are held in this country, then I am very much mistaken.' (63) To Mrs Spencer, 'My Official advice is to throw off all associations with the natives'. In his report to the governor, Greene writes that 'Mrs Spencer's careless deportment and dress when travelling with natives ... gave Ralali and other Fijians who she came into contact with the impression that she was a loose woman'. He added 'the interference with the Natives impressed me clearly that her presence among them could have no other but a demoralising effect'. (64)
The demolition of Stella Spencer's character was not the only goal of the trial. In prosecuting, Crompton called his former associate Apolosi Nawai, with the aim of exposing him as a fraud in the witness box. Apolosi's 'appearance in court attracted some attention', reported the Fiji Times, incapable of disguising its own fascination with the native showman. 'Clad in European clothes with Tennis shirt and artistic fancy tie, with his hair cropped close and an appearance of great self-assurance, he stepped confidently into the witness box.' (65) Apolosi generally dressed in European clothes and encouraged his supporters to do the same, at a time when the colonial authorities encouraged native Fijians to wear traditional clothes such as the sulu, and wear their hair big. His dress was worthy of comment because it was a rejection of the folksy and exotic appearance that natives were expected to adopt.
In the witness box, Apolosi was admittedly vague on the economic details of the Viti Company, drawing the charge from Crompton that 'the whole thing was a swindle', and Apolosi was a 'swindling Fijian who has been raising money for purposes he cannot explain'. 'These people have been living on money they cannot obtain.' 'The object has been to get money out of Fijians and live on them' (no such goal could ever have motivated the European directors of the Fiji Company, or Apolosi's former legal advisor, Crompton). (66) When Apolosi was provoked into addressing the court in Fijian, Crompton demanded that Greene 'tell him he is not addressing a set of Kai Vitis [i.e. people of the land of Fiji] and it is no use talking rot like that in this court'. (67) Greene agreed, saying that 'no open air speeches were wanted'. (68)
Summing up, Magistrate Greene described the Fiji Company as a 'South Sea Bubble' and said 'it is perfectly clear this morning that Avolosi has thrown over these people [i.e. the native Fijians]. That is the best news in this case.' But Greene added to the charge of fraud one of sedition, saying that the Viti Company 'is an endeavour to set up another local government, in opposition to the law of the land'. (69) In that, Greene was adding to the pressure for official action against Apolosi, who was not, after all, on trial that day.
Apolosi Nawai, though, was far from being defeated, and a further campaign was conducted amongst the Fijian population to try to discredit him. On 3 March, Governor Sweet-Escott, having consulted with the European directors, drafted a message to the people of Nadroga, where support for the Fiji Company had been strongest. Interestingly, considering the Chamber of Commerce's plea for land sales to recruit 'rich young Englishmen', the governor felt it necessary to rebut 'false reports ... that numbers of rich Englishmen will shortly come to Fiji and that the government will deprive you of the land'. 'These evilly disposed persons have asserted that only the Viti Co. can save you', he added, and 'I will deal with any persons who spread these reports.' (70) Amongst those demanding action against Apolosi was H.M. Scott's brother W. Scott, the District Commissioner at Lautoka, who worried that the interference of the Fiji Company 'may lead to ... the dislocation of the whole system of native government'. He reported that 'members of the so-called Viti Co. are defying Government Officials.' 'I therefore think that Apolosi's acts are dangerous to the peace and good order of the colony.' (71)
The Colonial Government's response was to enforce the compulsory labour service rendered the Chiefs, Rokos and government officials, lala, by prosecuting Fijians under the Native Regulations, on the charge of talaidredre. On 15 April, three people were charged under the regulations, including Joeli Vuci for failing to answer a summons to 'weed the Buli's garden'. 'Chop Chop' reflected that 'seeing the warrants were served at Draubata it would appear to be an attempt of foolish magistrates to do their bit to interfere with the Viti Co.'s proceedings'. (72)
Boldly, Crompton took the fight to the enemy, and addressed a meeting of 600 natives at Draubata towards the end of March. His address translated into Fijian, Crompton told those gathered that 'in their own interests the company should be wound up'. The Viti Company was, he said, impractical, but if the natives came up with a new scheme and put it to the governor 'in a perfectly respectful and proper manner' it would be well received 'although there had been rumours of a hostile attitude towards the government adopted by members of the company'. 'The natives had not made the best of their time and opportunities', he said. (73)
Crompton's speech was an attempt to forestall a challenge to the European directors of the Fiji Company by the Fijian shareholders at the statutory Annual General Meeting, scheduled for Saturday 27 March. The directors' report of the meeting was contested by Apolosi's supporters. Following the directors' meeting in the morning in the Town Hall, Apolosi held his own meeting in the same place that evening. As far as Apolosi's supporters were concerned, the decisions taken at that later rally were the legitimate resolutions of the Fiji Company. That day MacKay addressed between six and seven hundred natives in Fijian, in vague, patriotic terms: 'There are certain Fijians, ill-advised men, who can only be called "Germans"', he told them. 'I trust you will act as Britishers.'
Presumably fearing that these arguments were going over the shareholders' heads, Henry MacIntosh, albeit through an interpreter, took a more direct approach. Damningly for the company he directed and the course it took, MacIntosh told them that he 'thought that there were not two men who knew their own minds or even knew what they were there for'! Despite his contempt for the native shareholders, he 'could assure them that if they did not give the directors their loyal support the directors would wind the company up'. 'Are you in favour of closing the company?' he asked, but nobody raised a hand. According to the report the directors gave to the Fiji Times, 'Several other Fijians then came up and told the directors that they wanted the company wound up but wished to get rid of the European directors'. Despite appeals from the directors the meeting broke up in confusion. (74)
Though they sought to evade it, the wishes of the Fijian shareholders were obvious: they wanted the old Fiji Company, with its whites-only policy, wound up, the European directors sacked and Apolosi its head. This indeed was the mood when Apolosi held his own meeting with what must have been the same 600 Fijians in attendance that evening. Apolosi's speech laid claim to the business, by virtue of having started it and on behalf of the Fijians.
I saw the taukeis [natives] were not getting a fair deal and that a company of this kind would be the way to uplift them ... Then when the whole show had started and the thing was in working order the directors thought that they could do without me. Who called the bose and assembled thousands at Draubata? ... was it not I and I alone?
It is probably reasonable to assume that Stella Spencer would have approved of this statement, even though it diminished her own contribution to Apolosi's strategy.
Insisting that he had never sought to challenge the government--after all there were reporters present--Apolosi asked the crowd: 'Why did you wish to withdraw your shares. Can anyone answer me that?' A voice from the crowd replied 'we did not like the laws laid down'. Apolosi: 'If you do not like the laws laid down, then whose do you want?' 'Yours', the crowd proclaimed. (75)
Morally and substantially Apolosi won control of the Fiji Company that night, and saw off the European directors, whose own legally supported venture made no great impact. Apolosi's 'Fiji Produce Agency', whilst enthusiastic, was often short on detail. The Europeans never forgave him for thumbing his nose at them, but Governor Sweet-Escott was not keen to pick a fight, despite the mounting pressure on him to do so. Eventually, Apolosi was detained, released and detained again, before being exiled to Rotuma in 1920. Questions were raised over the justice, if not the legality, of Apolosi's exile in the Colonial Office in 1930, but his exile was confirmed again then, and again in 1940.
Whatever his real merits as a leader, or failings as a demagogue, Apolosi had become the Fijian bogeyman who served the authorities as the negative example to the good natives, chiefly and loyal civil servants like Ratu Sukuna. Stella Spencer's ambition to champion the cause of the Fijian commoner had been thoroughly ridiculed as little more than lewd and immoral behaviour.
Without means to pay her fine, Stella Spencer was imprisoned. She presented a difficulty of racial classification for the prison authorities. She was imprisoned in the European ward of the infirmary, 'but was later transferred to one of the wooden cells at the back of the infirmary, which had not previously been occupied'. After four days, she abandoned her hunger strike 'and intimated that she would give no further trouble'. (76) She wrote to the governor asking for passage to Melbourne for her and her husband, which was eventually granted on 28 April 1915. (77)
HIDDEN BEHIND THE TRIAL of Stella Spencer, and the various incarnations of the Fiji Company, is a conflict that can barely be contained in the formal language of courts and shareholders' meetings. For the Fijian shareholders at the Draubata Bose, the scope of the meeting rapidly expanded to embrace all aspects of administration of the island, and they elected their own police chiefs, voted against traditional labour services and rejected the authority of the colonial administration. As the sole platform available to Fijian commoners, the company quickly expanded into a proto-national assembly. For the European directors, on the other hand, asserting ownership of the company was tantamount to laying claim to the Fijians' surplus product, an extension of the taxation fights claimed by the colony into the realm of trade. For the white farmers, already losing ground to Indian cultivators, the Fiji Company was a further example of native insubordination.
White Suva society felt threatened by the Fiji Company. The lines of demarcation between European and native society were being blurred by trade--in which Fijian natives expected to be treated as equals. Asserting racial exclusivity was an operation addressed internally to the European community as much as it was externally to the Fijian. In policing the boundary between native and European, commentators like 'Chop Chop', Magistrate Greene and Robert Crompton were seeking to impose internal discipline upon the white community as much as the Fijian.
Trade represented the practical breakdown of the lines of demarcation. But more atavistic feelings of corruption were provoked by the metaphorical breakdown in white prestige. Native residents in Suva were an animal-like menace; Sukuna in an officer's uniform was a humiliation to white soldiers; natives were 'dysentery-riddled'; but above all sexual relations between European women and Fijian men were to be abhorred. As was made clear to Stella Spencer, by socialising with Fijians she was putting her status as a white woman in jeopardy, and worse, jeopardising white prestige as a whole. As reported, the Stella Spencer trial often tips over into hysteria. That is because the rational trial format was strained to the limits by the irrational and emotional issue at the heart of the trial, not an assault on Williame Ralali, but the issue of white prestige itself.
I am grateful to Deryck Scarr, Tim Macnaught and Naoki Kasuga for commenting on an earlier version of this paper, to Jon Fraenkel, Laite Roke and Bashir Abu-Manneh for advice and help, to Eve Kay and David Frank at RDF who made my stay in Fiji possible, and to the staff of the National Archives in Suva.
(1) Inspector of Prisons to Governor, Conduct of Mrs Spencer in Suva Gaol, Suva, National Archives of Fiji (hereinafter NAF), MP2937/15.
(2) The best published accounts of Apolosi Nawai's extraordinary career are both by Tim Macnaught: in chapter six of his The Fijian Colonial Experience: a study of the neo-traditional order under British colonial rule prior to Worm War II (Canberra 1982); and in Deryck Scarr, More Pacific Island Portraits (Canberra 1979). More recent interpreters, like Brij Lal (Broken Waves: a history of the Fiji Islands in the 20th century, Honolulu 1992) have suggested a more generous interpretation of Apolosi's movement, though the conclusion that he defrauded many small producers of the value of their goods is difficult to avoid, as was Apolosi's tendency towards demagoguery. My aim here is to examine the reaction to Apolosi, more than his own merits.
(3) Report of the Blue Book of Fiji for 1914, 24 Apr. 1915, London, Kew, Public Records Office (hereinafter PRO), CO83/125. Native taxation raised less than 6% of the total income.
(4) As at 28 Feb. 1915, Directors' Report, Fiji Times (hereinafter FT), 13 Mar. 1915.
(5) FT, 30 Mar. 1915.
(6) Eighty-three per cent of all land was the property of Fijian clans, or Mataqali, and therefore inalienable under colonial policy, limiting European planters, and the growing number of Indian cultivators, to leasing land.
(7) Deryck Scarr, Fiji: a short history (Laie 1984), 113.
(8) Deryck Scarr, Ratu Sukuna: soldier, statesman, man of two worlds (London 1980), 47.
(9) FT, 16 Mar. 1915.
(10) FT, 13 Mar. 1915.
(11) Report of the action Ralali v. Spencer, NAF, MP2831/15.
(12) Great Council of Chiefs, minutes, 20 May 1914-1 June 1914, in Sir E. Bickham Sweet-Escott to Secretary of State for Colonies, 3 July 1914, PRO, CO 83/121.
(13) 'Report to the Colonial Secretary', 24 Sept. 1915, NAF, MP 8257/15.
(14) FT, 27 Jan. 1915.
(15) An English translation of the resolutions is in NAF, MP1946/15.
(16) Resolution 10: 'The cleaning of towns and house buildings and similar (Government directed) work should be abolished'; Resolution 20 insists that moneys collected for the Church 'should also be under the control of the company and the native preachers paid from these. European preachers should be done away with entirely ...'.
(17) NAF, MP 1587/15.
(18) FT, 27 Mar. 1915; Notes from Nausori, FT, 28 Jan. 1915.
(19) Phyllis Parham Reeve, On Fiji Soil: memories of an agriculturalist (Suva 1989), 7.
(20) For the best treatment of 'The demise of the white sugar planter' see Bruce Knapman, Fiji's Economic History, 1874-1939 (Canberra 1989), ch. 4.
(21) Scarr, Fiji: a short history, 113.
(22) Sweet-Escott to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 24 Feb. 1916, PRO, CO83/130.
(23) Scarr, Fiji: a short history, 113.
(24) Sir Arthur Richards, quoted in ibid., 131.
(25) T.R. St. Johnstone, South Sea Reminiscences (London 1922), 26.
(26) Harry Foster, A Vagabond in Fiji (London 1927), 166, 169.
(27) See Suke Wolton, Lord Hailey, The Colonial Office and the Politics of Race and Empire: the loss of white prestige (London 2000), especially ch. 2, for a discussion of the theory of white prestige.
(28) H.M. Scott and his fellow businessman, J.M. Hedstrom, 'were actively opposed to multi-racial education'(Scarr, Fiji: a short history, 114).
(29) Phyllis Parham Reeve, On Fiji Soil, 56.
(30) Barrow to Sweet-Escott, 15 Apr. 1915, NAF, MP3152/15.
(31) FT, Dec. 1914.
(32) FT, 6 Mar. 1915.
(33) FT, 7 Oct. 1915.
(34) FT, 28 Oct. 1915.
(35) FT, 20 Feb. 1915 and elsewhere.
(36) FT, 4 Mar. 1915.
(37) FT, 2 Mar. 1915.
(38) FT, 27 Feb. 1915.
(39) FT, 15 Mar. 1915.
(40) Letter to the Governor, 19 Mar. 1915, NAF, MP 2560/15. 'A.R. Nawai has been ... inciting the natives to ... abolish the present form of government'.
(41) FT, 27 Mar. 1915. The society is responsible for the best early work in Fijian history and anthropology.
(42) St. Johnstone, South Sea Reminiscences, 166.
(43) See Agnes Gardner King, Islands Far Away (London 1920) as an example of the genre.
(44) St. Johnstone, South Sea Reminiscences, 175.
(45) Notice, FT, 1 Nov. 1916.
(46) St. Johnstone, South Sea Reminiscences, 192-3.
(47) For an interesting treatment of these relations see Claudia Knapman, 'White women in Fiji 1835-1930: questions of gender and race', PhD thesis, Australian National University (Canberra 1984); Claudia Knapman, White Women in Fiji 1835-1930: the ruin of empire (Sydney 1986). Knapman argues that the myth put about by the 'old Fiji hands' that it was the arrival of the white women that caused the breach with the natives misplaces the real source of the policy.
(48) FT, 6 Aug. 1870.
(49) Claudia Knapman, 'White women in Fiji', 408, White Women in Fiji, 125.
(50) Knapman, 'White women in Fiji', 398; King, Islands Far Away, 69.
(51) Foster, A Vagabond in Fiji, 171, 155.
(52) Evidence, FT, 16 Mar. 1915.
(53) Western Pacific Herald, 10 Mar. 1915.
(54) FT, 20 Feb. 1915.
(55) Western Pacific Herald, 10 Mar. 1915.
(56) Evidence, Western Pacific Herald, 17 Mar. 1915.
(57) Report of the Action Ralali v. Spencer, Roger Greene, NAF, MP2831/15.
(58) See Lal, Broken Waves, 41-5.
(59) See Inspector General of Constabulary Colonel MacOwan's report for 1914, made on 21 Aug. 1915, in PRO, CO83/126.
(60) FT, 20 Mar. 1915.
(61) With punctuation as reported in the FT, 16 Mar. 1915. Initially Spencer denied authorship of the note, which is surprisingly badly written for a journalist, but when confronted with another sample piece of handwriting, she tore it up, indicating that she was the author, which she conceded when questioned by the magistrate, albeit under threat of trial for perjury.
(62) Western Pacific Herald, 24 Mar. 1915.
(63) Western Pacific Herald, 17 Mar. 1915. Spencer did not admit to dressing in a 'demoralised native fashion' so much as let the remark go unchallenged. Much was made of the fact that she wore a 'dress much like a Sulu'--which is strange since a sulu is much like a rather conservative, mid-calf length skirt.
(64) Report of the action Ralali v. Spencer, NAF, MP2831/15.
(65) 'Enter Apolosi', trial report, FT, 16 Mar. 1915.
(66) FT, 18 Mar. 1915.
(67) Western Pacific Herald, 22 Mar. 1915.
(68) FT, 18 Mar. 1915.
(69) Western Pacific Herald, 17 Mar. 1915.
(70) 'Draft Message from the Governor to the People of Nadroga', 3 Mar. 1915, NAF, MP 1946/15.
(71) District Commissioner, Lautoka, to the Hon. Colonial Secretary, 'Conduct of Avolosi R. Nawai', 24 Feb. 1915, NAF, MP 1858/15.
(72) FT, 15 Apr. 1915.
(73) FT, 27 Mar. 1915.
(74) FT, 30 Mar. 1915.
(76) 'The conduct of Mrs Spencer in Suva Gaol', 6 Apr. 1915, NAF, MP2937/15.
(77) Stella Spencer to Governor, NAF, MP3074/15.
JAMES HEARTFIELD--teaches economics and international relations on the University of Delaware's London programme
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