The University of the South Pacific (USP) partnered with Fiji’s Ministry of Itaukei Affairs to host a public lecture by renowned academic Distinguished Professor Steven Ratuva of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand on the life of Fiji Statesman Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna earlier this week on Wednesday (May 24, 2023).
The public lecture was part of the six-day Ratu Sukuna Day celebration organised by the Fiji Government that is currently underway across the country.
The USP-Japan Multi-Purpose Lecture Theatre was at total capacity, with two more video conference rooms filled as people flocked to hear about the insight into Ratu Sukuna’s life, education, work, and service to the country and the vanua.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Honourable Biman Prasad, senior government officials, students and members of the public were part of the public lecture delivered by Professor Ratuva.
Professor Ratuva shared that the late Ratu Sir Lala Vanayaliyali Sukuna was born on April 22 1888, and died on May 30, 1958.
“Now 1888, to put this in context in Fiji, this was a very significant time. That was when a lot of changes were taking place, such as the codification of the land-owning system. There used to be diverse ways of land ownership in Fiji, so they brought them all together under the mataqali system that we have now. The land was codified, and every mataqali associated with their group had land and titles, so that was happening around the time Ratu Sukuna was born,” Professor Ratuva said.
Professor Ratuva shared that Ratu Sukuna saw the world as a constellation of people, and it was how he established connections between the people and the land and between the different groups of people within Fiji.
He said, “Contrary to perceptions of Ratu Sukuna and the values he stood for, Ratu Sukuna was exposed to diverse cultures at a very early age. He started his formal education at the Wairuku Indian School, founded in 1898 by Pundit Badri Maharaj.”
“So that early connection with an Indian school context and the way that a young Ratu Sukuna was able to get himself assimilated to a multicultural context was something that also reshaped his life in later years,” Professor Ratuva added.
Professor Steven Ratuva reflected on the former statesman’s character and contributions before turning to lessons that could be learned from the life of the late Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna.
Professor Ratuva also highlighted how the life of Ratu Sukuna also showed how he was a peacemaker.
“He was able to bring about reconciliation. He was able to transcend the divide. He developed cross-cultural relations,” Ratuva said.
“The past and present determine the future. And so, most of our consciousness about the future should be based on how we build on the foundation of the past. And certainly, in the case of Ratu Sukuna, a lot of things he has done have formed the foundation for post-independence Fiji and it will continue to give us inspiration for the foundation of the future,” he said.
The lecture and lessons from the life of Ratu Sukuna captured the attention of the attendees, and the legacy of this influential Fijian statesman continues to be remembered and commemorated, and Fiji celebrates Ratu Sukuna Day on Monday, May 29.