Mothers of the Taukei : Fijian women and 'the decrease of the race'
AbstractIn the 1890s the British administration of Fiji commissioned an inquiry into the decrease of the indigenous population. Its subsequent report - a seminal text - figured Fijian women as both a cause and potential solution to the problem. This study explores what was said and done about Fijian women in the context of 'the decrease'. The first section addresses the epidemiological conditions which induced Fijian depopulation; and the political and intellectual factors which shaped a discourse alleging the incompetence of Fijian mothers. The second section tests one popular theory: that this incompetence was due to deleterious effects from the 'abolition of polygamy'. We discuss pre-Christian marriage practices, how they changed, and whether these changes elevated Fijian infant mortality. The third section examines measures that were taken around the turn of the century on the premise that Fijian mothers were congenitally defective. Attempts were made to change them by edict, education and training. They all failed; and Fijians were abandoned to extinction just when their demographic recovery began. The fourth section deals with later shifts in the discourse: a period when it lapsed and official attention focussed on Fiji's Indian women; the interwar era when the discourse was revived in the context, so to speak, of a demographic race between Indians and Fijians; and finally its appropriation by Fijian men in an effort to enhance their control over Fijian women and prevent interracial liaisons. Changes after World War 2 rendered the discourse on decrease obsolete. The conclusion returns us to debates in chapter one about about the etiology of disease in New World population decline and a reflection on the place of women in this process.