People and Culture in Oceania
Online ISSN : 2433-2194
Print ISSN : 1349-5380
Discourse on the Last Descendent: The Chief as a Constellation of Signs in Contemporary Fiji
Yuichi Asai
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2018 Volume 34 Pages 25-54


This paper examines the discursive configuration of chief in contemporary Fiji. In doing so, it analyzes a dispute over the long-standing failure of holding a chiefly installation ritual and narratives on the descendent of the chiefly lineage in the Dawasamu district. Thus, it reveals that this dispute over the chieftaincy is a dispute over indexicality of the legitimate chiefliness. To begin, the paper delineates the history of the chiefly succession in Dawasamu and illustrates how it is conceptualized into 2 familial genealogies; one is “authentic” from the past, the other is “illegitimate” in the present. The analysis in turn highlights one particular person, Adi Litia, who is frequently referred to through the discourse on the history of Dawasamu as the last descendant of the chiefly lineage which existed in the past. Investigating such a discourse surrounding Adi Litia, the paper focuses on 2 particular narratives, which show her as categorically “ambiguous” in regard to the handover of chiefly possessions and the villages where she married and had children. In doing so, it reveals that the chiefdom in Dawasamu is mediated by various “proofs” of chiefliness, i.e., ivakadinadina in Fijian, such as a whale’s tooth, the chief’s drinking cup, the chiefly land, or a specific village site, which are repeatedly mentioned in the narratives on history in Dawasamu. In such a way, this paper demonstrates that these proofs function as “signs of history,” that is, the chiefly succession issue in Dawasamu, which has been divided against itself, is a dispute over the sign of chiefliness. The paper also illustrates how such signs of history, including Adi Litia as aproper name, are primarily indexical, i.e., “signs in history,” which pragmatically ground the chiefdom to a particular context of discourse and regiment the present political context through the evocation of certain cultural dichotomies. Thus, the paper indicates that chiefdom exists as a constellation of cultural categories evoked by various signs of/in discourse, and in doing so constructs new meanings of the past toward present claims in the political context of Dawasamu.

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© 2018 Japanese Society for Oceanic Studies
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