By Pita Ligaiula in Denarau, Nadi
A special meeting of leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum got off to a good start with the host country Fiji making a traditional presentation that sought to make amends of its past transgressions that had threatened the unity of the regional bloc.
The ceremony of matanigasau involves the presentation of tabua, the whales tooth which are highly valued in Fijian customs, and at the Golden Ballroom of the Sheraton Fiji Golf and Beach Resort in Nadi on Thursday, a senior Fiji government official sought the forgiveness of its 17 neighbours for its past transgressions, implied or otherwise.
The ceremony of Matanigasau is a profound commitment towards the restoration of peace, harmony and dignity in the heart of the vanua, the fenua or the whenua.
“When you retraced the history of the Pacific Islands Forum, right to its inception in 1971 to this day, Fiji have had a hand in matters that have challenged the unity of the Forum,” said the senior Fijian Government official that made the presentation.
“It happened during the Bougainville crisis in the late 1980s, occurred again in the coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006.
“Whenever our unity is threatened, it could always be traced back to Fiji as the cause. For this the government and the entire nation are contrite.”
The presentation was done before all the 18 representatives of the Forum member countries, and the tabua was accepted on their behalf by Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, the incoming chair of the regional body.
He takes over the chairman role from his Fijian counterpart, Sitiveni Rabuka who became Prime Minister of Fiji on Christmas eve of last year.
Addressing leaders at a dinner last night, following the “matanigasau” presentation, Rabuka said the world’s complex challenges demand a style of “leadership that is innovative, yet grounded in our own Pacific context and culture.”
“For me, returning to this leadership role as the oldest Leader-in-Office in our region, means that I do not have the luxury nor the flexibility to make mistakes this time around.
“It also means that I bring to the role a depth in experience and learnings that I have accumulated over the years – most especially when it comes to leadership and in particular, our very own Pacific way of leadership.
“The recent challenges within our Forum Family have, for me personally, reaffirmed the need for us as Leaders to make considered efforts to invest in the leadership potential within our region – but, not just any kind of leadership – we need to invest in leadership that is contextualised to our Pacific cultures and traditions.
“We share common values that are built around our people, our communities, our cultures and our traditions.
“At its very core, they are the very values that underpin our solidarity as a family; our collective efforts as a region; and our shared vision for our people. “
Rabuka said that his visit to Kiribati last January vindicated the relevance of the Pacific way of leadership, for it was through island traditions and rituals that linked Fiji to the northern Pacific nation.
Kiribati President Tenati Maamau is among the Pacific leaders that are attending the Pacific Islands Forum special retreat in Fiji. He had stayed away from the Forum meeting last year citing dissatisfaction with the way the appointment of the Forum’s Secretary General was handled.
Although he assumed the chairmanship role for two months only, Rabuka told leaders that getting Kiribati to return to the one Forum family was a highlight.
Leaders go into retreat today where they will be asked to make a decision on plans by the Japanese Government to dump nuclear waste into the north-west Pacific Ocean.
The Suva Agreement which leaders had crafted in their meeting last year is also featuring on the agenda, as well as an update on the Forum’s 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare arrived last night, in time for the leaders’ retreat. His counterparts in Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand however are giving this week’s Forum meeting a miss.
It will end later today with the release of the meeting’s communiqué.