Local Sovereignty in an Ambiguous Space: Rethinking Marine Conservation in Fiji

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Meeting ID: 937 9210 4939

Passcode: 800615

In 2006 a proposed legislation called the “Qoliqoli Bill” that would transfer the property rights of traditional fishing grounds (qoliqoli) from the state to indigenous communities became one of the reasons for a military coup in Fiji. Since then, the controversial bill was brushed aside by the regime in power and the inshore area remained in the hands of the state, despite coastal communities are the de facto actors of management. Such arrangement is drastically different from the land tenure system in which 90% of the land belongs to the indigenous communities.

While this issue has already been explored by numerous studies and reviews, this presentation will focus on the implications of local indigenous sovereignty which is understood as vanua in Fiji. Utilizing materials from my fieldwork in Waitabu Marine Park as well as other historical documents, I argue that the British colonial protectionism constructed possibilities of sovereignty for the indigenous communities. These aspirations however were frustrated due to various land policies and new ethnic tension, i.e. the Indo-Fijians. On the other hand, British colonialism also unintentionally created an “ambiguous space” in the marine area, which became a territory where such desires could be expressed, while the state does not need to invest too much effort in its governance as it already has in the land. As a result, it is actually the best interest for different parties to have the marine space remained in such an ambiguous and flexible situation.

Hao-Li Lin is an Assistant Professor, Institute of Anthropology, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan. she has conducted fieldwork in Fiji on the topic of community-based marine conservation and agricultural projects and how they could lead to “modern” development while also taking account of local morality, historicity, and identity. In particular, the indigenous idea of an “open environment” allows the villagers to discover different pathways and connect different ideas as they take on these endeavors and search for their self-worth. Currently she is based in Taiwan and has been exploring the so-called “Austronesian connection” which involves the indigenous peoples in Taiwan, Island Southeast Asia, and Oceania. These connections are multi-layered and political, and are manifested in creative cultural practices and representations such as contemporary art, popular music, dance, and cinema.

Date & time

Mon 29 Aug 2022, 3–4pm


RSSS building, room 2.56, and streaming online


Hao-Li Lin, National Tsing Hua University


Matt Tomlinson


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