Today is a public holiday in Fiji, in honour of Fiji’s first and greatest Fijian statesman, Ratu Sir Josefa Lalabalavu Vana’ali’ali Sukuna, otherwise known as Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna.
Ratu Sukuna was a high chief and a decorated soldier as well as a scholar and a statesman. He was born on May the 22nd in 1888 and died on May the 30th in 1958, aged 70. He died on board the Indian ship Arcadia while travelling to England.
Despite being a high chief, Ratu Sukuna was enrolled at Wairuku Indian School in Rakiraki. The school was founded in 1898 and is perhaps the oldest primary school in the country.
He received further education in New Zealand. When World War One broke out in 1914, Ratu Sukuna was not allowed to enlist in the British Army. Despite being a British colony, Fijians were denied enlistment, so Ratu Sukuna joined the French Foreign Legion. He was wounded in 1915 and forced to return to Fiji.
Today, Fijians make the biggest number of foreign soldiers in the British Army - an army that has gallantly served in Iraq and Afghanistan. A few also served in the elite Special Air Services, the SAS Troops.
During World War Two, Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu was posthumously awarded the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross for sacrificing his life and saving those of his comrades while under attack from Japanese troops in the Solomon Islands.
But his greatest legacy was the establishment of the Native Land Trust Board as the custodian of all native land on behalf of the Fijian landowners. The NLTB was established in 1944 and has honoured its founder by erecting a small statue in front of its Head Office in Suva.
Most importantly, Ratu Sukuna urged the chiefs, as well as landowners, to share their prized resource – land – with the Indian population through a fair leasing system saying their presence in Fiji could not be ignored.
The gallantry and sacrifice of Ratu Sukuna, and all those who have served their country with distinction, has been shamed by the Royal - and later Republic of Fiji Military Forces since 1987 - because of its involvement and execution of four coups.
In front of Government Buildings in Suva is a statue of Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna.
Unfortunately, the offices in Government Buildings are occupied by the executioners of the fourth coup - something Ratu Sukuna would never have dreamt of.