It is not unusual to hear stories in Fiji of how the Fijian forefathers gave away chunks of land in return for a piece of cloth or a bottle of whiskey.
For those who’ve wondered how true those stories were, National Archives of Fiji librarian Salesia Ikaniwai will tell you that most of those stories were indeed actual events.
If you’re patient enough, you may find accounts of these colourful transactions among the countless documents stored in this national treasure house.
After all, the archives are the custodian of perhaps every written record of national significance - government papers, consular records dating back to 1860, land records, genealogical information that may be traced back to as early as 1835 and every copy of publicly circulated publications such as newspapers and magazines.
Weighed against the significance of the history it houses, the archives building - standing bright yellow on the corner of Suva’s Carnarvon and Kimberly Streets in Suva after a recent extension - appears modest but is in fact a story in itself of how Fiji’s historical records might have been kept from being forever lost.
Officially opened in October last year, the new building has special climate control features to offset the effects of Fiji’s tropical climate on the preservation of the valuable paper records at the archives – a far cy from the days when those first charged with preserving these records had a battle on their hands in ensuring there even was a national archives.
Fiji is in fact one of the more fortunate countries in the Oceania region in this regard.
As Ikaniwai explained, although it had been established in 1954, the national archives was formally adopted in 1971 after an amendment to the Public Records Act.
As the story goes, a Professor CG Henderson was appointed in 1930 to oversee archival activities for the then colonial government of Fiji.
There were accounts of how most public records up until then were not properly kept and poorly housed, their deteriorating state exacerbated by the humid tropical weather.
Professor Henderson then began to petition for better facilities, only to be told there was a lack of funds and soon afterwards, be faced with the onset of World War II.
His successors continued to pitch for assistance, ultimately resulting in the establishment of the National Archives in 1954.
After separating the Fiji records from those of the few other Pacific island countries that the archives had previously included, Fiji’s National Archives officially took form in 1971.
Up until the present day, the National Archives has had a rather subdued presence, visited only by a...