Chiefs, moral imperatives, and the specter of class in Fiji

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The chiefly system in Fiji is a hierarchical one that sanctifies the status of hereditary high chiefs, but this sanctification does not render high chiefs sacrosanct. Although hierarchy in the chiefly system presumes reverence and forms of service to chiefs from the untitled, that same reverence, service, and support for chiefs can be equivocal. This follows from the reciprocal dimension of the social and moral contract that binds Fijian chiefs and the Fijian masses. What will be shown is that the discourse that sanctifies chiefs includes an idealization that sets parameters for assessing the legitimacy of chiefly authority. As this article will illustrate, even as chiefly status has been transformed and institutionalized through colonial and state structures, chiefs have been precluded from straying from certain moral imperatives-namely, their redistributive functions and their role as representatives of the collective honor and prestige of their constituencies. The prominence of these imperatives in Fijian notions of the proper roles of chiefs has impeded chiefs from becoming a ruling political and economic class in Fiji. In short, both the political power and the economic status of chiefs have been encumbered by the assessments of the untitled Fijian masses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-194
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Anthropological Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Chiefs
  • Class
  • Fiji
  • Fijians
  • Hierarchy
  • South Pacific


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