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Representing the unfamiliar: Photography in the British Empire 1866-1938

Adapting ceremonial traditions

Preparation of yaqona for the drinking in, being a photograph of indigenous people at a ceremony to mark the installation of King George VIPresentation of the cup of yaqona to His Excellency, at the installation of King George VI at Tui Viti, NasobaPreparation of yaqona for the drinking in, being a photograph of indigenous people at a ceremony to mark the installation of King George VIPreparation of yaqona for the drinking in, at the installation of King George VI at Tui Viti, NasobaBritish imperial power was not straightforward. Instead imperial governance involved a complex system of Crown agents and a varying degree of involvement by indigenous officials.

Thus, the British harnessed systems of governance and indigenous ceremonies to legitimise their presence beyond the British Isles, naturalising their claim to rule in extra-British territories.

In the photographs reproduced here, the ceremony documenting the installation of His Majesty King George the Sixth as Tui Viti is depicted. The Governor of Fiji and representative of the King, Arthur Fredericks Richards KCMG, is shown accepting a traditional Yaqona from the subjects of the new King.

Cover of a publication marking the Installation of His Majesty King George the Sixth as Tui Viti, Nasoba, 9th June, 1937Cover of a publication marking the Installation of His Majesty King George the Sixth as Tui Viti, Nasoba, 9th June, 1937A Yaqona (pronounced yangona) is a ceremonial drink. In fact, refusing an offer of Yaqona remains taboo in contemporary Fijian society.

The adaptation of British procedure to Fijian custom can be seen best though the title bestowed upon George VI; Tui Viti. This is a position equivalent to King of Fiji or the ‘High Chief, the King.’

Curiously, the ceremony is justified through its ‘traditional’ qualities, building from prior coronation services. As one official claimed, this ‘is not a recent innovation, it was performed by our chiefs at the accession to the throne of his late Majesty King Edward VII.’

The installation of any British monarch as Tui Viti was presented in the misleading vision of ‘permanence’ royalty sought to give itself. Given Fiji only acceded to British control in 1874, this sense of continuity serves to obscure the novelty of the ceremony. Such an assertion reflects an ambition to imbue the British colonial power in Fiji with authority.

Link to King's College London catalogue record:

Installation of His Majesty King George the Sixth as Tui Viti, Nasoba, 9th June, 1937. Suva: HR Craigie, Acting Government Printer, 1937

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