Qoliqoli Extortion in Fiji

The Qarase government has introduced a Qoliqoli Bill in Fiji's parliament which would return traditional inshore fishing rights (qoliqoli) to the indigenous Fijian clans. When Fiji became a British colony in 1874, ownership of Fiji's shorelines and reefs passed from the Fijian clans to the state. The current bill would reverse that and change the rules for every established beach resort in Fiji.

Needless to say, Fiji's tourism industry is in shock, and groups of self-proclaimed qoliqoli owners have already begun calling at the resorts demanding money. To avoid having their properties torched, many resort owners are already paying up, even though the bill hasn't passed and current qoliqoli demands are illegal. Often one group of “owners” will arrive to collect qoliqoli money one day, followed the next day by another group demanding payments for use of the very same beach or reef.

On Kadavu, a Spanish film crew staying at the Tiliva Resort was recently prevented from filming manta rays swimming on the Astrolabe Reef by qoliqoli claimants from a village on Ono Island. On Viti Levu's Coral Coast, a boatload of tourists had their money and possessions seized by qoliqoli thugs, and the group was only released after intervention by the police. These are only two examples of an alarming increase in cases of ransom and extortion directed against tourists in Fiji.

I'm currently preparing the 8th edition of Moon Handbooks Fiji for release next year, and in it I've added this warning:

Indigenous Fijians may demand money of you for scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, and even swimming in qoliqoli areas where they claim to own the traditional fishing rights. If you're with a local scuba operator or tour company, you should let your guide handle the situation and refuse to pay anything directly yourself. If you're forced to turn over money and the operator hadn't warned you beforehand that such fees would be payable, you should demand a refund from the company when you get back to their office. If you're there on your own, you should tell the person(s) that you weren't aware of the situation and try to leave the area immediately. If you're forced to pay money in a situation which you feel is unfair, you should report the matter to the police. Take seriously any warnings you may hear about this sort of thing as the situation can turn ugly very quickly.

Novelist Alan Dean Foster sent me the following comment on the above post:

This has been a problem in Papua New Guinea for a long time. Back in the '90's on an exploratory 3-week dive trip up the north coast, our small dive ship was actually boarded by an armed (bush knives, etc.) gang from Karkar island demanding money. I quietly picked up a couple of dive weights, the Captain dickered in pidgin, the gang went back into their panga, and the Captain promptly took off. The gang tried to block our departure, and he rammed them. Knocked a couple of the guys into the water. Our boat was (thankfully) much faster than their small outboard. Could have, as you say, turned nasty. At other sites, payment had been agreed upon in advance. One group tried to triple the agreed-upon payment on the spot. We skipped diving there. By the Captain's request, none of the passengers reported the incident (bad PR for PNG diving). PNG, of course, has always had to deal with this kind of stuff. Sorry to see it appear in Fiji. Hopefully it will be nipped in the bud.

UPDATE: The December 5, 2006, military coup in Fiji has effectively buried the Qoliqoli Bill.

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