Oct 31, 2020 Last Updated 9:15 PM, Oct 29, 2020

A tribute to Ratu Finau Mara

  • Nov 01, 2020
  • Published in April

The death of Ratu Alifereti Finau Mara (June 9, 1957 – April 15, 2020) occurred in Suva after a short illness. He was a Fijian chief, lawyer, politician, and diplomat. Ratu Finau was the eldest son of Fiji's founding Prime Minister the late Tui Nayau Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Ro Lalabalavu, the Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi, and a leading member of the Vuanirewa clan.

A graduate of Otago University, Ratu Finau started his legal career in 1984 in the Crown Law Office under the then Attorney-General, Qoriniasi Bale. We worked together at that time with the late Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi and Imrana Jalal now chairperson of the World Bank Inspection Panel.

Reminiscing those days, Ms Jalal described Ratu Finau as 'a gentleman, in the old-fashioned way, without being demeaning, a rare feat.'

The early 1980s was an exciting time to be working in Government. The country was in an upbeat mood and the Attorney-General's chambers had recruited some of the brightest legal minds in the country. We were blind to the divisions of race and politics that would poison the country following the first coup of 1987. Our friendship in some respects epitomised what Fiji might have been capable of — had we practiced the virtues of tolerance and understanding.

Following his pupillage in the law in the AG's chambers, Ratu Finau was later transferred to the department of foreign affairs before taking up an appointment in 1991 as Charge d'affaires at the Fiji Embassy in Washington D.C.

Upon returning to Fiji, Ratu Finau was elected to the House of Representatives in 1994, in the Government of Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka holding the portfolio of Minister for Fijian Affairs between 1997 and 1999. After leaving politics, including a stint as leader of the Fijian Association party, he held senior positions in the department of foreign affairs.

My connection to Ratu Finau went back to the Marist Convent School in Levuka in the early 1960s where the then Ratu Mara was Commissioner Eastern. There was something special about Levuka. Multiculturalism was a way of life in the old capital.

We attended the same school. The Convent's other star pupil, who was to acquire fame in her own right was Patricia Imrana Jalal. About that time, Ratu Finau's uncle, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi was attending Levuka Public School. So our destinies and careers were intimately linked.

He will be remembered for his gentle, almost childlike innocence and courtesy. It is unlikely that he bore malice towards anyone.   Ratu Finau was not one to stand on ceremony and despite being of noble birth, was never pretentious. A devout Roman Catholic, he displayed a humanity that is sometimes lacking in persons born to privilege. It was rare to see him angry. In his later years, his congenial temperament masked a somewhat troubled soul. For someone who had the world at his feet, this was perplexing to those of us who loved him.

There's an Indian proverb that says: 'Nothing grows under a banyan tree.' This proverb speaks of leadership styles. Nothing grows under the dense foliage of the banyan tree. The tragedy of Ratu Finau is that he lived in the shadow of the banyan tree. The late Ratu Mara was a towering figure, intellectual giant and world statesman, a man without equal in his time. It must have placed enormous pressures on the young Ratu Finau to be compared with his father.

The expectations on him would have been huge, possibly unbearable. In the last few years he became something of a recluse. There is something sad and poignant that a man destined for greatness would die without his full potential being realised. I mourn his passing.

Ratu Finau is survived by his long-time partner Vitinia Buadromo, and two children Salesi and Lawedua, his four sisters, a brother and two grandchildren. As vasu levu to the Roko Tui Dreketi, he will be laid to rest beside his late mother and brother in the chiefly burial grounds or sautabu in Narusa, Lomanikoro, Rewa on Friday 24 April.

Ratu Finau Mara will be interred at the chiefly burial grounds of the paramount chief of the Burebasaga Confederacy, in the chiefly village of Lomanikoro on the delta of the Rewa River, just outside the Fijian capital of Suva.

The Lau chief – whose mother was Ro Lady Lala Mara – the older sibling of current Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa, passed away at a private hosptial in the capital on Wednesday (15/4) evening. He was 62.

The eldest son of the founding Prime Minister of independent Fiji, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Ratu Finau had been unwell for some time.

Several plans by his people to install him as successor to his father's chiefly titles of Tui Nayau, Sau ni Vanua ko Lau and Tui Lau since Ratu Mara died in April 2004 did not eventuate.

With the lineage of both his father as high chief of Lau Province, and that of his mother, as paramount chief of Burebasaga, Ratu Finau, together with his other seven siblings were born of true blue chiefly ancestry.

The restrictions to movement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic could be a reason why Ratu Finau won’t be buried next to his father in the waterfront of chiefly Tubou village on Lakeba, Fiji’s eastern-most island. But he will be with family nevertheless when he is interred in the sautabu (chiefly tomb) of the Roko Tui Dreketi next Friday, beside his mother, Ro Lady Lala and one of his younger brothers, Ratu Joji Tuisawau Mara.

Ro Lady Lala passed away in July 2004, while Ratu Joni was killed in a road accident in 1990.

“Ratu Finau was the apple of his majestic father’s eyes,” wrote Robin Nair, a former foreign affairs secretary in Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s administration. “He may not have reached or wanted to reach the heights expected by his family and his people of Lakeba and Lau, but he showed much promise during his years as a lawyer and diplomat.”

Ratu Finau graduated with a bachelor of law from the University of Otago in New Zealand in 1983, and masters in law from Cambridge University in England three years later. He started his legal career with the Fiji public service, starting at the Attorney General Chambers before he was posted as a diplomat in 1991 to the Fiji mission in Washington DC.

He returned in 1994 to contest the general elections of that year, and became a member of parliament where he was given the Fijian affairs portfolio in the cabinet of Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka.

After politics, Ratu Finau served as a senior diplomat including as a Roving Ambassador in the Pacific. He also practiced law with the law firm of G P Lala.

A statement from his family said a private thanksgiving mass for Ratu Finau will be held in Suva on Friday before his casket is transported to Rewa for burial.

Ratu Finau is survived by his partner Vitinia Buadromo, his two children, Ratu Salesi Kinikinilau Mara and Adi Lawedua Mara, son in law, Waisea Dauni and two grandchildren, Taru and Salesi.

Ed note: This article has been updated from a previous version with additional information.

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