Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Prescient Baron

"We put in at Namuka Bay ... and there visited the Navesi saw-pits. The owner ... has acquired considerable knowledge of the native timber. He says that if people were not so prejudiced he could prove to them that Fiji produces wood equal to any imported. As yet much of the forest is untouched, but the supply in an island the size of Viti Levu, especially when considerable tracts of its surface are bare, can by by no means inexhaustible. An instance in point; the sandalwood forests of Vanua Levu, which first brought the Fijian Islands into note by attracting traders to their shores, have for some time ceased to exist, and the trees have been felled so assiduously as almost to exterminate the Santalum yasi in this island. This is a fact that ought not to be lost sight of, and the sooner stringent laws are brought into force for the regulation of tree felling, the better for the future prospects of the colony."
The Baron Anatole von Hügel wrote these words on his trip from Levuka to Sigatoka in 1875. He spent two years in Fiji collecting birds and buying traditional objects for the Cambridge Museum. His journals are a fascinating and informative read of Fiji in the early days of colonisation.

His remarks above are remarkably foresighted, but have sadly gone unheeded. No doubt if he were around to visit Fiji today both him and his sawmilling friend would be dismayed to find extensive plantations of mahogany and pine, and very little legislation protecting and regulating logging.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Roth J and Hooper S (Eds). 1990. The Fiji Journals of Baron Anatole von Hügel. Fiji Museum, Suva.

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