Levuka Historical Port Town: whose heritage?
By Luke Kiddle
Levuka, Fiji’s original colonial era capital on the island of Ovalau in Lomaiviti Province, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. At the time it was the seventh World Heritage site in the small island developing states of the Pacific, a region still remarkably under-represented in terms of World Heritage (home to only eight of the globe’s 1,121 World Heritage sites). Levuka Historical Port Town is viewed as an “outstanding example of late 19th century Pacific port settlements”. Listing was the culmination of at least 36 years of effort by various domestic and international stakeholders. It remains Fiji’s only current World Heritage site (there are others on a tentative list including the Sigatoka Sand Dunes, Sovi Basin, and Yaduataba Crested Iguana Sanctuary). Increased prospects for tourism, identified as early as 2000, have been seen as key justification for listing, alongside the inherent heritage protection values. At listing, the town’s colonial era buildings, many wooden, were seen as “remarkably intact”.
Levuka has always been a diverse, complex and conflicted place. UNESCO notes that the town “illustrates the cultural hybridity of non-settler communities in the Pacific, with an urban plan that merges local settlement traditions with colonial standards.” European sandalwood traders began calling in at Levuka from about 1806. From the early 1860s, in an unruly period, European settlers began arriving in greater numbers. At Levuka in 1874, the Deed of Session was signed, making Fiji a British colony. The first indentured labourers from India – as the beginning of the girmit – also disembarked at Levuka in 1879. The Fiji Times, a newspaper still published, was started in Levuka in 1869. The town was also the site of Fiji’s first bank, post office, school, private member’s club, hospital, …read more