British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Gwyn Watkins
A replica Pagan Temple in Fiji
Replica Pagan Temple
I served in the Forestry Departments of Tanganyika and Fiji, and could not have had a more interesting and challenging career than that experienced in the two countries between 1945 and 1972.

On my retirement my family persuaded me to stay on in Fiji as there was a potential to create an attraction that would prove popular with tourists as well as for the local population. This led to the establishment of a Fijian Cultural Centre known as Orchid Island, located a few miles outside Fiji's capital, Suva. It included the construction in 1974-76 of a replica Fijian pagan temple, which I was able to supervise, drawing on my colonial forestry career.

Temples were common in Fiji until the mid-19th Century. In pre-Christian times they were used as meeting places, but were also the site for the execution of a Chief's enemies - killings of over 300 people were recorded in one instance.

A replica Pagan Temple in Fiji
Fiji 20 Dollar Note
The replica temple was built with very limited use of modern machinery. The thatching used for the roof was from locally collected reeds. Although metal sheeting is gradually replacing traditional thatching of reeds and sugarcane leaves, there is still a large demand for natural thatching in many outlying villages and holiday resorts. Unfortunately, natural thatch decays within 4 to 6 years in the wetter regions of Fiji, so when still in the Forestry Department I experimented with treating thatch with timber preservatives - pressure and immersion methods. These tests proved to be an outstanding success so only treated thatch was used later for this new temple. Even after nearly 40 years of exposure to heavy rain and humidity, the thatch is still in a serviceable condition. The interior of the temple was attractively decorated with 27 miles of coconut twine made from coconut husks.

We were most fortunate in that it proved to be a fairly successful venture to which many well-known people came when they visited Fiji. They included Princess Anne, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester (two visits). Sir Edmund Hillary and Richard Dawkins. In addition, my son, Keith, was friendly with Tarquin Olivier, the son of Lord Olivier. Tarquin was employed at the time by De La Rue, the printers, and during one of his visits to Fiji he photographed our Fijian Temple. Shortly afterwards we were pleasantly surprised to receive from him the new Fijian 20 dollar bank note featuring our temple that replaced the previous note that had been used since before Independence in 1970.

map of Fiji
Map of Fiji, 1948
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 101: April 2011


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