Rows Over Woman Elder Appeared 4th December '96

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Rabi Rows Over Woman Elder


by Jo Nata on Rabi

The following article appeared in the 'Fiji Times' Wednesday 4 December, 1996

Makin Karoro (left) is congratulated by a relative after becoming the first woman to win a seat in the Rabi Island Council.

Picture: Jo Nata

SOME people on Rabi want the first woman elected to the island council removed because they say a woman cannot be an elder under Banaban custom.

But eh move, led by outgoing chairman of the Rabi Island Council Tekoti Rotan, is likely to be resisted. It will be opposed by the village which elected the woman, Makin Karoro, and by the new council which is likely to be headed by former Permanent Secretary for Primary Industries John Teaiwa.

Mrs. Karoro cam out fighting last night and vowed that she would take up the chairmanship "if they people want me".

"In our custom, women and men are at the same level," she said from Rabi.

"In our custom if a man is married to a woman, the man moves and stays with the woman’s family and on the woman’s property.

"So we have all the right to speak out. We have the right to manage our household."

Mrs Karoro said Rabi women have been trying for years to get a seat in the council and she succeeded in her third attempt. The former school teacher and grandmother broke convention and tradition when she became a councillor when the results were announced last Friday night.

She was elected the elder member from Tabwewa Village where she was one of three women who contested that seat as elders.

The other women are Rambi Woodrow and Teabo Rangaba.

The protesting group is threatening to seek relief from the court if the matter is not resolved by the new council.

"In our custom a woman is never an elder," said Mr. Rotan.

"I know I would be very unpopular but someone has to do the dirty work. If this matter is allowed now, then it would be accepted in the future."

Mr. Rotan, from the influential Rotan family, said he would be consulting the elders, beginning with those from Tabwewa Village.

"We are prepared to go to court, if need be," he said.

Mr. Rotan said he did not object before the election because he wanted to see that the administration of the island was transferred to the people.

But his position would come as a surprise to the new councillors and to those who voted for Mrs. Karoro.

Mr. Teaiwa had warmly embraced the election of Mrs. Karoro when the results were announced.

"It is the first time that we are having a woman in the council," Mr. Teaiwa had said. "It is very encouraging."

Mr. Rotan said that a woman being an elder was one of the issues that he wanted the new council to resolve. The others were the definitions of an indigenous Banaban and of an elder.

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