Margaret Mishra


In a series of columns published in Australian newspapers in the 1920s, Australian journalist Thomas M’Mahon, declared that Indigenous Fijian women in the upper echelons of society were ‘emancipated’ as a consequence of the good work of the colonial administration and the missions in Fiji (1922a, p. 8). Yet when his rather sensationalized accounts relating to women’s education, modernity, marriage, and motherhood are closely scrutinized, it is clear that M’Mahon’s perception of ‘women’s emancipation’ is synonymous with the attainment of Western, middle-class ideologies of domesticity and not the quest to obtain equal rights for women by removing gender discrimination. The purpose behind his columns is to applaud the efforts of the British colonizers in Fiji—the projected emancipators of chiefly women. This article makes a contribution to women’s history in Fiji by challenging M’Mahon’s colonially skewed representation of the concept of ‘women’s emancipation’. It does this by juxtaposing M’Mahon’s happy, ‘educated’, philanthropic, chiefly housewives against their ‘native sisters’ striving for economic empowerment, sexual autonomy, and reproductive rights. It will argue that the latter articulations of i-Taukei women, that were curtailed to some extent by the introduction of colonial laws and intervention by male chiefs, were more convincing markers of attempts to secure equal rights for women in Fiji in the early 1920s.

Author Biography

Margaret Mishra is a senior lecturer at the School of Law and Social Sciences at the University of the South Pacific. Her articles aim to recover minor historical fragments relating to women in Fiji during the period of indenture and colonialism. They include: ‘The Curious Case of Montowinie (Emigration Pass 887½)’, The Journal of Pacific History, 2020 and ‘Undoing the “Madwoman”: A Minor History of Uselessness, Dementia and Indenture in Colonial Fiji’, Journal of International Women’s Studies, 2018.