Fiji comprises an archipelago of more than 332 islands, of which 110 are permanently inhabited, and more than 500 islets, amounting to a total land area of ca. 18,300 km. The two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, account for 87% of the population of almost 850,000. The former island contains Suva, the capital and biggest city.
Fijians first impressed themselves on European consciousness through the writings of the members of the expeditions of Cook who met them in Tonga. They were described as formidable warriors and ferocious cannibals, builders of the finest vessels in the Pacific, but not great sailors. They inspired awe amongst the Tongans, and all their Manufactures, especially bark cloth and clubs, were highly esteemed and much in demand. They called their home Viti, but the Tongans called it Fisi, and it was by this foreign pronunciation, Fiji, first promulgated by Captain James Cook, that these islands are now known. 5 -
The first settlements in Fiji were started by voyaging traders and settlers from the west about 5000 years ago. Lapita pottery shards have been found at numerous excavations around the country. Aspects of Fijian culture are similar to Melanesian culture to the western Pacific but have stronger connection to the older Polynesian cultures such as those of Samoa and Tonga. Trade between these three nations long before European contact is quite obvious with canoes made from native Fijian trees found in Tonga and Tongan words being part of the language of the Lau group of islands. Pots made in Fiji have been found in Samoa and even the Marquesas Islands.
Across 1000 kilometres from east to west, Fiji has been a nation of many languages. Fiji's history was one of settlement but also of mobility. Over the centuries, a unique Fijian culture developed. Constant warfare and cannibalism between warring tribes was quite rampant and very much part of everyday life. 6 - During the 19th century, Ratu Udre Udre is said to have consumed 872 people and to have made a pile of stones to record his achievement. 7 - According to Deryck Scarr ("A Short History of Fiji", 1984, page 3), "Ceremonial occasions saw freshly killed corpses piled up for eating. 'Eat me!' was a proper ritual greeting from a commoner to a chief." Scarr also reported that the posts that supported the chief's house or the priest's temple would have sacrificed bodies buried underneath them, with the rationale that the spirit of the ritually sacrificed person would invoke the gods to help support the structure, and "men were sacrificed whenever posts had to be renewed" (Scarr, page 3). Also, when a new boat, or drua, was launched, if it was not hauled over men as rollers, crushing them to death, "it would not be expected to float long" (Scarr, page 19"). Fijians today regard those times as "na gauna ni tevoro" (time of the devil). The ferocity of the cannibal lifestyle deterred European sailors from going near Fijian waters, giving Fiji the name Cannibal Isles , in turn Fiji was unknown to the rest of the outside world. 8 -
The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman visited Fiji in 1643 while looking for the Great Southern Continent. 9 - Europeans settled on the islands permanently beginning in the nineteenth century. 10 - The first European settlers to Fiji were beachcombers, missionaries, whalers and those engaged in the then booming sandalwood and bêche-de-mer trade.
Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau was a Fijian chief and warlord from the island of Bau, off the eastern coast of Viti Levu, who united part of Fiji's warring tribes under his leadership. He then styled himself as King of Fiji or Tui Viti and then to Vunivalu or Protector after the Cession of Fiji to Great Britain. The British subjugated the islands as a colony in 1874, and the British brought over Indiancontract labourers to work on the sugar plantations as the then Governor and also the first governor of Fiji, Arthur Charles Hamilton-Gordon, adopted a policy disallowing the use of native labour and no interference in their culture and way of life. In 1875-76, measles epidemic killed over 40,000 Fijians, 11 - about one-third of the Fijian population. 12 - The population in 1942 was approximately 210,000 of whom 94,000 were Indians, 102,000 native Fijians, 2,000 Chinese and 5,000 Europeans. 13 -
The British granted Fiji independence in 1970. Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987 because the government was perceived as dominated by the Indo-Fijian (Indian) community. The second 1987 coup saw the British monarchy and the Governor General replaced by a non-executive President, and the country changed the long form of its name from Dominion of Fiji to Republic of Fiji (and to Republic of the Fiji Islands in 1997). The coups and accompanying civil unrest contributed to heavy Indian emigration;the population loss resulted in economic difficulties but ensured that Melanesians became the majority. 14 -
In 1990, the new Constitution institutionalised the ethnic Fijian domination of the political system. The Group Against Racial Discrimination (GARD) was formed to oppose the unilaterally imposed constitution and to restore the 1970 constitution. Sitiveni Rabuka, the Lieutenant Colonel who carried out the 1987 coup became Prime Minister in 1992, following elections held under the new constitution. Three years later, Rabuka established the Constitutional Review Commission, which in 1997 led to a new Constitution, which was supported by most leaders of the indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities. Fiji is re-admitted to the Commonwealth of Nations.
|History of Fiji|
This article is part of a series
|Discovery of Fiji|
|The rise and fall of Cakobau|
|Modern history of Fiji|
|Constitutional crisis of 1977|
|Coups of 1987|
|Coup of 2000|
|Crisis of 2005–2006|
|Coup of 2006|
|2009 Fijian constitutional crisis|