Children in the Mamanuca Islands playing, Fiji

Fiji, the Soft Coral Capital of the World - in a Nutshell

Author: Sue
Date: 1st December 2017

A Brief History of Fiji

  • Fiji has a fascinating history.
  • Humans have lived in Fiji since the second millennium BC, when settlers arrived in waves across the Pacific - first Austronesians and later Melanesians.
  • Europeans arrived in the seventeenth century. Tasman first saw the islands, on his way south, Cook brushed the edges and Bligh mapped parts of the area. This was after he had become a castaway after the infamous mutiny on HMS Bounty. For a time, the Fiji Islands were known as the Bligh Islands.
  • Cannibalism was seized on as a 'moral imperative' for advocating colonialism. It seems that though the Fijians did indeed practise cannibalism, the practise wasn't as common as had been suggested and might have been ritualistic. and 'non violent'. I'm not sure how the latter follows, unless the victims were already dead. I'm struggling to find more information.
  • Christianity and missionaries with their edicts on cultural changes received a very mixed welcome and led to violent resistance at times.
  • The following historical period is complicated. There were waves of settlers, mainly from Australia, but also the USA. first to the outer islands and especially Ovalau. and then Viti Levu (meeting fierce resistance from the local peoples). Cotton production was the main interest, as it had become scarce during the American Civil War. Many workers were pressganged - a process known as blackbirding - forcibly removed from their homes in other countries, such as the Solomon Islands, to work the plantations. Locals were enslaved.
  • It was a lawless place. Britain was entreated several times to step in and restore order, but refused consistently. Eventually, after the USA had shown interest, and Fiji had moved to become an independent kingdom, which struggled badly, the British annexed Fiji, as a colony. It wasn't an easy task. Insurgency continued.
  • Sugar cane now took the place of cotton and to solve the labour crisis, this time, indentured labourers were brought from India - some 61,000 in all from 1878 to 1916. If the labourers stayed for for 10 years they were given the option of a paid return to India, or remaining in Fiji. Most stayed, and the country's population, is now 40% of Indian origin accounting for the strong Indian heritage.
  • Fiji gained independence, as a dominion, in 1970.
  • In 1987, following a series of coups d'état, the military government that had taken power declared it a republic. Tussels between opposing parties, with a coup and some military intervention followed. On 17 September 2014, after years of delays, a democratic election took place.

Facts and Factoids

  • Fiji is an archipelago of more than 330 islands (mainly volcanic) and more than 500 islets. About 110 are permanently inhabited.
  • The archipelago lies just south of the Equator and just inside the international date line. (They kinked it to accommodate the whole country, which therefore experiences the beginning of each calendar day well before we do.)
  • Most of the population live on the two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. About 75% inhabit Viti Levu's coasts, either in Suva, the capital, Nadi (the tourist hub) or Lautoka (centre of the sugar-cane industry). The interior of Viti Levu is mountainous and inhospitable.
  • The main languages are English, Fijian or Hindi.
  • Fiji has one of the strongest economies in the Pacific, exporting wood, minerals, sugar cane, fish and bottled water (you must have seen Fiji Water in product placements on the TV).
  • Tourism is a key source of foreign exchange, and the local currency is the Fijian dollar,
  • The derivation of the name Fiji is a little complicated. Fijians first came into contact with Europeans in Tonga, where they met Cook's expedition, who were impressed by these 'formidable warriors and ferocious cannibals'. They referred to their home as Viti, but the Tongans called it Fisi, and the English mispronounced it still further.

What To See in Fiji?

Today, Fiji is known as The Soft Coral Capital of the World. An accolade for its diving and snorkelling. You'll get a shouted 'bula' (boo-lah).

Read about my trips here:

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