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:

Back to Fiji

Flying in from Tonga. I had forgotten how friendly the Fijians are, and how wearing it is playing games of guess which country I'm from, in reply to the inevitable question. They never seem to think of England as a possibility. On the South Sea cruises catamaran - The Yasawa Flyer, from Port Denaru, partly retracing last year's steps (or wake?) past the Mamanuca Islands and on through the volcanic Yasawa Islands. There are about 20 of them, six main islands and numerous smaller islets. The volcanoes have kept their shape, The peaks range from 250 to 600 metres.

Navigation here is tricky - there's not much depth between the islets so they remained undisturbed until 'discovered' by Captain Bligh in 1789, after his crew had mutinied on The Bounty. They were largely ignored by the wider world until World War II, when the United States military used them as communications outposts.

Whilst we try to avoid running aground, I chat to an American guy who runs the/a university in Tonga. He offers me a job teaching psychology there. I'll think about it.

Octopus Resort, Yasawa Islands

At Octopus Resort, half way into the Yasawa Islands, the whole staff come out to greet the landing of the dinghy that ferries us into shore. One of the reasons I returned to Fiji was because the snorkelling was so good last year, on the inner islands. This is the Soft Coral Capital of the World after all. As anticipated, the coral is far superior to anywhere else on this trip. The off beach snorkelling is amazing. Shame it rains. Yes the blinking rain seems to have followed me - again. And yes, it's the dry season - the guide books say so.

The Blue Lagoon - In the Footsteps of Brook Shields

Nanuya Lailai Island, in the Yasawas, actual setting for The Blue Lagoon film. Movie people aren't stupid, making so many films out here. The water is indeed blue, more ultramarine than azure, with swirls of jade. It's stunning and I'm not complaining. I have a typical lofty roofed wooden Fijian house, a bure; it has great views across the lagoon and I indulge in my last South Pacific sunsets.

Snorkelling and Snakes

More snorkelling. I go out in a boat and then zoom up and down the reef off the beach at low tide and then high tide, till I go all wrinkly. I've been trying out my new Olympus Tough underwater camera, with some success. The visibility is good, but attempting to capture images of fish is a little trying. They zip about far too quickly and if I do catch one off guard then you can guarantee that the current will waft me away.

Nevertheless, there is one patch with several shoals of them all intermingling. Great photos, though the fish clearly expect to get fed at this spot and in their disappointment several decide to nip me instead. As someone then shouts out ' sea snake behind you' retreat seems expedient. It's a krait - highly poisonous, though they are considered very docile and have tiny fangs. Even a small venomous bite doesn't sound that appealing. To prove it, it's even in the corner of my picture (top left).

Round My Yasawa Island

A farewell snorkel, trying not to think about snakes, and then a challenge, while I wait for the boat back to the mainland. A round the island walk billed at an hour and a half sounds just the ticket. It's low tide, so the staff say it will all be passable. They don't tell me about all the lava I have to scramble over, or the yapping dogs that will accompany me or the swampy mangroves I have to wade through with ominous squidging beneath. They would have told me if there was sinking sand. Wouldn't they? And all the time hoping I'm not going to get lost. I don't want to miss the boat. I keep telling myself that you can't get lost going anti clockwise round an island. I hope. In the event, I make it in record time, scurrying along like the crabs.

Next stop Vancouver.

Or read more about Fiji here.

Finally Fiji 2012 - Suva to Nadi

Finally arrive in Fiji from Vanuatu but in unscheduled Suva (the capital). Only an hour late. Then a taxi ride across the island of Viti Levu, back to Nadi (say it Nandi) with two other stranded passengers. It's really very pleasant, the sun is shining and there are great views of the rugged mountainous interior, to one side and the shimmering white beaches and the reefs and islands, to the other. Momi Bay and Natadola Beach are spectacular. This is known as The Coral Coast

It all looks very urbanised, after my previous sojourns. People mainly live in houses, rather than huts, and there's quite a lot of manufacturing industry. And malls. And McDonalds. Though it's still relatively poor.

One of the passengers is a bit of an odd ball. An Anglo-Indian who lives in the U.S. We talk about travel a lot, but every time we mention a country he starts to talk in the associated accent. Quite unconsciously I think. His English accent is terrible.

Nadi

Nadi is only the third-largest city//town in Fiji, but the largest airport in Fiji is close by and it's the tourist hub. The Nadi region has a higher concentration of hotels and motels than any other part of Fiji. It has a large Indo-Fijian population, (many Indians came to work on the sugar plantations) and it has the largest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere.

There's an islet of hotels at Port Denaru, handily placed for boats to the islands. They're mostly chain establishments, with clipped lawns and a golf course. It's just like Florida.

First Landing Resort

My hotel is on the outskirts of Nadi, near an oil refinery. Fortunately, you can't see the cylindrical towers from the grounds. The hotel is quaint and traditional, with thatched bungalows called bures. The odd mongoose skittering about. Pathways littered with cane toads and lizards, who hop out of your way as you wander along. The staff shake hands and bellow 'Bula' (welcome) at me every time I meet them. Most of the men wear loud tropical shirts and sarongs called sulus and both men and women decorate their hair with hibiscus flowers.

The Mamanuca Islands

Boat trip out to the Mamanuca Islands. There are about 20 islands in the archipelago, but about seven of these are covered by the Pacific Ocean at high tide. Not a great place to live then.

All idyllic little volcanic islands with improbable names like Treasure Island, Beachcomber, Bounty and South Sea. Bounty is where they filmed Celebrity Love Island. We sail on to Monuriki for swimming and snorkelling. This one is more commonly known as Tom Hanks Island, as it's where they filmed Castaway. It's all impossibly perfect. The water is cobalt, the reef is gaudy and the fish are psychedelic. Since 2016, the islands have been the filming location of the television series Survivor.

An island village in the afternoon, where the chief welcomes us with the local drink - kava. It's what set the locals crawling home on Tanna in Vanuatu. Though we're told they have marketed it as an antidepressant in Europe. In Fijian villages, only the chief can wear hats and sunglasses. The top of the head is sacred, and is not meant to be touched. Once we've participated in the kava ceremony - tasting optional, we explore the village. The main attraction is the smiling, playfully shy children.

The Dry Season in Nadi

It's raining, bucketing down. And it's dry season. The toads are enjoying it. Not much to do except read, watch the palm fronds blowing around, have a massage and a leisurely lunch. This is enforced by the speed of the service. The Fijians are lovely, but initiative is a foreign concept and they take everything you say absolutely literally. So if you ask for a bottle of water with your meal that's what you get, no glass, unless you specifically request one.

The evening is definitely not quiet, however. As I have wiled away the day with a huge (and leisurely) lunch I decide that I will just have a couple of cocktails for supper. Enter two Aussie guys in their mid thirties on their way to a wedding on Treasure Island, but marooned on the mainland by the weather. Not only can those guys drink, but boy do they have the gift of the gab. Before very long I am married (they have the requisite shell necklace) and have been invited to go to the wedding with him. He is even choosing the outfit I am going to wear and planning the house he is going to build for me.

All absolutely hysterical and keeps the whole bar entertained. There is a bit of a tussle when he decides he wants to claim his conjugal rights. Can't pretend I'm not tempted. He is six foot three, fit and plays rugby league. But I manage to get into my bungalow and lock the door. He sits on the step for a while calling out, 'Wifey, wifey' in a plaintive voice before he gives up. Nice to know I'm not yet too old.

Hong Kong for Macau next.

Or read more about Fiji here.

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