• Solomon Islands!

    Solomon Islands: Looking up at palm trees. Go Now!

    Solomon Islands
    This Melanesian country is best known for its many islands and beaches... and this natural landscape (pictured) is why most people go. Don't miss out on the unique Melanesian culture and foods though! Begin Your Journey!

  • Tonga!

    Tonga: Coastline. Go Now!

    The heart of Polynesian culture is rooted in Tonga, but most visitors just come for the natural beauty. Explore Tonga!

  • Vanuatu!

    Vanuatu: Jetty into the ocean. Go Now!

    Picturesque serenity is a good way to describe Vanuatu, but the culture offers much more, including the inspiration for bungee jumping, which remains a rite of passage for young men. Explore Vanuatu!

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    Few people have even heard of this small Micronesian country, but those who have often return with stories of beauty unmatched elsewhere, such as view of the "70 Islands" (pictured). Go Now!

  • Explore the: Federated States of Micronesia!

    Federated States of Micronesia: Overlooking some islands. Go Now!

    Federated States of Micronesia
    This diverse country stretches for thousands of miles and has the diversity to prove it, including the people from Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Yap among others. Begin Your Journey!

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History of Fiji

The early history of Fiji is somewhat confusing as archeological evidence and oral traditions don't necessarily coincide. Oral tradition simply states that chief Lutunasobasoba led the people to the islands on the Kaunitoni canoe and the people are descendants of him and the people that arrived with him. On the islands, this is commonly accepted as the beginning of Fiji's history and is taught in schools and supported by the government. A second, but less popular oral history states that the first people arrived from the east with the ocean currents and winds then settled island to island moving west.

Archeological evidence doesn't necessarily contradict the oral histories, but rather only suggests the origin of the people and when they arrived with more specific dates and locations. Many people outside Fiji believe that the first people arrived to the islands in about 2000-1500 BC. These people, likely the Lapita, were either Austronesian or Polynesian, although some evidence suggests they may also be related to the Taiwanese or Chinese. They likely arrived from what is today Papua New Guinea via Solomon Islands.

These early people lived off the lands as they fished in the surrounding waters and hunted the little game the islands had. These people were primarily isolated as Fiji is an island nation, however in about 1000-500 BC a second wave of people, the Melanesians, arrived, likely from Southeast Asia via Indonesia. Later waves of people also arrived, including one from Samoa among others.

Like the Austronesians before them, the Melanesians lived in much of the same lifestyle; they lived off the land and, being fairly isolated, developed a distinct culture which continues today in many forms. The people were also divided into tribes and wars were common.

In about the 900s AD the Tu'i Tonga Empire rose to power in the region. Based in Tonga, this empire took over Fiji and vastly altered the people and their culture. The people of Tonga were Polynesian and brought with them a Polynesian language, which partially stuck, and numerous customs found throughout Polynesia in the past and today. This empire and its direct Polynesia influence lasted until the 1200s and today numerous aspects of Fijian culture are rooted in Polynesia customs.

Despite what is known about these early people, their history, and their culture, many more aspects about their lives are unknown. However, based upon what the first Europeans observed, it appears Fiji had some interesting cultural habits during these years. Cannibalism seems to have been an integral part of war in Fiji as it was a great honor for a chief to eat a victim of war and one chief, Ratu Udre Udre, supposedly consumed over 850 people in his life, which took place in the 1800s. A part of this tradition likely arose from the belief that people contain spirits. This belief system formed a significant part of their religious beliefs, which were practiced by the people of Fiji. This also led to burial practices, which were intertwined with construction. When beams had to be inserted into the ground for a new building, people were killed and buried beneath these beams so the spirit of the dead would call upon the higher beings to support the structure.

Obviously these practices are no longer in use (although they lasted into the 1800s), but they did allow Fiji to remain independent for some time as the islands were known to Europeans as "Cannibal Isles." Today most ethnic Fijians view these practices as the work of the devil.

The written history in Fiji begins with the arrival of the Europeans. Perhaps the first European to arrive to Fiji was Dutchman Abel Tasman, who visited the islands in the early 1640s. This visit only left behind diseases that likely killed much of the population, then the Europeans didn't make a significant impact on the islands until 1822 when the British created a settlement at Levuka.

From this point, and later, the history and culture began to vastly change in Fiji. The British brought in missionaries to spread Christianity, which they did quite successfully. These missionaries primarily arrived from Tonga and once again in Fijian history, Tongan influence entered the islands. At the time many of these missionaries arrived, the people of Fiji were at war with each other, primarily tribes fighting other local tribes as they were divided. This actually encouraged the spread of Christianity as many tribal leaders converted in order to gain powerful foreign allies. Additionally, since the people were divided, the united missionaries, Tongans, and converted Fijians were well organized so easily took new lands, some of which were transferred to Tonga.

Over time nearly every local converted to Christianity and religious rituals of the past were destroyed and condemned by the people. Both cannibalism and burial of people beneath supportive poles for buildings are viewed very negatively by the people as they are almost ashamed of these actions.

In 1858 the British officially arrived in the form of diplomatic representation. This time continued the vast alteration of the social and political structure in Fiji as organized government expanded. As the warring tribes fell one by one to the missionaries, Tongans, Fijians, and Christianity, Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau, the most powerful Fijian chief united the islands under his country as he adopted the title of "Tui Viti." This also shifted focus from a local level to a more national level as tribal leaders lost much power at the expense of the king. It also opened lines of communication and transportation between the Fijians themselves.

Cakobau had a close relationship with the British and offered to sell the islands to them, however he had not yet subdued all warring tribes and the British refused to annex the people who protested Cakobau's leadership. Cakobau instead turned to a private Australian company in 1868 as he sold some islands to them, although not the whole of Fiji.

Obviously from a political perspective, things were vastly changing in Fiji during this time. In 1865 the Confederacy of Fijian Chiefs was formed and in 1871 Fiji turned into a constitutional monarchy with Cakobau as king. This constitutional monarchy was truly controlled by the representative bodies, which were dominated by private Australian settlers, essentially removing power from the people of Fiji. This disastrous relationship again led to turmoil and in 1874 the British finally annexed the islands as a colony. The local people were still represented as the Great Council of Chiefs was established in 1876.

Under British control the culture continued to change and probably the greatest change to the culture came in 1879 with the arrival of workers from India, another British colony. The first British governor, Arthur Charles Hamilton-Gordon, sought to protect Fijian culture in many ways and due to this he outlawed using ethnic Fijians as laborers. Oddly, this greatly affected the culture on the islands as it forced British companies to bring in Indians to act as labor. At this same time, the Fijian population was shrinking due to diseases and previous wars. What this created was a huge growth in the Indian population to the point that nearly half the population in Fiji today is of Indian descent.

The Indians brought with them new foods, spices, customs, and religions. Hinduism made and continues to make a substantial impact on the people and Islam has also made a significant contribution to the culture due to these immigrants from India. This immigration from India ended in 1916 and the move did protect Fijian culture to a degree, but it also introduced new cultures from India and Britain, almost drowning out the culture of the Fijians themselves.

The early 1900s experienced much of the same as the British continued to dominate political affairs while the Indian population became more educated and powerful, even gaining seats in the representative government, which primarily consisted of British settlers. The ethnic Fijians continued to live and work as they had in the past and they were still highly susceptible to disease, which became very apparent in 1918 when 14% of the population died from the Spanish flu pandemic.

In the late 1930s World War II broke out and soon much of the South Pacific was engulfed in war. Fortunately for Fiji, the Japanese advance didn't expand to their shores as it essentially ended in the nearby Solomon Islands. Because of this the country saw little action other than additional military presence, which was brought in by the British, Australians, and Americans.

The 1960s saw great improvements for the ethnic Fijians as they were given greater political rights, many of which were expanded to include women. These changes continued until 1970 when the United Kingdom granted Fiji independence. It was this time when the ethnic Fijians finally started to regain the rights they had lost years earlier. They maintained most of their culture during this time (other than obvious housing, food, and religious changes), but had lost political and economic power for years. This finally began to change during this time.

Ratu Mara became the first Fijian elected official, but the political stability in the country was short-lived as arguments began quickly. In 1987 a coup took place as the elected government was overthrown by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. This led to the severance of ties with the United Kingdom as a presidency was formed and Fiji was expelled from the Commonwealth of Nations. This coup also shifted power from the Indo-Fijians to the ethnic Fijians.

This new government also installed a new constitution in 1990 giving greater rights to ethnic Fijians over other ethnic groups, namely the Indians. This led to ethnic tensions and a division among the groups, eventually leading to an amended constitution in 1997, at which point Fiji re-joined the Commonwealth and changed their government structure. The new constitution led to the first Indian Prime Minister in 1999 and it led to another coup as this government was overthrown by George Speight, who installed a new government.

A third coup took place in 2006 when Commodore Frank Bainimarama declared himself president, but he soon stepped down to become the Prime Minister. Later the courts declared this coup was illegal and again a change in government occurred. If nothing else, these coups demonstrate the continuing tensions and division among the people of Fiji, a division that is primarily based on ethnic, linguistic, and religious lines, but essentially dividing the ethnic Fijians and Indians.

This page was last updated: February, 2013