According to Fijian legend, the great chief Lutunasobasoba led his people across the seas to the new land of Fiji. Most authorities agree that people came into the Pacific from Southeast Asia via the Malay Peninsula. Here the Melanesians and the Polynesians mixed to create a highly developed society long before the arrival of the Europeans.
The European discoveries of the Fiji group were accidental. The first of these discoveries was made in 1643 by the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman and English navigators, including Captain James Cook who sailed through in 1774, and made further explorations in the 18th century.
Major credit for the discovery and recording of the islands went to Captain William Bligh who sailed through Fiji after the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789.
The first Europeans to land and live among the Fijians were shipwrecked sailors and runaway convicts from the Australian penal settlements. Sandalwood traders and missionaries came by the mid 19th century.
Cannibalism practiced in Fiji at that time quickly disappeared as missionaries gained influence. When Ratu Seru Cakobau accepted Christianity in 1854, the rest of the country soon followed and tribal warfare came to an end.
From 1879 to 1916 Indians came as indentured labourers to work on the sugar plantations. After the indentured system was abolished, many stayed on as independent farmers and businessmen. Today they comprise 43.6 per cent of the population.
The 20th century brought about important economic changes in Fiji as well as the maturation of its political system. Fiji developed a major sugar industry and established productive copra milling, tourism and secondary industries.
As the country now diversifies into small-scale industries, the economy is strengthened and revenues provide for expanded public works, infrastructure, health, medical services and education.
The country’s central position in the region has been strengthened by recent developments in sea and air communications and transport. Today, Fiji plays a major role in regional affairs and is recognized as the focal point of the South Pacific.
Fiji is now home to many other races — Indians, Part Europeans, Chinese and other Pacific islanders living in harmony, and keeping their own cultures and identity. Fijians, slightly over 50 per cent of the total population, are essentially members of communities. They live in villages and do things on a communal basis.
The Indians have also regarded Fiji as their home. Most of them are descendants of labourers brought to the country from India to work in the sugar plantations about 100 years ago under the indentured labour system.
Although they were offered passages back in to India after their term, most preferred to stay. And through the years they have continued to work the land, becoming prominent in agriculture and also commerce. There has been some intermarriage, but this has been minimal.
However, Indians living in the rural areas have adapted well, some even speaking the local dialect and mixing well with the Fijians. As a country, Fiji is rural based with about 60 per cent of the population living in the rural areas.
Location and Geography
Volcanic in origin, Fiji is a group of islands located in the South Pacific approximately 4,450 km (2,775 mi) southwest of Honolulu and 1,770 km (1,100 mi) north of New Zealand. Flight time to Fiji is 10 hours from Los Angeles; four hours from Sydney; slightly over two hours from Auckland and about six hours from Honolulu.
Of the 322 islands and 522 smaller islets making up the archipelago, approximately 106 are permanently inhabited.The largest island Viti Levu, , covers about 57 of the nation’s land area and has the two largest metropolitan areas (the capital Suva, and Lautoka). It also hosts and most of the other major towns, ie, Ba, Nasinu, and Nadi (the site of the international airport), and contains some 69 of the population. The second largest island, Vanua Levu, is 64 km to the north of Viti Levu, covers just over 30 of the land area and is home to some 15 of the population. The two major communities there are main towns are Labasa and Savusavu.
Other islands and island groups make up only 2.5 % of the land area. These include Taveuni and Kadavu (the third and fourth largest islands respectively), the Mamanuca Group (just off Nadi), and Yasawa Group (north of the Mamanucas), the Lomaiviti Group (located geographically in the center of the archipelago), and the distant Lau Group which is seldom visited by tourists. The only major town on any of the smaller islands is Fiji’s former capital Levuka, located on the island of Ovalau.