History of Fiji Islands
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 Indonesia. Here the Melanesians
and the Polynesians mixed to create a highly developed society long before the
arrival of the Europeans.
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.
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.
practised 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 44 per cent of the population.
first settled about three and a half thousand years ago. The original
inhabitants are now called "Lapita people" after a distinctive type of fine
pottery they produced, remnants of which have been found in practically all the
islands of the Pacific east of New Guinea, though not in eastern Polynesia.
Linguistic evidence suggests that they came from northern or central Vanuatu, or
possibly the eastern Solomons.
they had moved further on, colonising Rotuma to the north, and Tonga and Samoa
to the east. From there, vast distances were crossed to complete the settlement
of the Pacific, to Hawaii in the north, Rapanui [Easter Island] in the east and
Rotearoa [New Zealand] in the south.
islands of Polynesia which showed a continuous steadily evolving culture from
initial occupation, Fiji appears to have undergone at least two periods of rapid
cultural change in pre-historical times. This may have been due to the arrival
of fresh waves of immigrants, presumably from the west.
Pre-historians have noted that a massive 12th century volcanic eruption
in southern Vanuatu coincides with the disappearance there of a certain pottery
style, and its sudden emergence in Fiji.
It is hardly
surprising then, that the Fijian culture is an intricate network and that
generalisations are fraught with danger. Although the legendary king of Bau,
Naulivou and his successors had control over a large area of eastern Fiji, at no
time before colonisation was Fiji a political unity. Nevertheless, Fiji does
exhibit certain traits that sets it apart from its neighbours, and it is this
that defines a distinctive Fijian culture.
first impressed themselves on European consciousness through the writings of
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.
inspired awe among the Tongans, and all their products, especially bark-cloth
and clubs, were highly esteemed and much in demand. They called their home Viti,
but the Tongans called it Fiji, and it is by this foreign pronunciation, first
promulgated by Cook, that these islands are now known.
explorers, other Europeans followed. For over half a century, Fijian culture
enjoyed what has been called its 'golden age', as tools and weapons brought by
traders were turned by resourceful chiefs to their own advantage.
houses were built, confederations formed and wars fought on a grand scale
without precedent. Gradually and inevitably however, the Fijian way of life was
changing. As Christianity spread in the islands, wars ceased abruptly and
western clothing was adopted.
was ceded to Great Britain in 1874 epidemics nearly wiped out the population and
it seemed as if the natives were doomed. But the colonial government took the
were forbidden, health campaigns implemented and the population picked up again.
Theirs was not, of course, the culture of the heathen 'golden age', but one
modified by the new religion and increasingly the new economic order. Yet in
today's Fiji, independent since 1970, a surprising amount has survived.
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.
country now diversifies into small scale industries, the economy is strengthened
and revenues provide for expanded public works medical services and education.
country's central position in the region has been strengthened by recent
developments in sea and air communications. Today, Fiji plays a major role in
regional affairs and is recognized as the focal point of the South Pacific.