Fiji at it’s best
To paraphrase John McDermott in “How to Get Lost and Found in Fiji” – before 2000 B.C., from the west came the island-hopping Melanesians, dark and curly-haired, followed by the similar Micronesians from the north. Much later (“11 generations ago” according to Fijian oral history) the golden-skinned, straight-haired Polynesians migrated from the east. Culturally, the Polynesian influence prevails.
Ancient history is hotly disputed by all but the Fijians themselves who will agree with most theories or, not to worry, make up a convincing alternate theory (story) on the spot. Europeans, typically arrived in order: explorers, traders, missionaries, farmers, shopkeepers, bankers and tourists.
Flag of FijiFiji is a 333 ISLAND nation, with 7,055 sq.miles of land occupying an ocean area of 426,000 sq. miles, first charted by American Commodore Wilkes in 1839.
The Fiji Islands are generally divided into three groups: the central islands including Viti Levu (4,112sq.miles) and Vanua Levu (2,432sq.miles) comprise the largest and most fertile land mass and population bases. The Lau (or Eastern) Islands are small, lying east of the main islands as far as Tonga.
The Ra Islands, consisting of the Mamanucas and the Yasawas, lie west and northwest of Nadi and its international airport. 200 miles to the north is Rotuma, administratively part of Fiji but culturally separate. Every new day begins in Fiji just west of the international dateline. 1062mi south of the equator, it is 5,529mi southwest of Los
Angeles, 3485mi due west of Tahiti, and 1140mi north of Auckland. Fiji is quintessential South Pacific.
As of the 1996 census, there were 775,077 permanent citizens of Fiji. Of these, 393,575 were pure Fijian; 398,818 heirs of East Indian immigration; 3,103 Europeans; 11,865 part-European; 9,727 Rotumans; 4,939 Chinese; 2,767 “others.”
The ethnic Fijian is today only a fractional majority (47.75%) of the populace. He/she is a mixture, over 10 millennia, of Melanesians and Polynesians. Since Fiji was colonized in 1874, physical and cultural differences between the two are minimized, though they can be perceived moving east across the islands. Fijians are a tall, dark, muscular and very handsome people. Indians, initially from India’s northern provinces, and later from the environs of Madras, came to Fiji under an indenture system, starting in 1879.
The system required that for every 100 men, 40 women should be recruited. With all castes, religions (though predominately Hindu) and dialects represented, family and cultural ties were broken by the conditions of indenture. By the end of required service (5 years), two-thirds of the Indians chose to remain in Fiji. Today, at 43.7% of the populace, they are active in commerce, transportation and the professions, but more often than not in agriculture, where the Fijian Indian remains a tenant farmer.
English is the official language. The widely used Fijian language has many dialects and is commonly known as Bavan Fijian.
More than half of the population are Christians (52.9%). The rest is made up of Hindus 38.1%, Muslims (7.8%), Sikhs (0.7%), and others (0.1%).
There are three types of land formation making up the Fiji Islands: volcanic, coral and limestone. The bigger islands are primarily volcanic. While there has been no recorded activity in modern history, the presence of hot springs indicate that the fires of creation are not fully extinguished. The practical Fijians use them to cook or for a warm bath.
Fiji is mountainous with several peaks exceeding 3000 ft and one, Mt. Victoria on Viti Levu, of over 4341 ft. With 112 inches of annual rainfall, the windward (Eastern) side of the Fiji Islands is remarkable, known among tropical nations for its fertile plains and valleys of the richest alluvial soil. Fiji is richly endowed with fresh water, its most important rivers being the Rewa, Navua, Sigatoka, and Ba.
Fiji enjoys a tropical oceanic climate, with gentle trade winds tempering the heat and humidity. Each of the main islands divided by mountain ranges has a “wet” side to the south and east, and a “dry” side to the north and west. Resorts tend to line the west and south coasts of the larger islands.
Seasons are reversed south of the equator. Summer months (November-April) have the greater rainfall, while winter (May-October) is drier. Temperatures range from an average of 75° Fahrenheit in July-August to 80° Fahrenheit in December-January.
Fiji lies in the path of hurricanes moving south from the equator in the months of November-April. Only four severe storms have hit the islands in the last 20 years.
Fiji became an independent Republic in 1987. Its constitution provides for a bicameral parliament based on the Westminster System with an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate. The President is appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs (the Bose Levu Vakaturaga); now Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, his offices are in “Government House,” a grand colonial manse on Queen Elizabeth Drive. The Prime Minister, first elected in May 1992, is Sitiveni Rabuka.
Tourism constitutes Fiji’s best source of foreign exchange, followed by sugar and garments. The country is also rich in gold, coconut oil, seafood and lumber. Though the price of lumber has skyrocketed internationally, Fiji’s villagers are choosing to turn their rain forests into parks rather than match sticks.
The Fiji Pine Commission has planted thousands of acres for commercial harvest. It is hoped that pine will soon rival sugar and tourism as foreign exchange earners. More precious sandalwood was depleted in the XIX and early XX centuries.