Information about Fiji - a Country in Oceania with 300 Islands -

History

 

Early history

Pottery art from Fijian towns shows that Fiji was settled before or around 3500 to 1000 BC, although the question of Pacific migration still lingers. It is believed that the Lapita people or the ancestors of the Polynesians settled the islands first but not much is known of what became of them after the Melanesians arrived; they may have had some influence on the new culture, and archaeological evidence shows that they would have then moved on to Samoa, Tonga and even Hawai’i.

 

The first Europeans to land and live among the Fijians were shipwrecked sailors like Charles Savage. The first settlements in Fiji were started by voyaging traders and settlers from the west about 5000 years ago. Lapita pottery shards have been found at numerous excavations around the country. Aspects of Fijian culture are similar to the Melanesian culture of the western Pacific but have a stronger connection to the older Polynesian cultures. Trade between Fiji and neighboring archipelagos long before European contact is testified by the canoes made from native Fijian trees found in Tonga and Tongan words being part of the language of the Lau group of islands. Pots made in Fiji have been found in Samoa and even the Marquesas Islands.

Across 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) from east to west, Fiji has been a nation of many languages. Fiji’s history was one of settlement but also of mobility. Over the centuries, a unique Fijian culture developed. Constant warfare and cannibalism between warring tribes were quite rampant and very much part of everyday life. During the 19th century, Ratu Udre Udre is said to have consumed 872 people and to have made a pile of stones to record his achievement. According to Deryck Scarr, “Ceremonial occasions saw freshly killed corpses piled up for eating. ‘Eat me!’ was a proper ritual greeting from a commoner to a chief.” Scarr also reported that the posts that supported the chief’s house or the priest’s temple would have sacrificed bodies buried underneath them, with the rationale that the spirit of the ritually sacrificed person would invoke the gods to help support the structure, and “men were sacrificed whenever posts had to be renewed”. Also, when a new boat, or drua, was launched, if it was not hauled over men as rollers, crushing them to death, “it would not be expected to float long”. Fijians today regard those times as “na gauna ni tevoro” (time of the devil). The ferocity of the cannibal lifestyle deterred European sailors from going near Fijian waters, giving Fiji the name Cannibal Isles; as a result, Fiji remained unknown to the rest of the world.

A Fijian mountain warrior, photograph by Francis Herbert Dufty, 1870s. The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman visited Fiji in 1643 while looking for the Great Southern Continent. Europeans settled on the islands permanently beginning in the 19th century. The first European settlers to Fiji were beachcombers, missionaries, whalers, and those engaged in the then booming sandalwood and bêche-de-mer trade. Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau was a Fijian chief and warlord from the island of Bau, off the eastern coast of Viti Levu, who united part of Fiji’s warring tribes under his leadership. He then styled himself as Tui Viti or King of Fiji, and then Vunivalu, or Protector, after the cession of Fiji to the United Kingdom. The British subjugated the islands as a colony in 1874, and the British brought over Indian contract labourers to work on the sugar plantations as the first governor of Fiji, Arthur Charles Hamilton-Gordon, adopted a policy disallowing the use of native labour or any interference in their culture or way of life. In 1875–76, an epidemic of measles killed over 40,000 Fijians, about one-third of the Fijian population. The population in 1942 was approximately 210,000 of whom 94,000 were Indians, 102,000 native Fijians, 2,000 Chinese and 5,000 Europeans.

 

Independence (1970)

The British granted Fiji independence in 1970. Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987 precipitated by a growing perception that the government was dominated by the Indo-Fijian (Indian) community. The second 1987 coup saw both the Fijian monarchy and the Governor General replaced by a non-executive president and the name of the country changed from Dominion of Fiji to Republic of Fiji and then in 1997 to Republic of the Fiji Islands. The two coups and the accompanying civil unrest contributed to heavy Indo-Fijian emigration; the resulting population loss resulted in economic difficulties and ensured that Melanesians became the majority. In 1990, the new constitution institutionalised ethnic Fijian domination of the political system. The Group Against Racial Discrimination (GARD) was formed to oppose the unilaterally imposed constitution and to restore the 1970 constitution. In 1992 Sitiveni Rabuka, the Lieutenant Colonel who had carried out the 1987 coup, became Prime Minister following elections held under the new constitution. Three years later, Rabuka established the Constitutional Review Commission, which in 1997 wrote a new constitution which was supported by most leaders of the indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities. Fiji was re-admitted to the Commonwealth of Nations.

 

Levuka, 1842. The year 2000 brought along another coup, instigated by George Speight, which effectively toppled the government of Mahendra Chaudhry, who in 1997 had become the country’s first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister following the adoption of the new constitution. Commodore Frank Bainimarama assumed executive power after the resignation, possibly forced, of President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Later in 2000, Fiji was rocked by two mutinies when rebel soldiers went on a rampage at Suva’s Queen Elizabeth Barracks. The High Court ordered the reinstatement of the constitution, and in September 2001, to restore democracy, a general election was held which was won by interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party. In 2005, the Qarase government amid much controversy proposed a Reconciliation and Unity Commission with power to recommend compensation for victims of the 2000 coup and amnesty for its perpetrators. However, the military, especially the nation’s top military commander, Frank Bainimarama, strongly opposed this bill. Bainimarama agreed with detractors who said that to grant amnesty to supporters of the present government who had played a role in the violent coup was a sham. His attack on the legislation, which continued unremittingly throughout May and into June and July, further strained his already tense relationship with the government. In late November and early December 2006, Bainimarama was instrumental in the 2006 Fijian coup d’état. Bainimarama handed down a list of demands to Qarase after a bill was put forward to parliament, part of which would have offered pardons to participants in the 2000 coup attempt. He gave Qarase an ultimatum date of 4 December to accede to these demands or to resign from his post. Qarase adamantly refused either to concede or resign, and on 5 December the president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, was said to have signed a legal order dissolving the parliament after meeting with Bainimarama. In April 2009, the Fiji Court of Appeal ruled that the 2006 coup had been illegal. This began the 2009 Fijian constitutional crisis. President Iloilo abrogated the constitution, removed all office holders under the constitution including all judges and the governor of the Central Bank. He then reappointed Bainimarama as prime minister under his “New Order” and imposed a “Public Emergency Regulation” limiting internal travel and allowing press censorship. For a country of its size, Fiji has fairly large armed forces, and has been a major contributor to UN peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world. In addition, a significant number of former military personnel have served in the lucrative security sector in Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion.

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