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.
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
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.
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.
1879 to 1916 Indians came as indentured laborers to work on the sugar
plantations. After the indentured system was abolished, many stayed
on as independent farmers and businessmen. Today they comprise 44
percent of the population.
was 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
long they had moved further on, colonizing 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 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.
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.
is hardly surprising then, that the Fijian culture is an intricate
network and that generalizations 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 colonization
was Fiji a political unity. Nevertheless, Fiji does exhibit certain
traits that sets it apart from its neighbors, 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.
the 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.
and 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.
Fiji 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 Fijians' side.
sales 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.
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
the 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.