© Chris McLennan Tourism Fiji
© Chris McLennan Tourism Fiji

10 Things to Know About Fiji’s History

© Chris McLennan Tourism Fiji

The History of Fiji in 10 Points

Visiting Fiji and want a little context to your holiday? Perhaps you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about when engaging in conversation with Fijians and Indo-Fijians? Whatever the reason for wanting to know a little Fiji history, this quick 10-point list should outline the things to know.

Of course, this isn’t a history book, so this isn’t the best place to dive into the history of Fiji. However, we do outline a few more details in A Brief History of Fiji.

1. Fiji was First Settled by Lapita and Melanesian People

With evidence of Lapita pottery found in Fiji, it is estimated that the first settlement in Fiji was around 1220 BC. The Lapita originated from Southeast Asia and inhabited several other South Pacific Islands. Around 1000 to 500 BC, Melanesians settled in Fiji. They are said to be the closest ancestors to the present-day Fijian people. Many artifacts you can see today throughout Fiji’s museums.

10 Things to know about the history of Fiji© Aaron March Tourism Fiji

2. Lutunosobasoba is Said to be the First Fijian of Fiji

In Fijian folklore, many recognise “Lutunasobasoba” to be the first person to settle and establish a tribal system in Fiji. It is said that he first arrived in Vuda on Viti Levu’s western side, arriving from East Africa. In legend, Lutunasobsoba was immortalised as a snake god called, Degei. Many Fijian’s enjoy tracing their family history back to Lutunasobsoba and Degei. Learn more about the Fijian culture in The Guide to the Fiji Culture for Travellers.

10 Things to know about the history of Fiji© Mark Snyder Tourism Fiji

3. Early European Explorers Sailed Right on by Fiji

Avoided for its treacherous reefs, the islands of Fiji didn’t really connect with the Western world until around the 1800s. A few brief sightings of Fiji were mapped by early European explorers, such as Dutch navigator Abel Tasman sailing past the island of Taveuni in 1643 and the British James Cook making note of Vatua Island in the Lau Islands in 1774.

10 Things to know about the history of Fiji© Tourism Fiji

4. Missionaries Arrived in Fiji in 1835

It was as early as 1835 that the first Wesleyan missionaries came to Fiji to convert the local Fijians to Christianity in an attempt to change their pagan-like beliefs, rituals and sacrifices. Missionaries established themselves in Levuka of the Lomaiviti Islands, spreading their message where today, almost the entire population of Fijians are Christian. Learn more about Fiji religions the Guide to the Religions in Fiji.

10 Things to know about the history of Fiji© Captain Cook Cruises

5. Cakobau was a Key Player in Shaping Fiji’s National History

There was one chief during the time of the early European discovery in Fiji that sticks out in the history books: Cakobau, the chief of Bau. Cakobau was an opportunist leader who benefitted from trading weapons with mercenaries to dominate tribes across Fiji. Cakobau was converted to Christianity and proclaimed himself the “King of Fiji”, while this wasn’t nationally recognised. With debt to the US Government and the threat of the King of Tonga taking islands in the Lau Islands, Cakabau turned to the British promising sovereignty of Fiji in return for the British paying off his debt.

10 Things to know about the history of Fiji© Chri McLennan Tourism Fiji

6. Fiji Was a British Colony for 96 Years

As more and more Europeans came to Fiji to exploit the land for cotton plantations, the recruitment of slaves (blackbirding), and whaling, the British became more interested in Fiji and Cakabau’s proposal. On October 10 1874, a few of Fiji’s high chiefs along with representatives of Queen Victoria of Britain signed the deed ceding sovereignty to Britain.

10 Things to know about the history of Fiji© Captain Cook Cruises

7. Fiji’s First Indian Population Were Indentured Labourers

During the early years of British colonisation in Fiji, an outbreak of measles wiped out about a third of the Fijian population. Without a large workforce for the planned sugar and copra plantations, Britain brought in indentured labourers from India to work in Fiji. The first shipment of labourers arrived in 1879. The deal was for the labourers to work five years before they returned home, however, many stayed in Fiji. By 1904, Indian merchants brought in more additions to the Indian population. Indentured labour was then abolished in 1920 after 60,553 Indians has been brought to Fiji.

10 Things to know about the history of Fiji© Chris McLennan Tourism Fiji

8. Fiji Gained Independence in 1947

After World War 2, the focus in Fiji was on politics and the divide between the rights of Fijians and the Indian labourers and their descendants, now commonly known as “Indo-Fijians”. Indo-Fijians were eager to leave British rule after India gained independence from Britain in 1947. Full independence was granted to Fiji on October 10 1970, after 96 years of colonial rule.

10 Things to know about the history of Fiji© Pixabay

9. Fiji Experienced Four Coups

Fiji went by for 17 years before the friction between Fijian and Indo-Fijian rights got too much. In 1987, a colonel from the military, Sitiveni Rabuka, stormed parliament on May 14 and took over the county in a bloodless coup, handing over the power to Governor-General Ratu Penaia Ganilau. Ratu Penaia Ganilau ruled that the military takeover was unconstitutional, so Rabuka staged another coup on September 23. The next round of coups started in 2000, after Mahendra Chaudhry, an Indo-Fijian of the Fiji Labour Party, won the 1999 elections. On May 19, Geoge Speight, a Fijian businessman, stormed parliament with an armed gang and took the government hostage for 56 days. Speight released the hostages and was arrested. Laisenia Qarase was made the interim prime minister. After Qarase put himself up for re-election and won, despite agreeing not to do so, another coup was headed by Commodore Frank Bainimarama in 2006.

10 Things to know about the history of Fiji© Pixabay

10. Fiji is Now a Top Tourist Destination

While there is still much debate about the divide between the Fijians and the Indo-Fijians, Fiji is now a politically stable country. Today, Fiji is considered a safe holiday destination that attracts travellers to its azure waters and lush tropical islands. Take a look at what it’s like to visit Fiji today in How to Plan a Trip to Fiji.

10 Things to know about the history of Fiji© SPTO


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of Fiji Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before settling in the South Pacific, so he knows a thing or two about planning the perfect trip in this corner of the world. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides and is a regular host of webinars with the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

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