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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.