Fiji is made up of many islands, sun drenched white sand beaches, rich volcanic soil and lush tropical rainforests. It was originally called Viti by its original inhabitants and after discovery of the archipelago by European explorers it was named Fiji. Surprisingly this name is of Tongan origin.
The Lapita people first settled the Fiji islands about 1500 BC. It is suggested that they came from Vanuatu or the Eastern Solomon islands. These people were coastal dwellers who relied on fishing and are thought to have lived in relative peace. About 2500 years ago however a shift towards agriculture occurred as well as with an increase in population this resulted in intertribal fighting therefore Cannibalism became common in times of war.
Approximately 1000 years ago Fiji was invaded by Tongans and Samoans which provoked more organised and large scale wars. In the 18 th century more Tongans invaded and the people were forced to fortify the areas in which they lived.
Europeans crossed the southwest in the 17 th and 18 th century searching for the ‘unknown southern land’. Abel Tasman was the first European to sail past the Fiji islands in 1643.
During the 17 th and 18 th century there were beachcombers who were either escaped convicts or ship wrecked sailors. They lived with the Fijians in their villages, but some did not survive as long as they had hoped. Many were killed and eaten as Cannibalism was still a part of life for the Fijian tribes.
Missionaries were part of the Fijian landscape trying to replace Cannibalism with Christianity. It was a trying time for them until they realised they had to start with the chiefs which proved successful. Today the country consists of 53% of the population being Christian, followed by Hindus 38%, Muslims 7.8%, Sikhs 0.7%, other religions 0.1% and 0.4% nonreligious.
In 1878 there was a massive change that was going to literally change the face and culture of Fiji. As the colonial government was under pressure to make the Fijian economy self sufficient they had to find ways of getting cheap labour to produce crops such as cotton, copra and cane sugar. Slavery had been abolished and Fijians were unwilling to work on plantations where they knew the work would be strenuous. Indentured labour came into place.
This was the beginning of two cultures trying to work together, Indians and Fijians. The Indian labourers or girmitiyas soon realised that the work was much tougher than what they had been lead to believe. The conditions also were not favourable. Negotiations were made with the Indian government for the labourers to stay for five years and then they could return at their own expense or if they stayed an extra five years they would have their return trip paid for.
The indentured labourers began arriving at a rate of approximately 2000 per year. Many of the girmitiyas chose to stay on in Fiji as it was better than going back to India and being in the lowest class of Indian society. Many of them also bought their families over. Around the 1900’s the Indian government along with pressure from Mahatma Gandhi started to abolish the indenture system. Indenture officially ended in January 1919 there were approximately 60,000 indentured labourers in Fiji at that time.
On the 10 th of October 1970 Fiji became independent after being under colonial administration for 96 years.