Fiji Islands History Guide

Fiji Islands History Guide
In 1643 Fiji was discovered by the West The Dutch explorer Tasman was the first to sight and record
its reefs: The next navigator, Captain Cook, did not arrive for 130 years. After the Mutiny of the Bounty, 15 years later, Bligh sailed between the country's two main islands on his incredible 4000 mile journey in a small open boat..

At this time, Fijians lived a fierce lifestyle with tribal warfare, cannibalism and beliefs in ancestral spirits. Chiefs yielded absolute power over the people and consulted with high priests for direction from their gods. All land was owned by the chief and the common people paid sevusevu, gifts of food and women, to pay for the use of land.

The turn of the eighteenth century brought the traders. Initially came the stripping-out of the sandalwood trees, which lasted only 10 years; later the export to Chinese gourmets of the dried sea cucumber. This tailed off around 1850. With the traders came the missionaries - and guns. Muskets were avidly welcomed by the incessantly warring tribes who put them to use in their territorial struggles. It was the marksmanship of the Swedish mercenary Savage that imposed the dynasty from the small island of Bau, which assumed leadership of the country.

By the middle of the 19th cen6tury, something of the present political structure was starting to emerge The pugnacious tribes were consolidating into larger alliances, and the supremacy of Bau was becoming clear. This was largely due to a single man, Cakobau, the most powerful chief of Fiji's past. He was a man of great stature, dedicated only to war, and described as ruthless and savage, cruel, cunning, devious and bold, though nevertheless every inch a king. The height of his power was in the 1840's.

Weakened by endless campaigning in the twelve years of the Bau-Rewa wars and under pressure, Cakobau turned towards the West, accepting Christianity in 1854, bringing many converts and making not a few enemies. By the last quarter of the century the European population had reached over 2000 and the situation was quieter. Cakobau, despite a strong Tongan presence in the Eastward islands, had regained power. A central government, including European representatives, was attempted. When this failed, and a single authority clearly being needed, it was achieved in 1874 by the Deed of Cession where the country - without alacrity - became a British colony under an appointed Governor-General.

As a colony, Fiji was felt to be in need of justifying itself economically and plantations appeared the answer. However, labour to run them was short and the Governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, very defensive of Fijian interests, had laid down laws to protect the Fijians being exploited as workers of land. The answer found was to import Indian labour under the indenture or girmit scheme: in the end nearly 60,000 men and women came during the 37 years the scheme operated. It finished in 1917. Conditions of work and accommodation were very bad, but their purgatory over, few wished to return to India and most took up the Fijian offer of land to cultivate. Since independence, there has been a constant and progressively more successful struggle by Indians to improve their inferior position in this country.

Independence from colonial rule was achieved on 10 October 1980 and Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, under the Alliance Party, served as prime minister until the first of two coups in 1987…

Since that date, Fiji has suffered deeply. The Fijian currency has been devalued, the National Bank went bankrupt leaving over F$200million in bad debt and more than 10% of the Indian population have migrated to greener lands (many of whom were doctors, lawyers, teachers and local entrepreneurs). Those that remain put up with corrupt politicians and broken promises. Hospitals are under-staffed, school dropouts have increased, the courts are failing, crime is rising and the friendly Fijian spirit has been broken. The mutiny of Parliament by commoner George Speight and his gun wielding rebel supporters in the year 2000 further crippled the country and has caused deepening racial resentment and a flagging economy that effects rural Fijians the most. Fiji on the inside is certainly no paradise.
source of article

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License