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 century.
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.
Cannibalism practised 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.
From 1879 to 1916 Indians came as indentured
labourers to work on the sugar plantations. After the
indentured system was abolished, many stayed on as independent
farmers and businessmen. Today they comprise 44 per cent
of the population.
Fiji 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 Solomons.
Before long they had moved further on, colonising
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 south.
Cnlike 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.
Pre-historians 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.
It is hardly surprising then,
that the Fijian culture is an intricate network and that
generalisations 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 colonisation was Fiji a political unity. Nevertheless,
Fiji does exhibit certain traits that sets it apart from
its neighbours, and it is this that defines a distinctive
Fijians 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
They 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.
After 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.
Canoes 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.
After 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.
Land 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.
The 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 secondary industries.
As the country now diversifies into small
scale industries, the economy is strengthened and revenues
provide for expanded public works medical services and
The 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.