The written history in Fiji begins with the arrival of the
Europeans. Perhaps the first European to arrive to Fiji was Dutchman Abel Tasman,
who visited the islands in the early 1640s. This visit only left behind diseases
that likely killed much of the population, then the Europeans
didn't make a significant impact on the islands until 1822 when the British
created a settlement at Levuka.
From this point, and later, the history and culture began to vastly change in Fiji. The British brought in
missionaries to spread Christianity, which they did quite successfully. These missionaries
primarily arrived from Tonga and once again in Fijian history,
Tongan influence entered the islands. At the time many of these missionaries arrived,
the people of Fiji were at war with each other, primarily tribes fighting other
local tribes as they were divided. This actually encouraged the spread of Christianity
as many tribal leaders converted in order to gain powerful foreign allies. Additionally,
since the people were divided, the united missionaries, Tongans, and converted Fijians
were well organized so easily took new lands, some of which were transferred to
Over time nearly every local converted to Christianity and religious rituals of
the past were destroyed and condemned by the people. Both cannibalism and burial
of people beneath supportive poles for buildings are viewed very negatively by the
people as they are almost ashamed of these actions.
In 1858 the British officially arrived in the form
of diplomatic representation. This time continued the vast alteration of the social
and political structure in Fiji as organized government expanded.
As the warring tribes fell one by one to the missionaries, Tongans,
Fijians, and Christianity, Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau, the most powerful Fijian chief
united the islands under his country as he adopted the title of "Tui Viti."
This also shifted focus from a local level to a more national level as tribal leaders
lost much power at the expense of the king. It also opened lines of communication
and transportation between the Fijians themselves.
Cakobau had a close relationship with the British
and offered to sell the islands to them, however he had not yet subdued all warring
tribes and the British refused to annex the people who protested Cakobau's leadership.
Cakobau instead turned to a private Australian company
in 1868 as he sold some islands to them, although not the whole of
Obviously from a political perspective, things were vastly changing in
Fiji during this time. In 1865 the Confederacy of Fijian Chiefs was formed
and in 1871 Fiji turned into a constitutional monarchy with Cakobau as king. This
constitutional monarchy was truly controlled by the representative bodies, which
were dominated by private Australian settlers, essentially
removing power from the people of Fiji. This disastrous relationship again led to
turmoil and in 1874 the British finally annexed the islands as a colony. The local
people were still represented as the Great Council of Chiefs was established in
Under British control the culture continued to change
and probably the greatest change to the culture came in 1879 with the arrival of
workers from India, another British colony. The first British
governor, Arthur Charles Hamilton-Gordon, sought to protect Fijian culture in many
ways and due to this he outlawed using ethnic Fijians as laborers. Oddly, this greatly
affected the culture on the islands as it forced British companies to bring in Indians
to act as labor. At this same time, the Fijian population was shrinking due to diseases
and previous wars. What this created was a huge growth in the Indian population
to the point that nearly half the population in Fiji today
is of Indian descent.
The Indians brought with them new foods, spices, customs, and religions. Hinduism
made and continues to make a substantial impact on the people and Islam has also
made a significant contribution to the culture due to these immigrants from
India. This immigration from India ended in 1916 and the move did protect
Fijian culture to a degree, but it also introduced new cultures from India and Britain, almost drowning out the culture of the
The early 1900s experienced much of the same as the British
continued to dominate political affairs while the Indian population became more
educated and powerful, even gaining seats in the representative government, which
primarily consisted of British settlers. The ethnic Fijians continued to live and
work as they had in the past and they were still highly susceptible to disease,
which became very apparent in 1918 when 14% of the population died from the Spanish
In the late 1930s World War II broke out and soon much of the South Pacific was
engulfed in war. Fortunately for Fiji, the Japanese
advance didn't expand to their shores as it essentially ended in the nearby
Solomon Islands. Because of this the country saw
little action other than additional military presence, which was brought in by the
British, Australians, and
The 1960s saw great improvements for the ethnic Fijians as they were given greater
political rights, many of which were expanded to include women. These changes continued
until 1970 when the United Kingdom granted
Fiji independence. It was this time when the ethnic Fijians finally started
to regain the rights they had lost years earlier. They maintained most of their
culture during this time (other than obvious housing, food, and religious changes),
but had lost political and economic power for years. This finally began to change
during this time.
Ratu Mara became the first Fijian elected official, but the political stability
in the country was short-lived as arguments began quickly. In 1987 a coup took place
as the elected government was overthrown by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka.
This led to the severance of ties with the United Kingdom
as a presidency was formed and Fiji was expelled from the Commonwealth of Nations.
This coup also shifted power from the Indo-Fijians to the ethnic Fijians.
This new government also installed a new constitution in 1990 giving greater rights
to ethnic Fijians over other ethnic groups, namely the Indians. This led to ethnic
tensions and a division among the groups, eventually leading to an amended constitution
in 1997, at which point Fiji re-joined the Commonwealth and
changed their government structure. The new constitution led to the first Indian
Prime Minister in 1999 and it led to another coup as this government was overthrown
by George Speight, who installed a new government.
A third coup took place in 2006 when Commodore Frank Bainimarama declared himself
president, but he soon stepped down to become the Prime Minister. Later the courts
declared this coup was illegal and again a change in government occurred. If nothing
else, these coups demonstrate the continuing tensions and division among the people
of Fiji, a division that is primarily based on ethnic, linguistic,
and religious lines, but essentially dividing the ethnic Fijians and Indians.