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History of Fiji

The majority of Fiji's islands were formed through volcanic activity starting around 150 million years ago. Today, some geothermal activity still occurs on the islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni.[1] Fiji has been inhabited since the second millennium BC, and was settled first by Austronesians and later by Melanesians, with some Polynesian influences. Europeans visited Fiji from the 17th century,[2] and, after a brief period as an independent kingdom, the British established the Colony of Fiji in 1874. Fiji was a Crown colony until 1970, when it gained independence as the Dominion of Fiji. A republic was declared in 1987, following a series of coups d'état.

In a coup in 2006, Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power. When the High Court ruled in 2009 that the military leadership was unlawful, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, whom the military had retained as the nominal Head of State, formally abrogated the Constitution and reappointed Bainimarama. Later in 2009, Iloilo was replaced as President by Ratu Epeli Nailatikau.[3] After years of delays, a democratic election was held on 17 September 2014. Bainimarama's FijiFirst party won with 59.2% of the vote, and the election was deemed credible by international observers.[4]


Early settlement and development of Fijian cultureEdit

A Fijian mountain warrior, photograph by Francis Herbert Dufty, 1870s.
A re-enactment of a Cannibal Feast in Fiji, 1869. The meat, the fire, and the cooks.

Located in the central Pacific Ocean, Fiji's geography has made it both a destination and a crossroads for migrations for many centuries. According to oral tradition, the indigenous Fijians of today are descendants of the chief Lutunasobasoba and those who arrived with him on the Kaunitoni canoe. Landing at what is now Vuda, the settlers moved inland to the Nakauvadra mountains. Though this oral tradition has not been independently substantiated, the Fijian government officially promotes it, and many tribes today claim to be descended from the children of Lutunasobasoba.[5]

Pottery art from Fijian towns shows that Fiji was settled by Austronesian peoples before or around 3500 to 1000 BC, with Melanesians following around a thousand years later, although the question of Pacific migration still lingers. It is believed that the Lapita people or the ancestors of the Polynesians settled the islands first but not much is known of what became of them after the Melanesians arrived; they may have had some influence on the new culture, and archaeological evidence shows that they would have then moved on to Samoa, Tonga and even Hawai'i. Archeological evidence shows signs of settlement on Moturiki Island from 600 BC and possibly as far back as 900 BC. Aspects of Fijian culture are similar to the Melanesian culture of the western Pacific but have a stronger connection to the older Polynesian cultures. Trade between Fiji and neighbouring archipelagos long before European contact is testified by the canoes made from native Fijian trees found in Tonga and Tongan words being part of the language of the Lau group of islands. Pots made in Fiji have been found in Samoa and even the Marquesas Islands.

In the 10th century, the Tu'i Tonga Empire was established in Tonga, and Fiji came within its sphere of influence. The Tongan influence brought Polynesian customs and language into Fiji. The empire began to decline in the 13th century.

Across 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) from east to west, Fiji has been a nation of many languages. Fiji's history was one of settlement but also of mobility. Over the centuries, a unique Fijian culture developed. Constant warfare and cannibalism between warring tribes were quite rampant and very much part of everyday life.[6] During the 19th century, Ratu Udre Udre is said to have consumed 872 people and to have made a pile of stones to record his achievement.[7] According to Deryck Scarr,[8] "Ceremonial occasions saw freshly killed corpses piled up for eating. 'Eat me!' was a proper ritual greeting from a commoner to a chief." Scarr also reported that the posts that supported the chief's house or the priest's temple would have sacrificed bodies buried underneath them, with the rationale that the spirit of the ritually sacrificed person would invoke the gods to help support the structure, and "men were sacrificed whenever posts had to be renewed".[8] Also, when a new boat, or drua, was launched, if it was not hauled over men as rollers, crushing them to death, "it would not be expected to float long".[9] Fijians today regard those times as "na gauna ni tevoro" (time of the devil). The ferocity of the cannibal lifestyle deterred European sailors from going near Fijian waters, giving Fiji the name Cannibal Isles; as a result, Fiji remained unknown to the rest of the world.[10]

European explorationEdit

The first Europeans to land and live among the Fijians were shipwrecked sailors like Charles Savage.
Levuka, 1842

Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first known European visitor to Fiji, sighting the northern island of Vanua Levu and the North Taveuni archipelago in 1643 while looking for the Great Southern Continent.[11]

James Cook, the British navigator, visited one of the southern Lau islands in 1774. It was not until 1789, however, that the islands were charted and plotted, when William Bligh, the castaway captain of the HMS Bounty, passed Ovalau and sailed between the main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu en route to Batavia, in what is now Indonesia. Bligh Water, the strait between the two main islands, is named after him, and for a time, the Fiji Islands were known as the Bligh Islands.

The first Europeans to settle among the Fijians were shipwrecked sailors and runaway convicts from Australian penal colonies. In 1804, the discovery of sandalwood on the southwestern coast of Vanua Levu led to an increase in the number and frequency of Western trading ships visiting Fiji. A sandalwood rush began in the first few years but it dried up when supplies dropped between 1810 and 1814. By 1820, the traders returned for beche-de-mer or sea cucumber. In the early 1820s, Levuka was established as the first European-style town in Fiji, on the island of Ovalau.

19th centuryEdit

Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau, Tui Viti

The first three-quarters of the 19th century were marked by tribal warfare, incursions from neighbouring Tonga, and the increasing encroachment of foreign powers. This period also saw the rise of a warlord by the name of Seru Epenisa Cakobau, who forged the first nation-state covering all of modern Fiji (except the island of Rotuma) in 1871, before ceding it to the United Kingdom in 1874.

Europeans settled on the islands permanently beginning in the 19th century.[12] The first European settlers to Fiji were beachcombers, missionaries, whalers, and those engaged in the then booming sandalwood and bêche-de-mer trade.

In the early 1820s, Levuka was established as the first modern town in Fiji, on the island of Ovalau. The intervention of European traders and missionaries, of whom the first arrived from Tahiti in 1830, led to increasingly serious wars among the native Fijian confederacies. Supplied with weapons by Swedish mercenary Charlie Savage, Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa, the Vunivalu (a chiefly title meaning Warlord, often translated also as Paramount Chief) of Bau Island, defeated the much larger Burebasaga confederacy and succeeded in subduing much of western Fiji.

Rise of Tui Viti CakobauEdit

His son, Seru Epenisa Cakobau, fought to consolidate Bauan domination throughout the 1850s and 1860s, and started calling himself the Tui Viti, or King of Fiji ((Self proclaim Tui Viti)). He faced opposition, however, from local chiefs who saw him at best as first among equals, and also from the Tongan Prince Enele Ma'afu, who had established himself on the Island of Lakeba in the Lau archipelago in 1848. A Christian, Ma'afu brought Wesleyan missionaries from Tonga, and the Methodist Church gained its first foothold in Fiji. Most chiefs in the west regarded the Wesleyan missionaries, aligned as they were seen to be with Ma'afu, as a threat to their power, refused conversion, and resisted missionary attempts to set up outposts in their villages.

Cakobau's claimed position was also undermined by international developments. The United States threatened intervention following a number of incidents involving their consul, John Brown Williams. His trading store had been looted by Fijian natives following an accidental fire, caused by stray cannon fire during a Fourth of July celebration in 1849. When his Nukulau Island house was subjected to an arson attack in 1855, the commander of the United States naval frigate USS John Adams demanded compensation amounting to US$5000 for Williams from Cakobau, as the Tui Viti. This initial claim was supplemented by further claims totalling US$38,531. Cakobau was faced with a dilemma. To disclaim responsibility for the debt, he would have to deny his self-proclaimed and still far-from-universally accepted sovereignty. To admit responsibility, he would have to undertake to pay the debt, or else face punishment from the United States Navy. He chose the latter course, hoping that the United States was only bluffing.

Reality began to catch up with Cakobau in 1858, when the USS Vandalia sailed into Levuka. Unable to pay his debt, and faced with increasing encroachments onto Viti Levu's south coast from Ma'afu, Cakobau approached the British consul with an offer to cede the islands to the United Kingdom, if only they would assume responsibility for his debt in return for 5,000 square kilometres of land. His insistence, however, on being allowed to retain his questionable title of Tui Viti proved unacceptable to the British government, which turned his offer down after four years of consideration in 1862. This followed a report from Colonel W.J. Smythe, who had come to the conclusion, after interviewing every Paramount Chief in Fiji, that Cakobau's title was self-assumed and by no means universally accepted by his fellow chiefs, and that he did not have the authority to cede the islands.

Cakobau next turned to the Australian-based Polynesia Company. The rising price of cotton in the wake of the American Civil War (1861–1865) had interested the Polynesia Company in acquiring land in Fiji for planting. In return for 5,000 km², the company agreed to pay Cakobau's debt. Australian settlers landed on 575 km2 (222 sq mi) of land in Viti Levu, near what was then a Fijian village called Suva, in 1868.

The Polynesia Company settlers were joined by a further several thousand planters throughout the 1860s and 1870s. Often fraudulently, they obtained Fijian land, often in exchange for weapons or alcohol. Competing land claims followed, with no unified government to settle the disputes. Frustrations peaked following the collapse of cotton prices and the destruction of the crop by hurricanes in 1870.

Kingdom of FijiEdit

Flag of the Kingdom of Fiji, 1871-1874

In June 1871, John Bates Thurston, the British honorary consul, forged a "marriage of convenience" between Cakobau and the settlers, and persuaded the Fijian chiefs to accept a constitutional monarchy with Cakobau as king, but with real power in the hands of a cabinet and Legislature dominated by settlers. The Legislative Assembly met for the first time in Levuka in November 1871. The Kingdom of Fiji also known as the Kingdom of Viti, was the first unified Fijian state, and it covered all of modern Fiji from 1871 to 1874, except the island of Rotuma.

The new arrangements proved no more workable than the old. Within months, government overspending had led to the accumulation of another unmanageable debt. In 1872, following continuing economic and social unrest, Thurston approached the British government, at Cakobau's request, with another offer to cede the islands. The British were much more sympathetic to annexing Fiji this time than they had been almost two decades earlier. The murder of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson of the Melanesian Mission at Nukapu in the Reef Islands had provoked public outrage, which was compounded by the massacre by crew members of more than 150 Fijians on board the brig Carl. Two British commissioners were sent to Fiji to investigate the possibility of an annexation. The question was complicated by manoeuvrings for power between Cakobau and his old rival, Ma'afu, with both men vacillating for many months.

On 21 March 1874, Cakobau made a final offer, which the British accepted. On 23 September, Sir Hercules Robinson, soon to be appointed the British Governor of Fiji, arrived on HMS Dido and received Cakobau with a royal 21-gun salute. After some vacillation, Cakobau agreed to renounce his Tui Viti title, retaining the title of Vunivalu, or Protector. The formal cession took place on 10 October 1874, when Cakobau, Ma'afu, and some of the senior Chiefs of Fiji signed two copies of the Deed of Cession. Thus the Colony of Fiji was founded; 96 years of British rule followed.

British colonyEdit

The British brought over Indian contract labourers to work on the sugar plantations as the first governor of Fiji, Arthur Charles Hamilton-Gordon, adopted a policy disallowing the use of native labour or any interference in their culture or way of life. In 1875–76, an epidemic of measles killed over 40,000 Fijians,[13] about one-third of the Fijian population.[14] The population in 1942 was approximately 210,000 of whom 94,000 were Indians, 102,000 native Fijians, 2,000 Chinese and 5,000 Europeans.[15]

"Fiji for the Fijians"Edit

Sir Hercules Robinson, who had arrived on 23 September 1874, was appointed as interim Governor. He was replaced in June 1875 by Sir Arthur Gordon. Rather than establish direct rule in all spheres, Gordon granted autonomy over local affairs to Fiji's chiefs, though they were now forbidden to engage in tribal warfare. The colony was divided into four regions, each under the control of a Roko; these regions were further subdivided into twelve districts, each ruled by a traditional chief. A Great Council of Chiefs was established in 1876 to advise the Governor. This body remained in existence until being suspended by the Military-backed interim government in 2007 and abolished in 2012. Under the 1997 Constitution, it functioned as an electoral college that chose Fiji's President, Vice-President, and 14 of the 32 Senators. In its early days, the Great Council was supplemented by a Native Regulation Board (now the Fijian Affairs Board); these two bodies together made laws for the Fijians. (European settlers, however, were not subject to its laws). In 1882, the capital was moved from Levuka to the more accessible Suva.

Adopting a "Fiji for the Fijians" policy, Gordon prohibited further sales of land, although it could be leased. This policy has been continued, hardly modified, to this day, and some 83 percent of the land is still natively owned. Gordon also banned the exploitation of Fijians as labourers, and following the failure of the cotton-growing enterprise in the early 1870s, Gordon decided in 1878 to import indentured labourers from India to work on the sugarcane fields that had taken the place of the cotton plantations. The 463 Indians arrived on 14 May 1879 - the first of some 61,000 that were to come before the scheme ended in 1916. The plan involved bringing the Indian workers to Fiji on a five-year contract, after which they could return to India at their own expense; if they chose to renew their contract for a second five-year term, they would be given the option of returning to India at the government's expense, or remaining in Fiji. The great majority chose to stay. The Queensland Act, which regulated indentured labour in Queensland, was made law in Fiji also.

The Colonial Sugar Refining Company (Fiji) began operations in Fiji in 1880 and until it ceased operations in 1973, had a considerable influence on the political and economic life of Fiji. Prior to its expansion to Fiji, the CSR was operating Sugar Refineries in Melbourne and Auckland. The decision to enter into the production of raw sugar and sugar cane plantation was due to the Company's desire to shield itself from fluctuations in the price of raw sugar needed to run its refining operations. In May 1880 Fiji's Colonial Secretary John Bates Thurston persuaded the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to extend their operations into Fiji by making available 2,000 acres (8 km²) of land to establish plantations.

Blackbirding in FijiEdit

Map of Melanesia

The blackbirding era began in Fiji in 1865 when the first New Hebridean and Solomon Island labourers were transported there to work on cotton plantations. The American Civil War had cut off the supply of cotton to the international market when the Union blockaded southern ports. Cotton cultivation was potentially an extremely profitable business. Thousands of European planters flocked to Fiji to establish plantations but found the natives unwilling to adapt to their plans. They sought labour from the Melanesian islands. On 5 July 1865 Ben Pease received the first licence to provide 40 labourers from the New Hebrides to Fiji.[16]

The British and Queensland governments tried to regulate this recruiting and transport of labour. Melanesian labourers were to be recruited for a term of three years, paid three pounds per year, issued with basic clothing and given access to the company store for supplies. Most Melanesians were recruited by deceit, usually being enticed aboard ships with gifts, and then locked up. The living and working conditions for them in Fiji were worse than those suffered by the later Indian indentured labourers. In 1875, the chief medical officer in Fiji, Sir William MacGregor, listed a mortality rate of 540 out of every 1000 labourers. After the expiry of the three-year contract, the government required captains to transport the labourers back to their villages, but most ship captains dropped them off at the first island they sighted off the Fiji waters. The British sent warships to enforce the law (Pacific Islanders' Protection Act of 1872) but only a small proportion of the culprits were prosecuted.

A notorious incident of the blackbirding trade was the 1871 voyage of the brig Carl, organised by Dr James Patrick Murray,[17] to recruit labourers to work in the plantations of Fiji. Murray had his men reverse their collars and carry black books, so to appear to be church missionaries. When islanders were enticed to a religious service, Murray and his men would produce guns and force the islanders onto boats. During the voyage Murray shot about 60 islanders. He was never brought to trial for his actions, as he was given immunity in return for giving evidence against his crew members.[18][17] The captain of the Carl, Joseph Armstrong, was later sentenced to death.[17][19]

Beginning in 1879, British planters arranged for the transport of Indian indentured labourers in Fiji. The number of Melanesian labourers declined, but they were still being recruited and employed in such places as sugar mills and ports, until the start of the First World War. In addition, as recounted by writer Jack London, the British and Queensland ships often used black crews, sometimes recruited among the islanders. Most of the Melanesians recruited were males. After the recruitment ended, those who chose to stay in Fiji took Fijian wives and settled in areas around Suva. Their multi-cultural descendants identify as a distinct community but, to outsiders, their language and culture cannot be distinguished from native Fijians.

Descendants of Solomon Islanders have filed land claims to assert their right to traditional settlements in Fiji: a group living at Tamavua-i-Wai in Fiji received a High Court verdict in their favour on 1 February 2007. The court refused a claim by the Seventh-day Adventist Church to force the islanders to vacate the land on which they had been living for seventy years.[20]

Indian indenture system in FijiEdit

Between 1879 and 1916, tens of thousands of Indians moved to Fiji to work as indentured labourers, especially on sugarcane plantations. A total of 42 ships made 87 voyages, carrying Indian indentured labourers to Fiji. Initially the ships brought labourers from Calcutta, but from 1903 all ships except two also brought labourers from Madras and Mumbai. A total of 60,965 passengers left India but only 60,553 (including births at sea) arrived in Fiji. A total of 45,439 boarded ships in Calcutta and 15,114 in Madras. Sailing ships took, on average, seventy-three days for the trip while steamers took 30 days. The shipping companies associated with the labour trade were Nourse Line and British-India Steam Navigation Company.

Repatriation of indentured Indians from Fiji began on 3 May 1892, when the British Peer brought 464 repatriated Indians to Calcutta. Various ships made similar journeys to Calcutta and Madras, concluding with Sirsa's 1951 voyage. In 1955 and 1956, three ships brought Indian labourers from Fiji to Sydney, from where the labourers flew to Bombay. Indentured Indians wishing to return to India were given two options. One was travel at their own expense and the other free of charge but subject to certain conditions. To obtain free passage back to India, labourers had to have been above age twelve upon arrival, completed at least five years of service and lived in Fiji for a total of ten consecutive years. A child born to these labourers in Fiji could accompany his or her parents or guardian back to India if he or she was under twelve. Due to the high cost of returning at their own expense, most indentured immigrants returning to India left Fiji around ten to twelve years after arrival. Indeed, just over twelve years passed between the voyage of the first ship carrying indentured Indians to Fiji (the Leonidas, in 1879) and the first ship to take Indians back (the British Peer, in 1892). Given the steady influx of ships carrying indentured Indians to Fiji up until 1916, repatriated Indians generally boarded these same ships on their return voyage. The total number of repatriates under the Fiji indenture system is recorded as 39,261, while the number of arrivals is said to have been 60,553. Because the return figure includes children born in Fiji, many of the indentured Indians never returned to India. Direct return voyages by ship ceased after 1951. Instead, arrangements were made for flights from Sydney to Bombay, the first of which departed in July 1955. Labourers still travelled to Sydney by ship.

Fiji in World War IEdit

Fiji was only peripherally involved in World War I. One memorable incident occurred in September 1917 when Count Felix von Luckner arrived at Wakaya Island, off the eastern coast of Viti Levu, after his raider, the Seeadler, had run aground in the Cook Islands following the shelling of Papeete in the French territory of Tahiti. On 21 September, the district police inspector took a number of Fijians to Wakaya, and von Luckner, not realizing that they were unarmed, unwittingly surrendered.

Citing unwillingness to exploit the Fijian people, the colonial authorities did not permit Fijians to enlist. One Fijian of chiefly rank, a greatgrandson of Cakobau's, did join the French Foreign Legion, however, and received France's highest military decoration, the Croix de Guerre. After going on to complete a Law degree at Oxford University, this same chief returned to Fiji in 1921 as both a war hero and the country's first-ever university graduate. In the years that followed, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, as he was later known, established himself as the most powerful chief in Fiji and forged embryonic institutions for what would later become the modern Fijian nation.

Flag of Fiji 1924-1970

Fiji in World War IIEdit

By the time of World War II, the United Kingdom had reversed its policy of not enlisting natives, and many thousands of Fijians volunteered for the Fiji Infantry Regiment, which was under the command of Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau, another greatgrandson of Seru Epenisa Cakobau. The regiment was attached to New Zealand and Australian army units during the war.

The Empire of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, on 8 December 1941 (Fiji time), marked the beginning of the Pacific War. Japanese submarines launched seaplanes that flew over Fiji; Japanese submarine I-25 on 17 March 1942 and Japanese submarine I-10 on 30 November 1941.

Because of its central location, Fiji was selected as a training base for the Allies. An airstrip was built at Nadi (later to become an international airport), and gun emplacements studded the coast. Fijians gained a reputation for bravery in the Solomon Islands campaign, with one war correspondent describing their ambush tactics as "death with velvet gloves." Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu, of Yucata, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, as a result of his bravery in the Battle of Bougainville.

Indo-Fijians, however, generally refused to enlist,[citation needed] after their demand for equal treatment to Europeans was refused.[21] They disbanded a platoon they had organized, and contributed nothing more than one officer and 70 enlisted men in a reserve transport section, on condition that they not be sent overseas. The refusal of Indo-Fijians to play an active role in the war efforts become part of the ideological construction employed by Fijian ethno-nationalists to justify interethnic tensions in the post-war years.

The development of political institutionsEdit

A Legislative Council, initially with advisory powers, had existed as an appointed body since 1874, but in 1904 it was made a partly elective body, with European male settlers empowered to elect 6 of the 19 Councillors. 2 members were appointed by the colonial Governor from a list of 6 candidates submitted by the Great Council of Chiefs; a further 8 "official" members were appointed by the Governor at his own discretion. The Governor himself was the 19th member. The first nominated Indian member was appointed in 1916; this position was made elective from 1929. A four-member Executive Council had also been established in 1904; this was not a "Cabinet" in the modern sense, as its members were not responsible to the Legislative Council.

After World War II, Fiji began to take its first steps towards internal self-government. The Legislative Council was expanded to 32 members in 1953, 15 of them elected and divided equally among the three major ethnic constituencies (indigenous Fijians, Indo-Fijians, and Europeans). Indo-Fijian and European electors voted directly for 3 of the 5 members allocated to them (the other two were appointed by the Governor); the 5 indigenous Fijian members were all nominated by the Great Council of Chiefs. Ratu Sukuna was chosen as the first Speaker. Although the Legislative Council still had few of the powers of the modern Parliament, it brought native Fijians and Indo-Fijians into the official political structure for the first time, and fostered the beginning of a modern political culture in Fiji.

These steps towards self-rule were welcomed by the Indo-Fijian community, which by that time had come to outnumber the native Fijian population. Fearing Indo-Fijian domination, many Fijian chiefs saw the benevolent rule of the British as preferable to Indo-Fijian control, and resisted British moves towards autonomy. By this time, however, the United Kingdom had apparently decided to divest itself of its colonial empire, and pressed ahead with reforms. The Fijian people as a whole were enfranchised for the first time in 1963, when the legislature was made a wholly elective body, except for 2 members out of 36 nominated by the Great Council of Chiefs. 1964 saw the first step towards responsible government, with the introduction of the Member system. Specific portfolios were given to certain elected members of the Legislative Council. They did not constitute a Cabinet in the Westminster sense of the term, as they were officially advisers to the colonial Governor rather than ministers with executive authority, and were responsible only to the Governor, not to the legislature. Nevertheless, over the ensuing three year, the then Governor, Sir Derek Jakeway, treated the Members more and more like ministers, to prepare them for the advent of responsible government.

Responsible governmentEdit

A constitutional conference was held in London in July 1965, to discuss constitutional changes with a view to introducing responsible government. Indo-Fijians, led by A. D. Patel, demanded the immediate introduction of full self-government, with a fully elected legislature, to be elected by universal suffrage on a common voters' roll. These demands were vigorously rejected by the ethnic Fijian delegation, who still feared loss of control over natively owned land and resources should an Indo-Fijian dominated government come to power. The British made it clear, however, that they were determined to bring Fiji to self-government and eventual independence. Realizing that they had no choice, Fiji's chiefs decided to negotiate for the best deal they could get.

A series of compromises led to the establishment of a cabinet system of government in 1967, with Ratu Kamisese Mara as the first Chief Minister. Ongoing negotiations between Mara and Sidiq Koya, who had taken over the leadership of the mainly Indo-Fijian National Federation Party on Patel's death in 1969, led to a second constitutional conference in London, in April 1970, at which Fiji's Legislative Council agreed on a compromise electoral formula and a timetable for independence as a fully sovereign and independent nation with the Commonwealth. The Legislative Council would be replaced with a bicameral Parliament, with a Senate dominated by Fijian chiefs and a popularly elected House of Representatives. In the 52-member House, Native Fijians and Indo-Fijians would each be allocated 22 seats, of which 12 would represent Communal constituencies comprising voters registered on strictly ethnic roles, and another 10 representing National constituencies to which members were allocated by ethnicity but elected by universal suffrage. A further 8 seats were reserved for "General electors" - Europeans, Chinese, Banaban Islanders, and other minorities; 3 of these were "communal" and 5 "national." With this compromise, Fiji became independent on 10 October 1970.

Elizabeth II visited Fiji before its independence in 1953, 1963 and March 1970, and after independence in 1973, 1977 and 1982.

Independent FijiEdit

In April 1970, a constitutional conference in London agreed that Fiji should become a fully sovereign and independent nation within the Commonwealth of Nations.The Dominion of Fiji became independent on 10 October of that year.

One of the main issues that has fuelled Fijian politics over the years is land tenure. Indigenous Fijian communities very closely identify themselves with their land. In 1909 near the peak of the inflow of indentured Indian labourers, the land ownership pattern was frozen and further sales prohibited. Today over 80% of the land is held by indigenous Fijians, under the collective ownership of the traditional Fijian clans. Indo-Fijians produce over 90% of the sugar crop but must lease the land they work from its ethnic Fijian owners instead of being able to buy it outright. The leases have been generally for 10 years, although they are usually renewed for two 10‑year extensions. Many Indo-Fijians argue that these terms do not provide them with adequate security and have pressed for renewable 30‑year leases, while many ethnic Fijians fear that an Indo-Fijian government would erode their control over the land. The Indo-Fijian parties' major voting bloc is made up of sugarcane farmers. The farmers' main tool of influence has been their ability to galvanise widespread boycotts of the sugar industry, thereby crippling the economy.

Post-independence politics came to be dominated by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and the Alliance Party, which commanded the support of the traditional Fijian chiefs, along with leading elements of the European and part-European communities, and some Indo-Fijians. The main parliamentary opposition, the National Federation Party, represented mainly rural Indo-Fijians. Intercommunal relations were managed without serious confrontation. A short-lived constitutional crisis developed after the parliamentary election of March 1977, when the Indian-led National Federation Party (NFP) won a narrow majority of seats in the House of Representatives, but failed to form a government due to internal leadership problems, as well as concerns among some of its members that indigenous Fijians would not accept Indo-Fijian leadership. The NFP splintered in a leadership brawl three days after the election; in a controversial move, the governor-general, Ratu Sir George Cakobau, called on the defeated Mara to form an interim government, pending a second election to resolve the impasse. This was held in September that year, and saw Mara's Alliance Party returned with a record majority of 36 parliamentary seats out of 52. The majority of the Alliance Party was reduced in the election of 1982, but with 28 seats out of 52, Mara retained power. Mara proposed a "government of national unity" – a grand coalition between his Alliance Party and the NFP, but the NFP leader, Jai Ram Reddy, rejected this.

1987 coupsEdit

Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987 precipitated by a growing perception that the government was dominated by the Indo-Fijian (Indian) community. The second 1987 coup saw both the Fijian monarchy and the Governor General replaced by a non-executive president and the name of the country changed from Dominion of Fiji to Republic of Fiji and then in 1997 to Republic of the Fiji Islands. The two coups and the accompanying civil unrest contributed to heavy Indo-Fijian emigration; the resulting population loss resulted in economic difficulties and ensured that Melanesians became the majority.[22]

In April 1987, a coalition led by Timoci Bavadra, an ethnic Fijian who was nevertheless supported mostly by the Indo-Fijian community, won the general election and formed Fiji's first majority Indian government, with Bavadra serving as Prime Minister. After less than a month, on 14 May 1987 Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka (who had had previously served with the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Lebanon[23]) forcibly deposed Bavadra.

At first, Rabuka expressed loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II. However, Governor-General Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, in an effort to uphold Fiji's constitution, refused to swear in the new (self-appointed) government headed by Rabuka. After a period of continued jockeying and negotiation, Rabuka staged a second coup on 25 September 1987. The military government revoked the constitution and declared Fiji a republic on 10 October, the seventeenth anniversary of Fiji's independence from the United Kingdom. This action, coupled with protests by the government of India, led to Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth and official non-recognition of the Rabuka regime by foreign governments, including Australia and New Zealand. On 6 December, Rabuka resigned as Head of State, and the former Governor-General, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, was appointed the first President of the Fijian Republic. Mara was reappointed Prime Minister, and Rabuka became Minister of home affairs.

The 1990 ConstitutionEdit

In 1990, the new Constitution institutionalised ethnic Fijian domination of the political system. The Group Against Racial Discrimination (GARD) was formed to oppose the unilaterally imposed constitution and to restore the 1970 constitution. In 1992 Sitiveni Rabuka, the Lieutenant Colonel who had carried out the 1987 coup, became Prime Minister following elections held under the new constitution. Three years later, Rabuka established the Constitutional Review Commission, which in 1997 wrote a new constitution which was supported by most leaders of the indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities. Fiji was re-admitted to the Commonwealth of Nations.

The new government drafted a new Constitution that went into force in July 1990. Under its terms, majorities were reserved for ethnic Fijians in both houses of the legislature. Previously, in 1989, the government had released statistical information showing that for the first time since 1946, ethnic Fijians were a majority of the population. More than 12,000 Indo-Fijians and other minorities had left the country in the two years following the 1987 coups. After resigning from the military, Rabuka became Prime Minister under the new constitution in 1992.

Ethnic tensions simmered in 1995–1996 over the renewal of Indo-Fijian land leases and political manoeuvring surrounding the mandated 7‑year review of the 1990 constitution. The Constitutional Review Commission produced a draft constitution which slightly expanded the size of the legislature, lowered the proportion of seats reserved by ethnic group, reserved the presidency for ethnic Fijians but opened the position of Prime Minister to all races[clarification needed]. Prime Minister Rabuka and President Mara supported the proposal, while the nationalist indigenous Fijian parties opposed it. The reformed constitution was approved in July 1997. Fiji was readmitted to the Commonwealth in October.

The first legislative elections held under the new 1997 Constitution took place in May 1999. Rabuka's coalition was defeated by an alliance of Indo-Fijian parties led by Mahendra Chaudhry, who became Fiji's first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister.

The 2000 coup and Qarase governmentEdit

The year 2000 brought along another coup, instigated by George Speight, which effectively toppled the government of Mahendra Chaudhry, who in 1997 had become the country's first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister following the adoption of the new constitution. Commodore Frank Bainimarama assumed executive power after the resignation, possibly forced, of President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Later in 2000, Fiji was rocked by two mutinies when rebel soldiers went on a rampage at Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks. The High Court ordered the reinstatement of the constitution, and in September 2001, to restore democracy, a general election was held which was won by interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party.[24]

Chaudhry's government was short-lived. After barely a year in office, Chaudhry and most other members of parliament were taken hostage in the House of Representatives by gunmen led by ethnic Fijian nationalist George Speight, on 19 May 2000. The standoff dragged on for 8 weeks – during which time Chaudhry was removed from office by the then-President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara because of his inability to govern – before the Fijian military seized power and brokered a negotiated end to the situation, then arrested Speight when he violated its terms. Former banker Laisenia Qarase was named interim Prime Minister and head of the interim civilian government by the military and the Great Council of Chiefs in July. A court order restored the constitution early in 2001, and a subsequent election confirmed Qarase as Prime Minister.

In 2005, the Qarase government amid much controversy proposed a Reconciliation and Unity Commission with power to recommend compensation for victims of the 2000 coup and amnesty for its perpetrators. However, the military, especially the nation's top military commander, Frank Bainimarama, strongly opposed this bill. Bainimarama agreed with detractors who said that to grant amnesty to supporters of the present government who had played a role in the violent coup was a sham. His attack on the legislation, which continued unremittingly throughout May and into June and July, further strained his already tense relationship with the government.

The 2006 coupEdit

In late November and early December 2006, Bainimarama was instrumental in the 2006 Fijian coup d'état. Bainimarama handed down a list of demands to Qarase after a bill was put forward to parliament, part of which would have offered pardons to participants in the 2000 coup attempt. He gave Qarase an ultimatum date of 4 December to accede to these demands or to resign from his post. Qarase adamantly refused either to concede or resign, and on 5 December the president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, was said to have signed a legal order dissolving the parliament after meeting with Bainimarama.

Disgruntled by two bills before the Fijian Parliament, one offering amnesty for the leaders of the 2000 coup, the military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama asked Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to resign in mid‑October 2006. The Prime Minister attempted to sack Bainimarama without success. Australian and New Zealand governments expressed concerns about a possible coup. On 4 November 2006, Qarase dropped the controversial amnesty measures from the bill. [25] On 29 November New Zealand foreign Minister Winston Peters organised talks in Wellington between Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and Commodore Bainimarama. Peters reported the talks as "positive" but after returning to Fiji Commodore Bainimarama announced that the military were to take over most of Suva and fire into the harbour "in anticipation of any foreign intervention". [5] Bainimarama announced on 3 December 2006 that he had taken control of Fiji. [26] Bainimarama restored the presidency to Ratu Josefa Iloilo on 4 January 2007,[27][28] and in turn was formally appointed interim Prime Minister by Iloilo the next day.[29][30]

In April 2009, the Fiji Court of Appeal ruled that the 2006 coup had been illegal. This began the 2009 Fijian constitutional crisis. President Iloilo abrogated the constitution, removed all office holders under the constitution including all judges and the governor of the Central Bank. He then reappointed Bainimarama under his "New Order" as interim Prime Minister and imposed a "Public Emergency Regulation" limiting internal travel and allowing press censorship.

On 10 April 2009, Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo announced on a nationwide radio broadcast that he had abrogated the Constitution of Fiji, dismissed the Court of Appeal and all other branches of the Judiciary, and assumed all governance in the country after the court ruled that the current government was illegal.[31] The next day, he reinstated Bainimarama, who announced that there would be no elections until 2014.

A new Constitution was promulgated by the regime in September 2013, and a general election was held in September 2014. It was won by Bainimarama's FijiFirst Party.

Multiple citizenship, previously prohibited under the 1997 constitution (abrogated April 2009), has been permitted since the April 2009 Citizenship Decree[32][33] and established as a right under Section 5(4) of the September 2013 Constitution.[34][35]

As already proposed in the 2008 People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress, the Fijian Affairs [Amendment] Decree 2010 replaced the word Fijian or indigenous or indigenous Fijian with the word iTaukei in all written laws, and all official documentation when referring to the original and native settlers of Fiji. All citizens of Fiji are now called Fijians[36][37][38]

Role of the militaryEdit

For a country of its size, Fiji has fairly large armed forces, and has been a major contributor to UN peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world. In addition, a significant number of former military personnel have served in the lucrative security sector in Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Fiji Geography". 2005. Archived from the original on 23 February 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2010. 
  2. ^ "Fiji: History". 2005. Retrieved 15 September 2010. 
  3. ^ "Fiji's president takes over power". BBC. 10 April 2009. Archived from the original on 13 April 2009. Retrieved 15 September 2010. 
  4. ^ Perry, Nick; Pita, Ligaiula (29 September 2014). "Int'l monitors endorse Fiji election as credible". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 21 September 2014. Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-01. Retrieved 2009-02-11.  Dr Patrick D. Nunn
  6. ^ Sanday, Peggy Reeves (1986) Divine hunger: cannibalism as a cultural system, Cambridge University Press, p. 151, IBNS 0521311144.
  7. ^ Sanday, Peggy Reeves (1986) Divine hunger: cannibalism as a cultural system, Cambridge University Press, p. 166, IBNS 0521311144.
  8. ^ a b Scarr, Daryck. A Short History of Fijiyear=1984. p. 3. 
  9. ^ Scarr, page 19
  10. ^ "Pacific Peoples, Melanesia/Micronesia/Polynesia". Archived from the original on 1 March 2005. Retrieved 1 March 2005.  , Central Queensland University.
  11. ^ Abel Janszoon Tasman Biography,
  12. ^ Oceania – A Short History of Fiji Archived 12 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine., Jane Resture's Oceania Page
  13. ^ “Historical Time line” Archived 29 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine.. Fiji government.
  14. ^ “Timeline: Fiji”. BBC News.
  15. ^ “World Battlefronts: Yanks in the Cannibal Isles”. Time. 26 October 1942.
  16. ^ Jane Resture. "The Story of Blackbirding in the South Seas – Part 2". Retrieved 9 December 2013. 
  17. ^ a b c R. G. Elmslie, 'The Colonial Career of James Patrick Murray', Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery, (1979) 49(1):154-62
  18. ^ James A. Michener & A. Grove Day, "Bully Hayes, South Sea Buccaneer", in Rascals in Paradise, London: Secker & Warburg 1957
  19. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, 20–23 Nov 1872, 1 March 1873
  20. ^ "Solomon Islands descendants win land case". 2 February 2007. Retrieved 9 April 2011. 
  21. ^ Kaplan, Martha; Kelly, John (2001). Represented communities: Fiji and world decolonization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
  22. ^ Lal, Brij V (April 2003). "Fiji Islands: From Immigration to Emigration". Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved 14 June 2009. 
  23. ^ Politics, Professionalism, and Peacekeeping: An Analysis of the 1987 Military Coup in Fiji, Andrew Scobell, Comparative Politics, vol. 26, no. 2. (Jan. 1994), pp. 187–201.
  24. ^ In George Speight's Shadow: Fiji General Elections of 2001 Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  25. ^ Williams, Peter (5 November 2006). "Fiji PM drops controversial bill". The New Zealand Herald. AAP. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  26. ^ Phil Taylor and Nicola Shepheard (3 December 2006). "Fiji's military leader rules out further talks – report". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  27. ^ Fiji Village, 04-01-07, 'Commander hands back Executive Authority to Ratu Iloilo ' [1]
  28. ^ Fiji Live, 04-01-07, 'I support army takeover: Iloilo' [2]
  29. ^ Fiji Village, 05-01-07, 'Commander Bainimarama sworn in' [3]
  30. ^ Fiji Live, 05-01-07, 'President swears in interim PM' [4]
  31. ^ "Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo abolishes constitution, sacks judiciary and assumes power". Australian Associated Press. The Australian. 10 April 2009. Retrieved 10 April 2009. 
  32. ^ "Citizenship". Fiji Department of Immigration. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  33. ^ "2009 Citizenship Decree (PDF)" (PDF). Fiji Department of Immigration. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  34. ^ "2013 Constitution". Elections Fiji. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  35. ^ "Constitution of the Republic of Fiji (PDF)" (PDF). Elections Fiji. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  36. ^ "The Name “Fijian” Belongs to Indigenous – Qarase", FijiVillage, 8 August 2008
  37. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 November 2014. Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  38. ^ Constitution of Fiji 2013

External linksEdit