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The History of Fiji

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The history of Fiji dates back 3500 years and its culture is a complex blend of influences shaped by Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian peoples.  

The prehistoric Lapitu people from Vanatu and Eastern Solomons first settled Fiji about 1500 B.C.  Five hundred years later, the Tongans and the Samoans invaded and left their mark.

During the 17th & 18th centuries, the Europeans came searching for the "unknown Southern land"  Australia.   Abel Tasman of the Dutch East Indies Company visited the islands in 1643.  England's Captain Cook came in 1774 and in 1789, after the famous Bounty mutiny, Captain William Bligh and his 18-man crew sailed between the two largest islands, Vanua Levu and Viti Levu and charted the channel now known as Bligh Water.  All survived the formidable warriors and the ferocious cannibals in what had become known in sailing circles as the "Cannibal Isles".

In the 1830's, Christian missionaries came to the islands seeking converts and preaching against cannibalism.  What followed was a period of intense conflict between Cakobau, chief of Bau who controlled much of Fiji, and the Christian Tongan noble Ma'afu.   In 1854 Cakabau followed other chiefs and ultimately accepted Christianity, primarily because of trade opportunities, while other converts were impressed by the new god's power, i.e. machines, guns and warships.

In the 1840's, with the arrival of U.S. Commandant Charles Wilkes and John Brown Williams, the first American commercial agent, and fearing Fiji's annexation to America, the British sent W.T. Prichard in 1858 to act as their counsel. 

Meanwhile, Chief Cakobau had incurred great debt partly due to the pillaging of the American compound and he proposed ceding Fiji to Britain in return for paying his debt.  Two decades later, on Oct. 10, 1874, Fiji became a British Colony.

Sir Arthur Gordon, the first colonial governor, prohibited the Fijians from selling their lands and to this day less than 10 percent of Fiji is free-hold property, that is, property that can be sold to others than Fijians.  Also, he kept the Fijians  from being used as laborers.  As a result, on May 14, 1879, the first of Fiji's Indians arrived to work the sugar plantations and now they make up almost half of the population.

After World War II, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, a high ranking chief, became the leader of Fiji's independence and the father of modern Fiji.  Fiji became an independent member of the British Commonwealth on Oct. 10, 1970.  The first Prime Minister was Ratu Sir Kamisese.  Fiji was declared a Republic in 1987 with a biacameral Parliament consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate; a President as head of State and a prime minister as head of the government.  

From the past, Fiji has held onto their chiefly system through the Great Council of Chiefs.  The basic unit of Fijian adminstration is the koro (village) which is headed by a hereditary chief, who is appointed by the village elders.  Several villages are linked together as a tikina and several tikina form a yasana or province.  Fiji is divided into 14 provinces and each has a high chief.  The Great Council of Chiefs, includes members of the lower house as well as nominated chiefs from the provincial councils.  The Great Council of Chiefs appoints the president, who in turn is responsible for appointing judges, in consultation with the Judicial & Legal Services Commission.  A highlight to many traveling to Fiji is visiting a Fijian village.