Fiji History

The first Fijians arrived on the mainland around 1500 BC–-shards of intricate pottery called "Lapita" discovered at the Sigatoka Sand Dunes date to around this time. The population spread throughout many of Fiji's islands, eventually developing mutually unintelligible dialects and frequently warring over territory and influence. The Fijians were a merciless people, killing women and children as readily as men in war, burying men alive as they filled in the holes dug for the foundations of houses, and launching their large, masterfully crafted drua (war canoes) over the bodies of slaves used as rollers. They ate the flesh of their murdered enemies and rivals; "Eat me" was a phrase commonly used by villagers to humbly greet their godlike chiefs. Fiji was nicknamed "the Cannibal Isles" by Europeans, who were informed by the Tongans of their ways.

This reputation caused both the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and Englishman Captain James Cook to resist landing on the islands in 1643 and 1774, respectively. Days after the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789, Captain Bligh was the first to glimpse the mainland.

In 1808 muskets were introduced by the shipwrecked Charles Savage, who later became notorious for his politicking among the Fijian chiefs and was eventually killed and eaten. The United States Exploring Expedition charted Fiji in 1840 and the first missionaries arrived later that decade. Ratu Cakobau, an ambitious chief, began consolidating power among the islands, appointing himself Tui Viti (King of Fiji) in 1854 without authority over most of the country. The following year he was aided by King George I of Tonga in suppressing a large resistance, further consolidating power but giving the Tongan leader entrée to influence in Fiji. Levuka, in the Lomaiviti Group, began to swell with settlers and Cakobau declared it the capital.

The U.S. consul held Cakobau responsible for a theft, and over the coming two decades he fell into debt with the U.S. government. A short-lived Ku Klux Klan was established by Europeans at one point to challenge his rule. He tried once to cede the Fiji Islands to Britain while maintaining the title of King of Fiji, but this, combined with the fact that he did not control most of the territory, led Britain to reject the offer. In 1874 he tried again to cede control to the Queen, this time unconditionally, and his offer was accepted.

In 1877 the capital was moved to Suva. Two years later, the first ship with indentured laborers from Calcutta arrived. They harvested cotton, world prices of which had skyrocketed owing to the American Civil War, and grew sugarcane. About 70,000 Indians arrived over the next five years, with most choosing to remain in Fiji after their service was completed. Fijians served in both world wars, although they were accepted with less difficulty in the second. Fijian guerrilla-commandos fought behind Japanese enemy lines on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. It's said they were so adept at guerrilla warfare that, rather than Missing In Action (MIA), Fijian soldiers who were unaccounted for were labeled NYA–-Not Yet Arrived.

For such a small nation, Fiji's politics have been, and continue to be, exceedingly complex. After gaining independence from the British in 1970, two coups in 1987 established Fiji as a Republic. A further coup in 2000 toppled the country's first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister, and Commodore Frank Bainimarama assumed executive power. But constitutional wrangling continued and even yet another coup in 2006 failed to resolve the situation. Finally the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji was agreed upon in 2014 and elections were held in September 2014 to select members for a new Parliament, which opened in October 2014. Fiji’s Parliament has changed a two-house structure (representatives and senate) to a unicameral (or single chamber) legislature with 50 members elected by proportional representation. Hopefully, with a Constitution that most now agree on, and a parliament back in business in its original home–-the grandiose Government Buildings in Suva–-Fiji can put its "couping" years behind it and focus on being the land of Bula and smiles.

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