Fiji lies in the heart of the Pacific Ocean midway between the Equator and the South Pole, and between longitudes 175 and 178 west and latitudes 15 and 22 south.
Fiji’s is made up of approximately 330 islands, of which about one third are inhabited. Its reach covers about 1.3 million square kilometers of the South Pacific Ocean. At present, Fiji has a population of approximately 900,000 people.
Fiji’s total land area is 18,333 square kilometers. There are two major islands - Viti Levu is 10,429 square kilometers and Vanua Levu 5,556 square kilometers. Other main islands are Taveuni (470 sq km), Kadavu (411 sq km), Gau (140 sq km), and Koro (104 sq km).
Formally known as the Republic of Fiji, it is governed by The Right Hon. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and His Excellency President Jioji Konousi Konrote. Fiji has one of the most developed economies in the Pacific due to an abundance of forest, mineral, and fish resources. Today, Fiji's main sources of foreign exchange are its tourist industry and sugar exports. The country's currency is the Fijian dollar. The Ministry of Local Government and Urban Development supervises Fiji's local government, which takes the form of city and town councils.
Fiji’s national flag flew for the first time on Independence Day, October 10, 1970. It includes the red, white and blue Union Flag of Britain in the top left-hand corner and the shield from the Fiji Coat of Arms on a light blue background in the fly. The flag encompasses Fiji’s own colonial heritage in the Union Flag with a blend of historical continuity in the design of the shield. Fiji’s geographical design is highlighted by the blue background.
Fiji’s national Coat of Arms consists
of the images of two Fijian warriors on either side of a shield and the motto "Rerevaka na Kalou ka Doka na Tul" below the shield. These words mean "Fear God and honour the Queen." The shield from the coat of arms has the image of a heraldic lion holding a cocoa pod across the top. Sugarcane, a coconut palm and bunch of bananas are represented in three of the shields sections. The fourth contains the reproduction of a dove of peace, the main feature of the Cakobau Government’s flag before cession.
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 the Malay Peninsula. 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. 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 practiced 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 43.6 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 Solomon Islands.
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 Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the south.
Unlike 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 culture change in prehistoric times.
This may have been due to the arrival of fresh waves of immigrants, presumably from the west. Prehistorians 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 Fijian culture.
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. The sugar industry has perceived as the backbone of the Fiji economy. It was started as a colonial strategy to promote economic growth. The sugar industry has become one of the leading industries in the country’s economy over the years. Sugar production was the one of the key export; therefore, sugarcane farming drove the development agenda in Fiji.
As the country now diversifies into small-scale industries, the economy is strengthened and revenues provide for expanded public works, infrastructure, health, medical services and education.
The country’s central position in the region has been strengthened by recent developments in sea and air communications and transport. Today, Fiji plays a major role in regional affairs and is recognized as the focal point of the South Pacific.
Fiji is now home to many other races — Indians, Part Europeans, Chinese and other Pacific islanders living in harmony, and keeping their own cultures and identity. Indigenous Fijians or iTaukei, making up slightly over 50 per cent of the total population, live in villages as well as towns/cities and do things on a communal basis.
The Indians have also regarded Fiji as their home. Most of them are descendants of labourers brought to the country from India to work in the sugar plantations about 100 years ago under the indentured labour system.
Although they were offered passages back in to India after their term, most preferred to stay. And through the years they have continued to work the land, becoming prominent in agriculture and also commerce. There has been some intermarriage, but this has been minimal.
However, Indians living in the rural areas have adapted well, some even speaking the local dialect and mixing well with the Fijians. As a country, Fiji is rural based with about 60 per cent of the population living in the rural areas.
A multi-racial, multi-cultural nation, Fiji is represented by all the major religions of the world. This is quickly obvious to the visitor who will see Christian churches, Mosques, Sikh and Hindu temples in towns and the countryside. More than half of Fiji’s population are Christians (52.9%), Hindus (38.1%), Muslim (7.8%), Sikhs (0.7%), Others (0.5%).
English is the lingua franca, but Fijian and Hindi are also taught in schools as part of the school curriculum. Indigenous Fijians have their own dialects and you can tell where one comes from, from their dialect. Indians too have their own, and generally speak a distinctive Fiji-Hindi dialect. This is not the same as the one spoken in India.