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Polynesians presumably arrived in the islands more than 3,000 years ago; they were largely conquered and absorbed by Melanesian invaders c.1500 B.C. The first Europeans to visit Fiji were the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in 1643 and British Capt. James Cook in 1774. In the early 1800s the first European settlement was established at Levuka, which became an important whaling port in the mid-1800s. A Fijian national government, with a tribal chief as king, was established in Levuka in 1871, but in 1874, at the request of Fiji's tribal chiefs, Great Britain annexed the islands. The capital was moved to Suva in 1882. During World War II the islands were an important supply point.
In 1970, Fiji gained independence as a member of the Commonwealth with Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara as prime minister. In 1987, Col. Sitiveni Rabuka led two coups that wrested control of the racially divided nation's government from the ethnic Indians. Fiji was declared a republic; it also was expelled (1987–97) from the Commonwealth. In 1990 a new constitution granted nonurban native Fijians a disproportionate say in the government. Two years later Rabuka became prime minister, and in 1994 Mara was appointed president.
The constitution was amended in 1997 to give nonethnic Fijians a larger voice, and in May, 1999, Labor party leader Mahendra Chaudhry was the first ethnic Indian to become prime minister of Fiji, replacing Rabuka. A May, 2000, coup attempt led by Fijian businessman George Speight took Chaudhry hostage and demanded an end to Indian participation in Fijian politics; the crisis led the army to seek Mara's resignation and briefly take power. The army appointed (July, 2000) an ethnic Fijian–dominated government headed by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase; Ratu Josefa Iloilo became president. Speight, after releasing his hostages, demanded a strong influence in the new government but was arrested by the army, and his insurgency was quashed. In 2002 he pled guilty to treason and was sentenced to life in prison.
Qarase's government was subsequently ruled illegal by the courts, and Ratu Tevita Momoedonu was appointed prime minister of a caretaker government in Mar., 2001. New parliamentary elections in August–September resulted in a victory for the Fiji United party (SDL), which formed a Fiji-nationalist coalition government with the Conservative Alliance; Qarase again became prime minister. The post-coup period saw many Indo-Fijians forced off leased farms when ethnic Fijian landowners, who control roughly 90% of the land, did not renew leases.
In July, 2003, Qarase's government was ruled unconstitutional because it did not include members of the opposition Labor party. In September the Labor party refused to join the government when Qarase excluded Chaudhry, and the situation remained unresolved until late in 2004 when Chaudhry decided to lead the opposition. Also in 2004, Ratu Jope Seniloli, the vice president, was convicted on charges stemming from his appointment as president by George Speight during the attempted coup in 2000; he subsequently resigned after serving a shortened sentence.
A government proposal in mid-2005 to offer amnesty to persons involved in the coup sparked protests from the opposition and from the army, whose commander threatened to intervene if such a law was passed. The Great Council of Chiefs, however, supported the proposal. Tensions between the government and army continued into 2006. The military chief, Commodore Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama, was accused in the spring by Qarase's party of illegally campaigning against it, and later in the year Bainimarama called for Qarase's government to drop ethnically divisive legislation or resign. Meanwhile, President Iloilo was reelected in Mar., 2006. Qarase's coalition won the May parliamentary elections, and the Labor party subsequently agreed to participate in the multiparty cabinet, although Chaudhry did not accept a post.
In November Qarase agreed to drop the coup amnesty proposal, but relations between the government and military remained tense; the preceding month Qarase had attempted to replace Bainimarama as military chief, but the proposed replacement refused the post. The military ultimately overthrew the government in December, and Bainimarama initially assumed the post of interim president. The Commonwealth partially suspended Fiji in response (and fully suspended Fiji three years later). Opposition from the Council of Chiefs led Bainimarama to restore Iloilo to the presidency in Jan., 2007, but at the same time the president announced that he supported the commodore and Bainimarama became interim prime minister. In April the Bainimarama's government suspended the members of the Great Council of Chiefs because of the lack of cooperation with the government. The move followed the council's refusal to approve the government's choice for vice president.
A “people's charter,” intended by Bainimarama to complement the constitution and to unify Fiji and end its racially divisive politics, was completed in Aug., 2008, and approved by the president in December. In Apr., 2009, after the courts declared Bainimarama's government illegal, he resigned as prime minister. President Iloilo subsequently abrograted the constitution, dismissed the judiciary, appointed himself head of state “under a new legal order,” and then appointed Bainimarama interim prime minister; judges aligned with the government were appointed in May.
In July, 2009, Bainimarama announced that work on a new constitution would begin in 2012 and democratic elections would be held two years later. A draft constitution was completed by a constitutional commission by the end of 2012, but copies of the draft that were disseminated were confiscated by the government, and the government announced that it would revise the draft.
Meanwhile, Iloilo resigned as president for health reasons in July, 2009. Vice President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau became acting president and then, in Nov., 2009, president. By early 2010, Bainimarama's government was taking increasingly repressive moves against its critics, including tight restrictions on the media. In Mar., 2010, a cyclone caused significant damage in N Fiji.
Bainimarama abolished the Great Council of Chiefs in Mar., 2012. The council, which had been established under British rule in 1875, had elected the president and consulted in the appointment of senators. Former prime minister Qarase was convicted of corruption in July, 2012; the charges related a company directorship he held in the 1990s. In Sept., 2013, a new constitution was finally adopted. Bainimarama resigned as Fiji's military chief in Mar., 2014, but he remained the country's interim prime minister. Former prime minister Chaudhry was convicted in Apr., 2014, of violating Fiji's Exchange Control Act.
Bainimarama's Fiji First party handily won the Sept., 2014, parliamentary elections, and he became prime minister. Following the election, Fiji's suspension from the Commonwealth was lifted. In 2015 Jioji Konrote was elected Fiji's president; he was reelected in 2018. Many parts of the country suffered extensive destruction from a severe tropical cyclone (hurricane) in Feb., 2016. Bainimarama remained prime minister after the Nov., 2018, elections, in which Fiji First secured a narrow majority. A tropical cyclone in Dec., 2020, again devastated parts of the country, though Viti Levu was affected less severely.
a state in Oceania, in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Part of the British Commonwealth. Area, 18,300 sq km. Population, 580,000 (1975). The capital is Suva. The country, which occupies the Fiji Islands and also includes the island of Rotuma, located 380 km from the Fiji Islands, is divided into four administrative zones.
Constitution and government. Fiji is a constitutional monarchy. The present constitution was adopted in 1970. The head of state is the British monarch, represented by an appointed governor-general.
The highest legislative body is a parliament, which includes the British monarch and two chambers. The lower chamber is the House of Representatives, elected for five-year terms and consisting of 52 members—22 Fijians, 22 Indians, and eight representatives from the European and Chinese communities; some are elected on national and some on communal rolls. The upper chamber is the Senate, comprising 22 members, appointed for six-year terms; one-half of the Senate is reappointed every three years. All citizens 21 years of age or older are eligible to vote.
Executive authority is vested in the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister appointed by the governor-general. The Fijian Administration oversees the provinces. It consists of elected provincial councils and the Great Council of Chiefs, presided over by the minister for Fijian affairs and rural development . The Council of Chiefs is an advisory body, consisting of the 22 Fijian members of the House of Representatives, 30 representatives chosen by the provincial councils, and 15 members appointed by the minister for Fijian affairs and rural development.
The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court and includes an appellate court and lower courts.
Natural features. The Fiji archipelago comprises more than 300 islands, which form the eastern edge of Melanesia. The largest islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Almost all the islands are surrounded by coral reefs and have numerous inlets. The basement of the islands is composed of granites, gneisses, and other ancient crystalline rocks, overlain in places by Tertiary sandstones and a thick stratum of igneous rocks, namely, basalts and andesites. The relief of the large islands is dominated by plateaus, which are dissected by mountain ridges with elevations of more than 1,000 m; the highest elevation is 1,322 m, on Viti Levu. Narrow aggradational plains stretch along the coasts. The largest rivers are the Rewa (navigable for 100 km), Wainimbuka, Mba, and Singatoka, all located on Viti Levu.
The climate is tropical oceanic and wet, with little seasonal variation in temperature, which averages approximately 3°C. Wind direction and topography account for substantial differences in the distribution of precipitation (1,500–4,000 mm annually) and in the types of vegetation found in the windward and leeward regions. The red-earth soils, products of the weathering of volcanic rocks, are fertile.
The southeastern windward slopes are covered with tropical rain forests of valuable trees, including sandalwood, teak, mahogany, and several coniferous species, such as Podocarpus. There are several species of palm (coconut, sago), as well as breadfruit trees, sweet potato vines, and rubber plants. In some areas, forests have been cut down and their place taken by savanna. Savanna predominates in the drier leeward regions.
The fauna is represented essentially by the same species as are found in western Oceania (seeOCEANIA).
Population. The largest ethnic groups in Fiji are Indians (approximately 290,000; 1974, estimate) and Fijians (approximately 225,000, including about 10,000 of mixed descent). The rest of the population consists of Rotumans, who live on the island of Rotuma, and other Oceanic peoples, the Chinese, and the English and other Europeans.
English is the official language. More than one-half of the population is Christian (Methodist and other denominations), about 40 percent are Hindu, and the rest profess Islam and other religions. The Gregorian calendar is used.
Between 1971 and 1975 the population increased at an average annual rate of 2.2 percent. The economically active population numbers 148,000 people (1970), of which 49 percent are employed in agriculture. The average pouplation density is 32 persons per sq km (1975). The most densely populated islands are Viti Levu, with three-quarters of the total population, and Vanua Levu. In 1966, 33 percent of the population was urban. The principal cities are Suva (63,200 in 1971) and Lautoka, both on Viti Levu, Lambasa (Vanua Levu), Nausori (Viti Levu), and Levuka (Ovalau).
Historical survey. The Fiji Islands were discovered by the Dutch navigator A. Tasman in 1643 and were visited in 1774 by the English explorer J. Cook. By the time the Europeans came, the primitive communal system of the local population was already in decline. The first British missionaries arrived in 1835. In 1874, Fiji became a British colony. On Oct. 10, 1970, it was proclaimed an independent state within the British Commonwealth and that same year became a member of the United Nations. In 1975, Fiji signed a convention by which it became an associate member of the European Economic Community (Common Market). Diplomatic relations between Fiji and the USSR were established in 1974.
The ruling Alliance Party, founded in 1966, primarily represents the Fijians and is also supported by the Europeans. The opposition National Federation Party, founded in 1963, primarily represents the Indians. There is also the Nationalist Party (founded 1974). Fiji has trade unions, some of which are united under the Fiji Trades Union Congress.
Economic geography. Fiji is an agrarian country in which foreign, chiefly Australian, capital plays a significant role. Japanese and American capital are beginning to have an impact. Agriculture accounts (1973) for 21 percent of the gross national product, industry for 13.7 percent, construction for 7.5 percent, trade for 19 percent, transportation for 6.3 percent, and other sectors for 32.5 percent. An economic development plan for 1976–80 has been carried out.
The basis of the economy is land cultivation. The Fijians carry on a seminatural economy, in which the chief crop is the coconut, on communal farms which account for 87 percent of agricultural lands. Cash crops, chiefly sugarcane, are raised by Indian farmers (15,000 farms in 1975), who rent communal lands. Agricultural lands occupy 11.5 percent of the country’s territory; approximately 8 percent is under cultivation or sown with perennial crops. The chief export crops are (1975) sugarcane, coconuts, and bananas. In 1975 sugarcane occupied 46,000 hectares (ha), which yielded a harvest of 2.3 million tons; 285,000 tons of raw sugar were produced, of which 250,000 tons were exported. Coconut cultivation yielded 281,000 tons of coconuts and 25,000 tons of copra; 1,100 tons of copra and 14,000 tons of coconut oil were exported. Bananas occupied 4,000 ha, which yielded 5,000 tons. Other export crops include cacao and pineapples. Crops raised for local consumption include grains (rice and corn), sorghum, taro, manioc, sweet potatoes, and yams.
Livestock and poultry raising are being developed. In 1975 the livestock population numbered 173,000 head of cattle, 34,000 horses, 55,000 goats, 31,000 pigs, and 575,000 fowl. Commercial fishing is being established. Agriculture and fishing do not satisfy the demands of the population for food, which must be imported.
Industry is represented by enterprises for the primary processing of agricultural produce, including sugar refineries (sugar production is controlled by a state sugar corporation), rice-processing plants, vegetable-oil mills, meat-packing plants, fruit-juice factories, fruit canneries, and tea and tobacco factories. Fiji also has sawmills and cement factories. Industrial output in 1974 included 442 million cigarettes, 85,000 tons of cement, 3,100 tons of meat, and 900 tons of butter. Mining yielded 2.1 tons of gold, 840 kg of silver, and manganese ore.
Fiji has (1973) 2,700 km of automobile roads, of which 278 km were hard-surfaced, and 644 km of narrow-gauge railroad. There are (1973) 16,300 automobiles and 6,300 trucks.
In 1973 the freight turnover of the seaports, chiefly Suva, Lautoka, and Levuka, was 1.2 million tons. An international airport is located in Nandi.
In 1975 exports totaled Fijian $142.2 million, and imports totaled Fijian $21.8 million. In 1974 principal exports included raw sugar, which accounted for 54.3 percent of all exports, coconut oil and copra, which accounted for 8.7 percent, and gold, which accounted for 7 percent. Imports included food products, which accounted for 19.2 percent of all imports, fuel, which accounted for 9 percent, and machinery and equipment, which accounted for 22 percent; other manufactured articles accounted for 35.8 percent.
Fiji’s chief trading partners are (1974) Australia, which accounted for 11.4 percent of Fiji’s total exports and 30.3 percent of total imports, New Zealand (6.3 and 11.2 percent, respectively), Great Britain (38.3 and 9.9 percent), Japan (1.7 and 17.9 percent), and the USA (31.5 and 4.5 percent).
Tourism is an important source of income. In 1974, 181,000 foreign tourists visited the country, bringing in an income of Fijian $60.6 million.
The monetary unit is the Fijian dollar. As of December 1976, Fijian $0,941 equaled US $1.
V. P. NIKOLAEV
Education and cultural institutions. In 1946, 35.6 percent of Fiji’s population was illiterate. Since independence was proclaimed in 1970, measures have been taken to institute compulsory, free education for all children. The eight-year primary school is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 14; graduates may then enter a six-year secondary school (two years plus four years). Vocational training is provided by vocational and technical schools, which accept graduates of the primary schools. Instruction is in English. In the 1972–73 school year, more than 130,400 pupils were enrolled in primary schools; 21,100 students were attending secondary schools, and 1,300 were attending vocational and technical schools. Three schools of teacher education, with more than 400 students, train teachers for the primary schools.
The university in Suva, which was founded in 1968 and had an enrollment of more than 1,500 students in the 1975–76 academic year, is a regional university serving the countries of the South Pacific. It has schools of education, natural resources, and social and economic development. Education below the university level is provided by a technological institute in Samabula (founded 1964), a three-year agricultural college in Nausori (founded 1954), and a medical school in Suva (founded 1886).
Cultural institutions in Suva include the university library (with more than 70,000 volumes), the Suva City Library (more than 39,000 volumes), the National Archives of Fiji (founded 1954), and the Fiji Museum (founded 1906).
Fiji has one daily newspaper, the Fiji Times, published in English, and several other periodical publications.
Radio broadcasting is under the jurisdiction of the government radio broadcasting commission. [27–989–1 ]
Official name: Republic of the Fiji Islands
Capital city: Suva
Internet country code: .fj
Flag description: Light blue with the flag of the United Kingdom in the upper hoist-side quadrant and the Fijian shield centered on the outer half of the flag; the shield depicts a yellow lion above a white field quartered by the cross of Saint George featuring stalks of sugarcane, a palm tree, bananas, and a white dove
National anthem: “Meda Dau Doka” (first line in English: “Blessing grant oh God of nations on the isles of Fiji”), lyrics by Michael Francis Alexander Prescott, music from traditional Fijian song
National symbol: Tabua (whale’s tooth)
Geographical description: Oceania, island group in the South Pacific Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand
Total area: 7,056 sq. mi. (18,376 sq. km.)
Climate: Tropical marine; only slight seasonal temperature variation
Nationality: noun: Fiji Islander or Fijian(s); adjective: Fiji or Fijian (“Fijian” should only be used to describe a thing or person of indigenous Fijian origin)
Population: 918,675 (July 2007 CIA est.)
Ethnic groups: Fijian 54.8%, Indian 37.4%, other (including European, Chinese, other Pacific Islanders) 7.9%
Languages spoken: English (official), Fijian (official), Hindi
Religions: Methodist 34.5%, Roman Catholic 7.2%, Assembly of God 3.8%, Seventh-Day Adventist 2.6%, other Christian 4.9%, Hindu 34% (Sanatan 25%, Arya Samaj 1.2%, other Hindu 7.8%), Sunni Muslim 4.2%, other Muslim 2.8%, other or unspecified 5.6%, none 0.3%