Fiji — History and Culture
Fiji’s culture is characterized by the Pacific Ocean that surrounds the nation. Tourism is the premier industry in this stunning corner of the Pacific, as thousands of holiday-makers flock to the majestic coral islands surrounding Viti Levu and Vanua Levu each year. Nevertheless, colonial influences are still strongly felt within the country to this day.
Even though the Fiji islands were often visited by European explorers during the colonial period, permanent settlement of the islands didn’t begin until the 19th century. Most of the early Europeans were missionaries or traders, but some were whalers using the islands as a resting base. It took some time for people to call the islands home as most Europeans were frightened by the ferocious and cannibalistic indigenous tribes that dotted the islands.
Britain first colonized Fiji in 1874, but by this time, the use of native populations for labor was frowned upon due to the destruction this practice had on local culture. Large Indian labor forces were migrated into Fiji to work in the sugar cane, timber, and other industries. By the beginning of WWII, Fiji comprised of some 200,000 citizens, almost half of which were Indo-Fijians. Chinese and European descendants made up a small percentage of the population, too. Britain continued to rule Fiji as a Pacific colony until 1970, when they became an independent sovereignty under the Commonwealth of Nations, enjoying a democratic-led government until 1987.
Two military coups were held during 1987, with the second resulting in civil upheaval. The coups were staged by ethnic Fijians who grew tired of the political dominance Indo-Fijians had over the country. As a result, thousands of Indo-Fijians fled, creating an economic hardship that Fiji still hasn’t fully recovered from. In 1997, another military coup ousted an Indian-led government.
Since the 1997 uprising, there have been several political issues within Fiji. The most recent problem was the 2009 constitutional crisis that eventually led to a stranglehold on international media, local press censorship, and internal migration.
Travelers can find out more about Fiji’s history by visiting the Fiji Museum (Botanical Gardens, Suva, Fiji), which boasts a plethora of exhibitions on British colonialism, ancient tribal culture, and independence.
Fiji has a unique culture. There are colonial pieces left behind by the Dutch and British, but ancient island culture is at its heart. Even though English is widely spoken in Fiji’s touristy areas and large cities, the native language is used sporadically.
Upon arrival in Fiji, you may experience cultural dances and communal get-togethers at resorts and hotels. Ancient traditional clothing such as the sulu (tapa cloth around the waist) or kuta (a dress of dried reeds) are usually worn when traditional dances are performed.
Visitors may even be lucky enough to sample kava, which is a traditional beverage drunken during ceremonies. Considered an acquired taste, the numbing drink should be tried at least once. There are plenty of ancient performances held throughout the country every month, however, festivals like the Bula and Hibiscus celebrations are a great time to witness Fiji’s traditional culture at its best.