The Commonwealth Local
Government Forum has its Pacific regional office in Suva, where it works
to promote and strengthen democratic local government and encourage the
exchange of good practice in the Pacific region.
The country is an archipelago of about 300 islands (100 inhabited) and
540 islets, spread over three million sq km, and has some 1,130 km of
Joined Commonwealth: 1970 (rejoined in 1997 after ten-year lapse)
Population: 881,000 (2013)
GDP: 1.2% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 88
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT plus 12
Currency: Fiji dollar (F$)
Area: 18,333 sq km
Capital city: Suva
Population density (per sq. km): 48
The Republic of Fiji lies 1,850 km north of Auckland, New Zealand, and
2,800 km north-east of Sydney, Australia. It consists of about 300
islands (100 inhabited) and 540 islets, spread over three million sq km.
It is surrounded by the island groups of (clockwise from north) Tuvalu,
Wallis and Futuna, Tonga, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.
The largest islands are Viti Levu (‘Great Fiji’), Vanua Levu, Taveuni
Suva (capital, pop. 194,900 in 2010, comprising Nasinu 88,600 and Lami
20,600), Nausori (55,500), Lautoka (55,200), Nadi (47,000) and Ba
(16,200) on Viti Levu; and Labasa (28,400) on Vanua Levu.
3,440 km of roads, 49 per cent paved. The network is vulnerable to
flooding and hurricane damage. A coastal road encircles Viti Levu,
linked by smaller roads to the villages of the interior.
Lautoka, in the north-west of Viti Levu, is the main port; others are
Suva, Levuka and Savusavu. Ferry services operate between the larger
The main international airport is in western Viti Levu, at Nadi. Nausori,
near Suva, is the hub for inter-island flights, and receives some
international services. Most islands have airports or landing strips.
Fiji is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States,
Non-Aligned Movement, Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum, United
Nations and World Trade Organization.
Much of Fiji is volcanic in origin, with the larger islands featuring
heavily populated coastal plains and uninhabited mountainous interiors.
Many of the smaller islands have coral reefs. The highest point is Mt
Tomanivi on Viti Levu (1,323 metres). The main rivers are the Sigatoka,
Rewa and Ba on Viti Levu and the Dreketi on Vanua Levu; their deltas
contain most of the country’s arable land.
Climate: The climate is tropical and oceanic. South-east trade winds
prevail; day temperatures range from 20 to 29°C and humidity is high.
The rainy season is November to March throughout the country, though
there is rain during June–September. On average, the country is affected
by a hurricane every other year, for example Cyclone Ami in January
The most significant environmental issues are deforestation and soil
The distribution of the rainfall is the determining factor in the
country’s vegetation. Dense forests and coastal mangrove swamps are
found in the east and grasslands, with coconut palms on the coasts, in
the west. Forest covers 56 per cent of the land area. Indigenous
sandalwood resources were exhausted in the 19th century.
Fiji is home to six species of bat, including four fruit bats
(flying-foxes), and the Polynesian rat. All other mammals have been
introduced, mainly during the 19th and 20th centuries. There are more
than 100 species of birds, 14 of which are endangered (2012), and
several snakes and lizards, including the recently discovered crested
iguana. Fiji’s waters contain turtles, sharks, eels and prawns.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Fiji has been inhabited, initially
by Melanesian peoples, for more than 3,500 years. The first known
contact with Europeans occurred in 1643, when the islands of Vanua Levu
and Taveuni were explored by Abel Tasman. British explorers including
Captains James Cook and William Bligh passed through in the late 18th
century. By this time, the population was mixed, with Melanesians
occupying the eastern areas and Polynesians the islands’ interiors,
organised into a complex hierarchical society.
The first American ships arrived in the 19th century, bringing
adventurers attracted by the resources of sandalwood (which were
exhausted within ten years) and subsequently traders and Christian
missionaries. Later, Europeans began establishing cotton plantations but
came into conflict with the Fijians over land, political power and the
use of imported labour. The increasing availability of guns caused
inter-tribal conflicts to escalate but by the mid-19th century, a single
clan dominated, led first by Nauvilou and subsequently by his son
Cakobau, and based on the small island of Bau to the south-east of Viti
Levu. The Bauan dialect of Fijian consequently became the predominant
Fijian language, and an important factor in unifying the clans. Cakobau
converted to Methodist Christianity in 1854; in 1874, following British
concerns over the interests of the settlers, Cakobau agreed that Fiji
should become a Crown colony. In 1881, Rotuma Island in northern Fiji,
inhabited by Polynesian people, was added to the territory.
The first governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, collaborated with the local
chiefs to protect the traditional ways of life. He forbade the sale of
land to non-Fijians, levied taxes in kind and retained the existing
political structures. He also encouraged the growth of the sugar
industry, and its use of Indian labour. From the 1920s, Indians began to
call for more commercial and political influence and, by 1943, despite
the restrictions on land ownership, they were in the majority.
The country progressed towards independence through the 1960s, largely
in response to international and British pressure, while internally
there were divisions over the appropriate forms of government able to
provide democracy while protecting the rights of the ethnic Fijians. The
resulting constitution offered universal suffrage, with guarantees for
Fijian land rights, and the Fijian chiefs, through their dominance of
the Senate, had in effect a veto on constitutional change. Fiji became
independent on 10 October 1970.
Until 1987, the government was formed by the Alliance Party led by Ratu
(Chief) Sir Kamisese Mara which followed policies of moderate
multiracialism. The largest Indo-Fijian party, the National Federation
Party (NFP), formed the main opposition for most of the period and calls
from Indo-Fijians for greater political and property rights increased.
Elections in April 1987 resulted in victory for a coalition consisting
of the NFP and the Fiji Labour Party (FLP), led by Dr Timoci Bavadra and
supported by both ethnic Fijian and Indo-Fijian trades unions. Bavadra,
an ethnic Fijian, became Prime Minister, but there were Indo-Fijian
majorities in both the House of Representatives and the cabinet. In May
1987 the government was overthrown in a coup led by Lieutenant-Colonel
Sitiveni Rabuka, who called for the ethnic Fijian dominance of all
The May 1987 coup was followed by a period of racial unrest, during
which the Great Council of Chiefs attempted to introduce constitutional
reforms. Mediated by the Governor-General, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau,
negotiations between Mara and Bavadra resulted in the formation of an
interim government of unity.
However, Rabuka led a second coup in September 1987 and in October he
declared Fiji a republic. Having become a republic, it was then required
to reapply for membership of the Commonwealth and, at their summit in
Vancouver in October 1987, Commonwealth Heads of Government decided to
allow its membership to lapse, primarily on the grounds that Fiji had
adopted a form of government at variance with the democratically
expressed wish of the people and so with Commonwealth principles. In
December 1987 Rabuka appointed a new civilian government with Mara as
Prime Minister and Ganilau as President.
Between 1988 and 1990, a new constitution was drawn up and approved by
the Great Council of Chiefs, but the National Federation Party–Fiji
Labour Party coalition announced it would boycott any elections held
under its provisions. The constitution was also the subject of
international criticism, especially from the Commonwealth led by India,
Australia and New Zealand.
Fiji resumed its membership of the Commonwealth in October 1997. Its new
1997 constitution came into force in July 1998. At elections in May 1999
the incumbent Fijian Political Party (SVT, with only eight of the 71
seats in the lower house) and the NFP (no seats) were ousted by a
coalition led by the FLP (37 seats) that included the Fijian Association
Party (ten), the Party of National Unity (four) and the recently formed
Christian Democratic Alliance (three). The turnout was high at these
elections where voting was compulsory.
Following his victory, FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry became the first
Indo-Fijian Prime Minister and, despite his party’s overall majority in
the House of Representatives, he formed a cabinet representing all four
of the coalition partners. His priorities were to defuse ethnic tensions
and restore economic growth after the sharp contractions of 1997–99.
Soon after the elections, Rabuka resigned from the leadership of the SVT.
In May 2000, armed ethnic Fijians, led by George Speight, overthrew the
government, occupying the parliament building and taking about 40
hostages – including the Prime Minister. There then ensued continuous
negotiations between the army and the rebels until the deadlock was
finally broken in July, when the hostages were released, a new civilian
President and ‘emergency’ government were appointed and backed by the
military. In June the country was suspended from the councils of the
Commonwealth pending the restoration of democracy. In July Speight and
some of his supporters were arrested and charged with treason.
The Beautiful Islands of
Fiji - Explore the history and culture
Nat Geo Wild Islands Fiji
HD Nature History Documentary
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