The Fiji Islands have been
inhabited for more than 3,000 years. In the 19th
century, the islands began to be colonized by Britain,
which recruited thousands of Indians as plantation
workers. The move of Indians in modern times has created
contradictions that still affect the country's politics.
Traces of people in Fiji have been dated to 1,300
years before Christ. Long before the arrival of the
Europeans, the Fijians developed a rich Stone Age
culture. They grew jams, taro and sweet potatoes, fished
and raised pigs, chickens and dogs.
The villages were protected by fortifications. The
little chiefdom sometimes fought with each other or made
raids to other archipelagos. There should also have been
peaceful relations with Tonga and Samoa, where Fijian
princes and princesses are mentioned in old folk tales.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Fiji, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
Dutchman Abel Tasman targeted some of the Fiji
Islands in 1643. The Englishmen James Cook and William
Bligh came in the 18th century. In the early 1800s,
Fiji's forests were ravaged by merchants in search of
sandalwood. Fiji became known as the Cannibal Islands,
and the islanders would certainly not mind if the name
deterred some intruders. One adventurer who accelerated
the Fijian civil wars by introducing firearms was
Charlie Savage, formerly Kalle Svensson from Uddevalla.
Missionaries also came to Fiji. In 1854 the powerful
chief Cakobau was baptized. He came from the small
island of Bau, where "the terrible Swede" Svensson had
taught the islanders how to use bullets and gunpowder.
In alliance with the King of Tonga, Cakobau subjugated
almost all of western Fiji, but he got into trouble
after accusations of having burnt down the US consul's
Faced with the threat of an American invasion and
annexation, Cakobau sought support from Britain. British
settlers had arrived in the 1860s to build cotton and
sugar plantations, and in 1874 Fiji became a British
Cakobau and twelve other chieftains led the British
to agree that no more land would be transferred from the
indigenous people to the settlers. The Fijians had to
maintain their internal rule, and Europeans were
forbidden to use them as labor. Instead, the British
recruited contract workers from India. The contract
worker system went on between 1879 and 1916. When it was
abolished, a majority of Indians chose to stay. At the
same time, the Fijians had become fewer as a result of
war and European diseases.
The British's intention was to protect the indigenous
people, which was achieved to some extent, but the
policy also laid the foundation for today's
contradictions, mainly around the Fijians' exclusive
right to own land. The Fijians were in many ways favored
by the British at the expense of the Indians but were
also excluded from taking part in modern economic life.