According to Fijian legend is 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 Indonesia. Here the Melanesians and the Polynesians mixed to create a highlydeveloped society long before the arrival of the Europeans.
First European discoveries of the Fiji Islands were quite accidental. The Dutch navigator Abel Tasman first sited some of the Fiji Islands in 1642 and 1643. English explorer, Captain James Cook also recorded visiting the islands in 1774.
It was Captain William Bligh who sailed through Fiji after the mutunity on the Bounty in 1789. During this period the first Europeans where said have landed and live among Fijians. These people were mainly shipwrecked sailors and runaway convicts from Australian penal settlements. By the mid 19 th century sandalwood traders and the first missionaries arrived in Fiji.
Ratu George Cakabau a prominent Fijian chief accepted Christianity and 1854 and this put in end to widely practiced cannibalism and tribal warfare. In 1874 the 'Deed of Cession' was signed by 13 high chiefs and Queen Victoria of Great Britain. The 'Deed of Cession' meant that the Fiji islands were ceded to Great Britain.
From 1899 to 1916 Indian indentured laborers were brought to Fiji to work on the sugar plantations. After the indentured system was abolished, many stayed on as independent farmers and businessmen. Today the Indian community comprises of 44 percent of the population.
Since the islands were first sighted by the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in 1642, Fiji's history has indeed been rich and colourful. From the notorious practices involved with warfare and cannibalism, to the establishment of new trade routes and the eventual conversion to Christianity, Fiji’s history is quite remarkable. The country was ceded to Britain with the signing of the Deed of Cession in 1874 and after nearly a century under colonial rule, gained independence in 1970. With its vibrant history, Fiji is a multicultural nation, known for the friendliness of locals and the easygoing way of life they enjoy.
Anthropologists believe that 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's
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 prehistorical 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.
Fijian traditional cultural values are still practiced widely throughout the islands. In particular in rural in village communities where Fijians still live within a strict hierarchical system within the village chiefs receiving the respect of all. Fijian chiefs are hereditary titles, mostly through the male lineage, and the ranking of chiefs throughout the country is ordered into a strict hierarchical system of mataqalis, vanuas and yavusas (clans and sub clans). This intense social makeup has caused a number of bitter disputes in the past and is an underlying issue in modern day politics. If you're not a chief you're referred to as a commoner and your powers are limited.
Yaqona is the traditional drink of Fiji and serves as a ceremonial and social mediator between parties. Yaqona ceremonies are performed at all social and cultural events. A large hand carved wooden bowl called a tanoa is usually used for mixing the drink. Yagona is a root of a pepper plant is pounded until to a fine form and then mixed with water. The taste is quite unusual to the palette and leaves a slight numbing effect on the tongue. You will always be welcome to yagona or kava ceremony's as they are called however be warned can be quite lengthy however it is not considered impolite to leave in between a ceremony.
As its rich history would suggest, Fiji is a multiracial and multicultural nation, with a population that includes indigenous Fijians, Indians (known as Indo-Fijians), Rotumans and other minorities such as Chinese and Europeans. Indo-Fijians first came to Fiji in the colonial era as indentured labourers and played a large role in the growth of the country’s sugar industry. Rotumans are Polynesian natives from the neighbouring island of Rotuma with a long history of ties to Fiji. Since the military coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006, cultural groups have become polarized, especially in the case of indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians, and race has become a political issue of late.
Fiji is believed to have been first settled about three and a half thousand years ago. The original inhabitants now called "Lapita people", are named after a distinctive type of fine pottery they produced, remnants of which have been found in almost all Pacific islands. Linguistic evidence suggests they may have come from northern or central Vanuatu, or possibly the eastern Solomons. Fiji, it seems experienced at least two periods of culture change in prehistoric times.
This could have been due to the arrival of new immigrants, presumably from the west. Historians have noted the sudden appearance of a certain pottery style in Fiji that coincides with its disappearance in southern Vanuatu around the time of a massive 12th century volcanic eruption. It comes as no great surprise then that Fijian culture is not easily summed up as a whole but is rather a sum of parts. This was further compounded by the fact that prior to colonization, Fiji was never a political unity. However, Fiji does have certain identifying traits that distinguish it from its neighbors, and this is what defines Fijian culture.
‘Meke’ is a traditional dance performance that often enacts local stories and legends. Usually performed in groups, the arrangement of its members and every subtle movement has significance. In the past, Fijian meke were accompanied by their own brand of tribal music – chanting, clapping, thumping and stamping of bamboo stick as well as the beating of lali – slit drums and dancing. Meke were held primarily for entertainment purposes, such as welcoming visitors and also on important religious and social occasions, births, deaths, marriages, and the exchange of property between different villages.
Meke was performed by men, women and children - with men performing club and spear dances while the women performed fan dances.
Yaqona, also known as kava, is an infusion prepared from the root of Piper methysticum, a type of pepper plant. It holds a special place in Fijian culture, previously used ceremonially by chiefs and priests only during historical times.
However today, yaqona is more accessible and is a popular recreational drink among the different races in Fiji. Yaqona also plays a central role in welcome ceremonies at villages.
The drink is usually prepared in a tanoa, a traditional wooden bowl with legs. The dried, powdered root is wrapped in a piece of cloth and mixed with water and the result resembles muddy water. Yaqona is offered in a bilo (half a coconut shell). The custom is to clap once, accept the bilo and say bula, before drinking it all in one go and clapping three times when finished. The drink is shared until the tanoa is empty.
Masi, also known as tapa, is raw cloth made from the bark of paper mulberry trees. It usually features black and brown stencilled motifs. These motifs had symbolic meaning when masi played an important role in Fijian culture in historical times. It is now used for special occasions such as the installation of a high chief or traditional weddings. In recent times, the production of masi has become commercialized and is mainly targeted towards the tourism industry. It is also no longer uncommon tofind conventional fabrics featuring traditional masi motifs.
Fijian firewalking is unique to the island of Beqa in the Southern Islands. While this is the only place you will see it as a genuine ceremony, firewalking is now a popular attraction at a number of resorts around Viti Levu. The ceremony requires performers to observe strict traditional protocol before they are able walk on the hot stones. The Arts Village at Pacific Harbour has several firewalking performances each week.
Featured on the Fijian 20-cent coin, thetabua, or whale’s tooth is often considered as the most symbolic icon of traditional Fiji. These highly-prized items are presented as a sevusevu (gift) from family to family, normally through chiefs, as a tokenof friendship and peace.Tabua play an important rolein traditionalweddings, asking forfavors and settling arguments.
Most girls in villages learn to weave as traditionally it was the hereditary role of the women of particular tribes. It is quite common to find woven pandanus-leaf mats in Fijian homes, used as floor coverings, dining mats and as sleeping mats.They are also presented during weddings, baptisms, funerals and to chiefs.