A country comprising a group of islands, in the Melanesian archipelago of the south-west Pacific Ocean.
Fiji consists of mountainous volcanic islands. There are two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, and over 800 smaller ones.
The economy is agricultural, with sugar the chief crop and export. Other trade is in re-exported petroleum products, coconut oil, fish, and gold. Tourism provides substantial additional revenue.
The islands first became known to Europeans when Tasman visited them in 1643. Captain Cook landed in 1774. In the 19th century Fuji was notorious for inter-tribal wars and cannibalism, a situation not assisted by an influx of deserting seamen, traders seeking sandalwood, and whalers. The islands became a British crown colony in 1874, the Western Pacific High Commission being set up for the pacification and control of the labour trade. By 1879 Indians began to be imported under the indenture system. By the 1950s Indians outnumbered Fijians and were dominating commercial life, while Fijians owned most of the land. The country became independent in 1970. The election of a government with an Indian majority (1987) brought ethnic tensions to a head, leading to two military coups to restore indigenous Fijian control and to the withdrawal of Fiji from the Commonwealth of Nations; it was re-admitted in 1997. Civilian rule, under a new constitution that guaranteed a Melanesian parliamentary majority, was restored in 1990. There has, since then, been heavy Indian emigration resulting in loss of skills and capital. In 1991 opposition parties attacked the new constitution as racist. There were threats of another military coup, but in 1992 the Fijian Political Party won a majority of seats in the general election and Major General Sitiveni Rabuka, who had led the coups of 1987, became Prime Minister as head of a coalition. The government collapsed in 1994 but was re-elected with Rabuka's party increasing its majority. In 1997 the racist elements were removed from the constitution and in 1999 Mahendra Chaudry became Fiji's first ethnic Indian Prime Minister. However, in 2000 Chaudry and several members of parliament were taken hostage by indigenous Fijian rebels. They were freed after eight weeks, but in the meantime the military had taken control of the state. Laisenia Qarase, an ethnic Fijian, was installed as Prime Minister; he won elections held in 2001.
18,274 sq km (7056 sq miles)
1 Fiji dollar = 100 cents
Christian 56.8%; Hindu 33.3%; Muslim 6.9%
Fijian 52.0%; Indian 41.5%
English; Fijian; Hindi; local languages
UN; Colombo Plan; Secretariat of the Pacific Community; Pacific Islands Forum; Commonwealth; WTO
Subjects: World History.