Fiji History

Fiji History

European discovery

Archaeological finds point to the settlement of the Fiji Islands in the 2nd century BC. there, first by Polynesians, later by Melanesians.

The Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman also reached individual islands of Fiji in 1643 – after discovering New Zealand – but did not research them. Over 100 years later, the English James Cook (on his second South Sea voyage, 1772-75) and William Bligh met the islands and met the defensive Fijians, who were considered cannibals.

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The exploration of the islands by European traders and researchers only began in the 1920s. The reason for this was the large stocks of valuable sandalwood trees that were cut down within a few years. From 1830, European settlers started growing cotton.

In 1840, one of the leading chiefs, Ratu Seru Cakobau, prevailed against rival chiefs and was made king of Fiji. He adopted Christianity as a religion, finally abolished cannibalism and concluded a number of trade agreements with the representatives of Great Britain.

British colonial rule

In October 1874, the Fiji Islands became the British crown colony, and the town of Suva on Viti Levu became the administrative seat. The first governor of the islands was Sir Arthur Gordon. After the world market price for cotton fell, the cultivation of sugar cane began. The British ban on forced labor and a measles epidemic that killed almost a third of the island’s total population (around 70,000 people) in 1875 created a labor shortage. The British administration then hired Indian contract workers to work on the sugar cane plantations. By 1916, over 60,000 Indians had come to the Fiji for this purpose. Even after the usual ten-year contract, many of them remained on the islands.

During the Second World War, the Fiji Islands were occupied by the United States. In the 1950s, the population of Indians was just over 50%. Again and again there were partly armed conflicts between Melanesians and Indians (eg 1959).

State independence

According to AbbreviationFinder, Great Britain granted the islands internal autonomy in 1966 and in October 1970 the Fiji Islands became independent as part of the British Commonwealth as a parliamentary monarchy. In the first parliamentary elections, the conservative “Alliance Party”, which represented the interests of the Melanesian population, became the dominant political force and, with Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, became the country’s prime minister (until 1987).

Until 1987 the country’s domestic situation was largely stable. In the parliamentary elections in April this year, two parties representing the Indian share of the population won the majority of the votes. National Federation Party¡¯s Timoci Bavadra became Fiji’s new prime minister. The new government was overthrown in a coup after a month and Melanesian general Sitiveni Rabuka proclaimed the republic. In the capital Suva, there were bloody clashes between the supporters of the two population groups. Fiji declared itself an independent republic and Britain excluded the islands from the Commonwealth. The previous governor general, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, became president of the country. After the December 1987 elections, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara became head of government again. The government passed a new constitution in July 1990, in which the Indian part of the population was disadvantaged (for example, Indians were not allowed to buy land, but only to lease it). Politicians of Indian origin were also clearly in the minority in the two chambers of parliament. The Grand Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga) was able to elect only one Melesian-born Fijian to be President of the country. In response to the new legislation, some 50,000 Indians left the islands in the months that followed. In 1992 Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau was confirmed as President of the Republic, and Sitiveni Rabuka, who proclaimed the Republic after the 1987 coup, became the country’s head of government.

In 1997 Fiji returned to the Commonwealth. In 1998 a new constitution came into force, which among other things laid down the equal rights of the ethnic groups in the parliament. From then on Indians could also be appointed president or head of government. In early 1999, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was confirmed as head of state (president) by the Great Council of Chiefs. After the parliamentary elections in the same year, a coalition led by Indian-born Mahendra Chaudry took over the government.

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The 21st century

In May 2000, a coup by militant Melanesian nationalists, in which Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudry and other politicians were taken hostage for 56 days. The uprising leader, businessman George Speight, proclaimed a transitional government under opposition politician Ratu Timoci Silatolu. President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara then declared a state of emergency. Shortly afterwards, the military under Commander-in-Chief Frank Bainimarama took power and imposed martial law over the islands. The President was declared deposed and a transitional government was set up under Latisenia Qarase (July 2000). The Great Council of Chiefs appointed the Melanesian Ratu Josefa Illoilo as the new President. Putschist George Speight was arrested in July 2000 and charged with treason. He was sentenced to death in February 2002, but this was converted into a life sentence.

Early parliamentary elections were held in August 2001. Then Laisenia Qarase became head of government. The SDL he led was able to win the 2001 and 2006 elections. A court decision in July 2003 forced Qarase to admit members of the Indian-dominated second-strongest party, the FLP.

A military coup occurred again in December 2006. Surprisingly, the military returned power to the president (Ratu Josefa Iloilo). Army chief Frank Bainimarama was deployed as prime minister and thus held executive power in his hands. In 2009, the Supreme Court declared the establishment of Bainimaramas unconstitutional. President Iloilo then revoked the constitution, dismissed the judges and reinstated Bainimarama as head of government. His refusal to allow free elections to be held in the same year led to Fiji’s membership in the Commonwealth being suspended again. In July 2009, Bainimarama named Ratu Epeli Nailatikau as president.

A new constitution entered into force in September 2013. It contains a comprehensive catalog of fundamental rights. Elections are now held every four years. 50 MPs are elected on the basis of a single list in a proportional vote. The Bainimarama party won the parliamentary elections that finally took place in September 2014. The 60-year-old has led Fiji in an authoritarian manner in recent years, restricting democratic rights such as independence from the press and the judiciary. At the same time, the country stabilized. Bainimarama boosted the tourism industry and gained popularity with the introduction of free schooling and investment in infrastructure.

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