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The New York Times, May 23, 1874, p.9:|
THE FIJI ARCHIPELAGO.A KINGDOM COLLAPSING INTO A COLONY OF ENGLAND.
Fiji, or Fee-jee, is associated among the older readers of this generation with Mariner's Tonga Islands, (Constable's little octavo,) and among the younger classes of them with a certain "mermaid" more puzzling than poetical to the general comprehension. From Mariner the world got a very bad opinion of those Fiji pirates, combatants, and cannibals, men sacrificing their friends and feasting on their enemies, roasted whole in an oven, and called, with playful ferocity, "long pig."
But time has done its usual work in that part of the globe also. "Old times have changed, old manners gone," and those cannibals are less likely to devour others any more than to be devoured themselves in turn. "A certain convocation of political worms is now at them," and in a short time very probably Mr. Disraeli and his colleagues will have decided on the offer of Thakombau [Seru Epenisa Cakobau, 1815–1883], King of that archipelago, to merge himself and his people in the larger dominion of the Queen of England.
Those Fiji Islands of the Pacific Ocean were first discovered by Tasman [Abel Tasman, 1603-1659, Dutch explorer] in 1643, and afterward visited and described by Cook [James Cook, 1728–1779, English explorer]. They are grouped between the fifteenth and nineteenth degrees of south latitude, to the west of the Friendly Isles [now part of Tonga], and about 360 miles north-west from the Tongas. They are reckoned from 150 to 200 in number, and between sixty and seventy of them are more or less inhabited.
Among the largest of them, Vitilevu [Viti Levu] measures ninety miles in length by about fifty in breadth, and Vanalevu [Vanua Levu] is 100 miles long by twenty-five miles broad. Ovolau [Ovalau], in which is the capital town, Lovuka [Levuka], is eight miles long by about seven broad.
Several are nearly of these dimensions, but the greater number are small, being from three miles to a mile and less in diameter. Those islands are, in fact, the summits of submarine mountains thrown up by the action of sea volcanoes in some Jurassic or Eocene period of our globe; and in time, when that action had spent itself, the coral zoophytes began their quieter work and built up the barriers and barbicans that surround every one of them.
Each of these sits within its own moat of calm water, guarded on the outside by its white reef that offers at intervals a number of gaps or gateways through which vessels pass from the open sea to those inner blue lagoons and their bays; and, when the ocean is placid as the quiet moats themselves, under the genial atmosphere of the archipelago, there are not a few of those islets that look, to the eyes of tired voyagers, like so many fragments of the terrestrial paradise, with their central peaks and ridges from two hundred up to two thousand and four thousand feet above the sea level, broken by cliffs, gorges and valleys—the pathways of sparkling cascades and little rivers—and shadowed and colored by their diversity of trees and shrubs, both of the forest and fruit-bearing order; the whole quiet spectacle of their picturesque lovliness and fertility softened and spiritualized by the light clouds that will at times pass slowly across their highest summits, and by the haze of distance which can throw such a charm of enchantment over scenes like these, as well as over so many other things in the world.
Commander Wilkes [Charles Wilkes 1798–1877, American explorer,], who carried his surveying squadron to that group in 1840, noted, as he approached from the south-east, the beauty of Goro, Ovolau, Vanua, Somu, Nairai, Wakala, Mokungai, Matuku, and others lying close together, and could not help contrasting it with the savage reputation of their inhabitants.
And that labyrinth of isles and coral reefs and dividing sounds is as fertile in its harvests as it is fair to look on—producing cotton, coffee, tea, sugar, breadfruits, cocoa, yams, turnips, bananas, oranges, pineapples, melons, citrons, olives, spices, and a variety of other growths, while the waters swarm with fish.
The region possesses all the elements of natural power, and among these must be mentioned the earthquakes and hurricanes which at times diversify and darken the milder attributes of the soil and climate.
At the same time the Fijis were accustomed to look to the sea for more than their fish. They looked for wrecks, like the good old Cornishmen, and would knock shipwrecked people on the head in the confusion to prevent any subsequent discussions about ownership. They had as little respect for human life as some people nearer home in our own day. They utilized the evil trade of war by making food of their enemies, and they also sent out of the world those of their friends who had outlived the power of making themselves useful or ornamental in it... Missionaries Cross, Hunt, Cargill, and others witnessed such scenes... when Commander Wilkes went among them in 1840, he remembered that the Charles Doggett, an American ship, had been broken on one of their coral reefs in 1834, and that nine of her crew had been eaten by the wreckers of Rewa and Malolo...
Fiji was lately a Government of seven chiefs, ruling in their districts of Ambau, Rewa, Vorata, Methuata, Somu-somu, Naitasiri, and Mbua, one of these (the Ambau chief) being the superior of all the rest. The system was of the sort called feudal in the old west, and belonging, in fact, just as much to the oriental and other societies of men.
Under the class of Fiji chiefs were other orders of warriors, tillers of the ground, and slaves. These classes lived together pretty much as others of the kind were always found to live elsewhere; and the incessant quarrels of their chiefs were till lately like those of the Anglo-Saxons, which Milton compared with the flocking together and fighting of crows in the air.
It was not until 1835 that the missionaries went to reside among them. But those teachers soon made themselves at home, and in 1853, Thakombau, of Ambau, recognized as the First Chief, became a Christian—a heavy blow and great discouragement for the ancient order of things in Fiji...
Remote as they are in the midst of the Pacific, and guarded on all sides by their reefs of white coral, the Fiji Islands could yet be reached by the great movement which so agitated our own continent from 1861 to 1865. The interruption of our cotton-producing industry obliged men to speculate on other fields of that culture, and Dr. Brower, the American Consul, (owner of the beautiful little island of Wakaia,) introduced into Fiji the cultivation of the "sea-island" plant [Gossypium barbadense], [to] which the rich, arable ground of the group has proved itself very well fitted.
The number of immigrants increased; and in 1867, when it was about 1,200 persons, they made an attempt to give the country a constitution, a sort of code, and a new face altogether. Thakombau and several chiefs consented, and the result was what was called the Constitution of Bau. But it was a failure, and soon lapsed.
Meanwhile the immigration increased in a greater ratio than before, owing, in a great measure, to the dullness of the wool trade of Australia, (from 1868 to 1870,) which induced a number of speculators to look after the cotton-growing grounds of Fiji. Some of them established in Melbourne a Poynesian Company, by which 200,000 acres were secured in the archipelago for the cultivation of cotton and sugar and the general furtherance of trade. But these people found themselves greatly hindered by the uncertain regulations of Thakombau's Government, and in 1871, the whites—for the natives have been comparatively passive in the matter—made another effort, under the leadership of Mr. Sydney C. Bart, a clever man, who had been an auctioneer in Sydney, and who made himself agent and Prime Minister of Thakombau, now recognized by the formal title of King.
In the coup de' état, as it has been termed, of the above year, Burt was assisted by Messrs. Woods, Swanston, Thurston, and others, and all went into the revolutionary business with the ardor and anxiety felt about the same time in the same work on a far broader stage of human action. A constitution was made... in many respects too rigid for such a semi-civilized community... An association of men in the missionary interest, the merchants of Levuka, (the capital,) and other malcontents was formed, bringing about a controversy and a confusion which King Thakombau, (or Cacobau, as the name is sometimes spelled,) found it very hard to comprehend at his age of seventy, especially after the traditional cup of cava [kava] which was his usual custom in the afternoon.
The rough-and-ready business of importing "coolies" was another element of dissent and discussion; and things were coming to a dead-lock apparently, when a deus ex machina made his appearance on the scene, in the shape of the Captain of her Britannic Majesty's war-vessel Cossack, who came in through the reef and dispersed the "opposition" in a very summary way.
The Fiji Parliament of Levuka, composed of representatives (irregularly chosen) from the several districts, was very much under the control of the King's council of foreigners. It adopted the system and criminal code of Hawaii... opposition, which showed that the Cossack had scotched, not killed, the discontent of the country... led to... last September... the adoption of a more perfect or less imperfect constitution...
This being promulgated, the next movement, long contemplated, was made, and a late telegram from Melbourne states that Cacobau Rex has transferred, or offered, through the medium of Mr. Layard, the British Consul, himself and his archipelago to the dominion of Queen Victoria. It was high time, evidently, if, as is generally stated, he and his government, commanding a revenue of about £42,000, have been already expending £124,000 a year; and Cacobau the First, of Fiji, will probably be Cacobau the last...
They who favor the protectorate are careful to show that from Sydney to Vancouver, an ocean distance of 7,000 miles, there is not at present a single coaling station for the service of English vessels...
It may also be said that the natives are likely, in the end, to be "improved" of the face of that beautiful archipelago.
According to Measuring Worth, one British pound in 1874 was worth about $5.42 US at that time, and an 1874 pound was worth about £66.55 in 2007 (calculated by retail price index). The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1874 was equivalent to $18.98 in 2008.
• 1874 £ into 2007 $: 66.55(UK RPI) x 2.00 (2007 ex. rate) = $133.10.
• 1874 £ into 2008 $: 5.42(1874 ex. rate) x 18.98(US CPI) = $102.87.
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Fiji became independent in 1970, after nearly a century as a British colony. Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987, caused by concern over a government perceived as dominated by the Indian community (descendants of contract laborers brought to the islands by the British in the 19th century).
A 1990 constitution favored native Melanesian control of Fiji, but led to heavy Indian emigration; the population loss resulted in economic difficulties, but ensured that Melanesians became the majority. Amendments enacted in 1997 made the constitution more equitable.
Free and peaceful elections in 1999 resulted in a government led by an Indo-Fijian, but a coup in May 2000 ushered in a prolonged period of political turmoil. Parliamentary elections held in August 2001 provided Fiji with a democratically elected government and gave a mandate to the government of Prime Minister Laisenia QARASE.
Re-elected in May 2006, QARASE was ousted in a December 2006 military coup led by Commodore Voreqe BAINIMARAMA [Frank Bainimarama], who initially appointed himself acting president but in January 2007 became interim prime minister. Since taking power BAINIMARAMA has neutralized his opponents, crippled Fiji's democratic institutions, and refused to hold elections.
CIA World Factbook: Fiji
Area of Fiji:
18,270 sq km
slightly smaller than New Jersey
Population of Fiji:
July 2009 estimate
Languages of Fiji:
English official, Fijian, Hindustani
Free Books on Fiji (.pdfs)
The Hill Tribes of Fiji 1922 Brewster
The Fijians... Decay of Custom Thomson 1907
Tales from Old Fiji Fison 1907
Fijian-English English-Fijian Dictionary Hazlewood 1872
The King & People of Fiji Waterhouse 1866
Fiji & The Fijians Williams 1858
Life in Feejee Wallis 1851
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