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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.

See also:
Papua New Guinea - Solomon Islands - Tonga - Samoa
    New Caledonia - Australia - New Zealand

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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: 944,720
July 2009 estimate

Languages of Fiji:
English official, Fijian, Hindustani

Fiji Capital: Suva


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  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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The New York Times, March 25, 1917:

FIJI'S DEVELOPMENT CREATES PROBLEMS

Islands, Long Rid of Cannibals,
Hope to Join British Federation After War.


AMERICA'S PART IN HISTORY

$50,000 Debt to United States for Claims
resulted in Dominations by the English.

    SYDNEY, Australia, Feb. 7.—It is charitable to assume that leading American newspapers do not believe all that they have printed within the last few months about the Fiji Islands and Colonel and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt's projected visit to that South Pacific group. These papers may have been teasing the Colonel for the benefit of readers, but some of their comments read suspiciously as if those who penned them thought that the ex-President and his wife would have been surrounded by cannibals directly they landed in Suva.
    It is a pity to take the edge off such gorgeous "copy"—if it was intended for the truth—but as a plain matter of fact Fiji is about as savage as Oyster Bay, and, aside from its tropical setting and certain problems of race and empire, it is as prosaic a spot as there is on the earth's surface. Its man-eating days ended years ago; it has played a not inglorious part in the current war, and it looks forward to being, if not the centre, at least a member of a British Pacific island federation after the war. The only cannibals now in Fiji are microscopic ones.

    Few Americans know that it was indirectly American action which threw Fiji into the unwilling arms of Great Britain, or that Fiji excited German cupidity before Germany had embarked upon a colonial policy. Forty-odd years ago the persistent activity of German firms and business men in the group caused the British residents to assail the authorities in London with petitions, and this fear of German annexation reached a climax in 1872, when a German warship appeared in the islands. From that time until the Union Jack was hoisted over Fiji in 1874 there was no cessation of the efforts to move Downing Street.
    Although it was an Australian firm which eventually forced the British Government's hands, the spring of this action was American claims against the Fijians. In 1860 a Colonel Smyth was sent out to Fiji to investigate an offer of the group to Great Britain by Thakombau [Cakobau], a noted chieftain, stories of whose savage régime are still rife in Australia. Colonel Smyth reported against annexation at that stage, principally because he found that Thakombau could not carry out the terms of his offer. He was not king of the group, although he aspired to that eminence. He was only the "war king" of Mbaû, a small island in the group.

Thakombau Not Enthroned.

    The roko tui, or reverenced king, Thakombau was never allowed to be formally installed in office; yet after much fighting and successful displays of strength he remained one among equals, and there were other chiefs in the archipelago who could fairly claim to be his peers by might as well as by right.
    However, Colonel Smyth's report—which among Americans may recall "Paramount" Blount's [James H. Blount's] mission in Hawaii for President Cleveland and the American part in the history of Samoa—was a great advertisement for Fiji. In consequence of Thakombau's hankering to clear himself of entanglements arising from claims for compensation by aggrieved Americans, he had offered the group to Britain, but this led to the formation of an Australian company to exploit the situation. In consideration for paying Thakombau's debt to the United States, amounting to $50,000, the company was to receive from the chief a grant of 200,000 acres of what was heralded as the best land in the group.

    By this time the civil war in the United States had resulted in the blockade of Confederate ports, and there was a cotton famine. The company, which was a Melbourne one, saw a golden opportunity and straightaway boomed Fiji as a place for growing cotton. There was a rush of investors to the concern and an influx into Fiji of whites, who expected to pile up fortunes by cultivating the staple. But disappointment was in store. While some of the finest cotton in the world can be grown in Fiji, harvest time unfortunately coincides with the hurricane season, and many a cotton field white with almost realized wealth on one day was a wreck the next day. Still some plantations escaped and the cotton from them realized good prices.
    But when the civil war had ended and the United States was rehabilitating itself Fiji found itself in difficulties. Competition in cotton grew too sharp, since negro labor was far cheaper in the southern United States than in Fiji, and then, as now, the South Sea islander was not keen on work of any sort. Fiji as a place for whites fell on evil days; the Melbourne company failed and many persons interested in it were ruined; Thakombau himself was a victim of the white man's plausibility, and a Sydney adventurer who had gathered about him others of the same description carried on a farcical Government in the group.

    This was between 1870 and 1874, with German wishfulness for the group fast growing stronger, and German companies, through their representatives in the islands, becoming aggressive. In most ways the group was in a state of chaos, and at length, feeling that order should be restored, Britain annexed it. Thakombau's proffer was accepted on terms, and he was saved from a dangerous rival.

Fiji's Lucrative Trade.

    Fiji, with its present lucrative sugar, banana and copra [coconut meat] trade, (in which much Australian and other capital is invested,) and its potentialites in rubber, has a great future in store when the war is over. But with this future are complicated several pressing questions. These are land, labor, and native aspirations embodied in the watchword "Fiji for the Fijians."
    The land problem is most involved and serious, since it stands in the way not only of immigrations, but of the progress of the Fijians themselves. The Fijians have been termed a "race of landlords." And so they are, for the native-owned agricultural lands of the colony amount to almost 4,000,000 acres, and the alienated lands amount to but 250,000 acres. The tribal communal system of ownership which prevails among them and their exaggerated idea of the value of their lands present a thorny situation, which is readily appreciated, but which no administration has yet courageously tackled. Meantime much land is lying idle which, if it could be properly surveyed and leased by the natives, would be very profitable to all concerned. This land problem dates back to British annexation, and is attributed to the indefiniteness of the terms of that action and the well-intentioned but mistake policy of the first Governor, Sir Arthur Stanley.

    Then there is the labor question. The Fijian climate, although called the most healthful of tropical climates, is one in which whites cannot do much manual work. Therefore, to supplement Fijian labor, which, like all other South Sea labor, is essentially more or less limited and uncertain, Indian coolies have been imported — particularly to work the plantations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. All of this Indian labor was obtained under the indenture system, but with the expiration of the five-year terms of many of the Hindus there has latterly grown up in the group a sizable class of independent aliens, which competes against the Fijians in the labor market and threatens to dictate terms to the whites.
    Furthermore, these free Indians will not return to India and they are barred from immigration to Australia and New Zealand by the "white" policy of those countries. This naturally makes in some cases for unrest. Yet another phase of the problem is that whereas every white employer in Fiji is resolutely of the opinion that the colony cannot succeed without Indian labor—or Chinese—the Indian Government laid down lately through Lord Chelmsford [Frederic Thesiger] that there must be no more recruiting of Indians for overseas labor fields except under rigid supervision. It is feared in Fiji from this that there will be a curtailment of labor from that quarter and Fijian enterprises will suffer accordingly.

    As to "Fiji for the Fijians"—possibly owing to hazy comparison of the colony with Hawaii—there had arisen in the group just at the beginning of the war a remarkable spirit of native agitation and cohesion. To the understanding of the whites the reasons for this feeling were somewhat obscure and inchoate, but there was a strong and unmistakeable undercurrent of it throughout Fiji and doubtless it will manifest itself more clearly after the war. Apparently it was or is a feeling of nationalism. Considerable antipathy prevails between the Fijians and the thousands of Indians who have fastened on the colony, the latter being looked upon as outsiders. And probably deeper still is a fear that, because the Fijian is stationary, the latter race will undergo not only dispossession, but gradual extinction.
    The exponent of this unrest is a young man named Apolosi, a carpenter, a commoner, and a product of a mission school. Two years ago or more Apolosi tried to organize an all-Fijian company, but failed, and subsequently for acts considered disturbing to the peace of the colony he served a jail sentence. But he is a forceful orator, and, though what is in his mind is not plain to the whites, he is looked upon by the mass of Fijians as a savior. It is likely that in the adjustments which will follow the war he will be heard from again.
    Out of a white population in Fiji of about 900, about 120 men have been officially sent to the front and are fighting in the ranks of a British regiment in France, and about 200 other men are serving with the Australian or New Zealand forces. Two Fijian chiefs are at the front, one with the French and the other with the New Zealanders, and the native gifts of money for war purposes have been profuse. Within the last few weeks the colony, in addition to previous war loans, has floated one of $1,185,000.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1917 was equivalent to $16.81 in 2008.

  Moon Handbooks: Fiji (2001)


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