What Should I Know About Fiji?

Rebecca Partington

Fiji, officially called the Republic of the Fiji Islands, is an island group located in the South Pacific Ocean. It consists of over 300 islands, and its total land area is a little smaller than that of New Jersey. Its population is approximately 920,000, and nearly 90% of its people live on Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, Fiji's two major islands.

Rugby is popular in Fiji.
Rugby is popular in Fiji.

The first settlers came from other areas of the South Pacific and arrived around 1000 BCE. These settlers were Polynesian and Melanesian — two ancestor groups of modern Fijians. Europeans first visited the islands in the mid-1600s, but did not settle there permanently until Fiji became a colony of the United Kingdom in the late 1800s. The Fijians gained independence in 1970 and established democratic government.

Fiji produces bananas.
Fiji produces bananas.

Nearly twenty years later, two military coups occurred because Fijians believed the government was dominated by Indians. The coups led to strengthened Fijian control and massive Indian emigration. Despite the coups, the 1999 elections resulted in government leadership by an Indo-Fijian. However, more coups in the early 2000s created yet more political instability.

Fiji's government is a republic with three branches of government. The executive branch is led by a president as the chief of state and a prime minister as the head of government. The legislative branch is headed by a two-house Parliament, which is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The members of the Senate are appointed by the president and prime minister, while the House of Representatives' seats are allotted to various ethnic groups. Finally, the judicial branch is headed by the Supreme Court, whose judges are appointed by the president.

Fiji commands several natural resources and agricultural products such as timber, gold, cassava, sugar, copper, cattle, fish, bananas, and hydropower. Its economy is one of the most highly developed in the South Pacific, although many Fijians still practice subsistence living. Sugar and tourism are the major sources of income for the country, although tourism was damaged by the various coups.

Fiji's climate is of the tropical marine type, with slight seasonal temperature changes, and the islands are mostly mountains that originated as volcanoes. The official languages are English and Fijian, but Hindustani is also commonly spoken. The most common ethnic groups are Fijian (more than half of the population) and Indian (approximately 37%). Although most Fijians are Christian, more than 30% are Hindu, about 7% are Muslim, and the rest follow other religions or none at all. Rugby is very popular, and Fiji's rugby sevens team is one of the most successful in the world.

Cassava is one of the crops produced in Fiji.
Cassava is one of the crops produced in Fiji.

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