issue 189 - November 1988
Mention Fiji and people think of an idyllic island in the South Pacific. In fact there are 300 islands. Vitu Levu is the biggest and is host to the nation's relatively buzzing capital, Suva.
A British colony until 1970, when it was granted independence, Fiji is a mixture of imposed Western values and indigenous traditions; of native Fijians and a majority Indian population which migrated to the country in the last hundred years.
British missionaries started arriving in the early 1800s and convinced Fijians that they should wear clothes. Merchants followed hot on their heels selling fabrics and other manufactured goods in exchange for copra oil. The Fijian king, impressed with this kind of 'progress', offered his country to Washington for annexation. In the throes of civil war, the White House declined his offer.
The British stepped in. Short of sugar, they discovered the archipelago's potential for growing cane - still the country's major export - and annexed the islands in 1874. While there was little resistance to the purchase or expropriation of their land for cash crops, Fijian peasants refused to work the plantations. Indian semi-slaves were shipped in by the British and most of these stayed on after their contract ended, bringing their families over and settling down, becoming small shopkeepers, craftsmen and bureaucrats in the colonial administration.
British colonization did little to help the majority of Fijians, bringing commerce and economic development which benefited few. In the cities lack of employment has led to despair and alcoholism.
The streets of Fiji's major cities are reminiscent of Australian country towns as the advertisement hoardings proclaim the extent of Australian business penetration. Japanese and Taiwanese ships are anchored in the bays, testimony to the importance of the country's export industry.
But the traditional Fijian élites, the power and influence of Australian and multinational companies, and US military and strategic interests were seriously threatened by the last duly elected civilian administration, Bavandra's Labour government. Now many Indians see no future for them in Fiji and there is a mass exodus.
For the majority of Fijian citizens who cannot emigrate, there seems little alternative in the short term to growing unemployment and hunger.
Fiji's decline is abetted by its newly-acquired reputation as a 'banana republic' following the two coups last year when the military leader Colonel Rambuka refused to allow the democratically-elected government to take office.
The worsening unemployment, poverty and despair have fostered the fascist 'Taukei' movement which was behind last year's coups and is currently shaping the country's political future.
Leader: Colonel Rambuka
Economy: GNP per capita $1,710 (US $16,690)
Health: Infant mortality: 27 per 1,000 live births (US 10 per 1,000)
Culture: Fifty per cent of the population are Indians, descendants from the immigrant Hindu workers, 46 per cent are of Melanesian origin, the rest being Chinese or Europeans. English is official language, but Urdu, Hindi, Fijian and Chinese are also spoken.
Tight press control and general censorship.
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