What was the history of Fiji?
Fiji’s first settlers arrived from the islands of Melanesia 3500 years ago, during the years, Fiji also has significant Polynesian influences.
The first Europeans to sight the Fiji Islands were Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who passed the northeast fringe of the group in 1643, and Captain James Cook who passed the southeastern islands in 1774. Captain William Bligh travelled through the group in his open longboat after the mutiny on the HMS Bounty in 1789 and returned to explore it in 1792.
19th Century Fiji
The 19th Century was a period of great upheaval in the islands of Fiji. The first Europeans to land in Fiji were sandalwood merchants, shipwrecked sailors and runaway convicts from the British penal colonies in Australia. By the middle of the century, missionaries arrived in the islands and embarked upon the conversion of the Fijian people to Christianity. In 1865 Christian convert chief Cakobau gains control of western Fiji, while another Christian convert, Ma’afu from Tonga controls the East. In 1871 European settlers at Levuka island organise a national government and name Cakobau king of Fiji following local disorder.
British Rule In Fiji
In 1874, Fiji became a British crown colony at the request of Cakobau and other chiefs. The policies of the first governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, were decisive in shaping the history of Fiji. Gordon saw himself as the protector of the Fijian people and thus initiated policies that limited their involvement in commercial and political developments. Sales of Fijian land were banned; the Fijians were taxed in agricultural produce, not cash; and they were governed through a system of indirect rule based on the traditional political structure.
During the years of 1879 to 1916 more than 60,000 indentured labourers are brought in from the Indian subcontinent to work on the sugar plantations. In 1970 Fiji became a fully sovereign and independent nation.
Coups & return to Commonwealth
Fiji has seen four definitive coups in the past 30 years, the first being in 1987 and the last being 2006. At the heart of the coups lay the tensions between the ethnic Fijians and Indian Fijians. Religion played a significant role; most ethnic Fijians belong to the Methodist church whereas most of the Indians are Hindu. In each coup, one of the sides sought to establish reduced rights for the Indian Fijians; the other side sought to grant greater rights and equality to the Indian Fijians.
In the first coup, during 1987, with Fiji being expelled from the Commonwealth; Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand suspend aid. Fiji was later readmitted into the commonwealth in 1997 after it introduces a non-discriminatory constitution.
In 2006, military chief Frank Bainimarama, threatens to oust the government after it tries, and fails, to replace him. Bainimarama takes executive powers and dismisses PM Qarase. Commonwealth suspends Fiji because of the Coup. No significant protests or violence have occurred in Fiji during the 2006 coup.
In 2009 the appeal court rules the military regime was illegally appointed after the 2006 coup. The constitutional crisis had Fiji fully suspended from the Commonwealth after the refusal of the military government to blow to demands to call elections by 2010.
In 2013 a new constitution is introduced, paving the way for elections, then in 2014 Frank Bainimarama becomes the countries civilian leader after winning parliamentary elections. Commonwealth re-instates Fiji as a full member.
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