Fiji is located in the South Pacific, almost halfway between Melanesia, a collection of islands that includes New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, and Polynesia, which includes Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands. Fiji is south of the equator, north of the Tropic of Capricorn, east of Australia and New Zealand, and just west of the International Dateline.
Fiji is comprised of 18,375 square kilometers (sq. km.) of land, made up of approximately 333 islands. Of these, only about 100 are inhabited. Viti Levu (10,389 sq. km.) and Vanua Levu (5,538 sq. km.) are the two biggest islands. Taveuni and Kadavu are the two next biggest and share the reputation of being regarded as Fiji’s most beautiful islands.
The two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, make up more than 85 percent of the total land area of Fiji. Most of the islands are volcanic in nature and the tallest mountain, Mount Tomaniivi on Viti Levu, rises to a maximum elevation of 1,324meters. The smaller islands are coral formations and rise only a few feet above sea level. The largest river in the country is the Rewa, located on Viti Levu.
According to Fijian legend, the great chief Lutunasobasoba led his people across the seas to the new land of Fiji. Most authorities agree that people came into the Pacific from Southeast Asia via the Malay Peninsula. Here the Melanesians and Polynesians mixed to create a highly developed society long before the arrival of Europeans.
The exploration and peopling of the South Pacific islands occurred thousands of years before the first Europeans ever set foot on Fiji soil. Many South Pacific Island cultures including the first Fijians, were ocean-going cultures travelling long distances in large twin-hulled canoes, guided by the stars and ocean currents.
First records of exploration Fijian islands by the western world were accidental. The first of these were in 1643 by the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, and British navigators, including Captain James Cook who sailed through, in 1774 made further explorations in the 18th century.
Major credit for the recording of the islands went to British Vice Admiral William Bligh who sailed through Fiji after a mutiny onboard his ship, the Bounty, in 1789.
The first Europeans to land and live among Fijians were shipwrecked sailors and runaway convicts from Australian penal settlements. Sandalwood traders and missionaries arrived by the mid-19thcentury.
From 1879 to 1916 Indian indentured laborers were brought to Fiji by the British to work on sugar plantations. After the indentured system was abolished, many chose to stay on as independent farmers and businessmen. Today they comprise 43.6 per cent of Fiji’s population.
The 20th century brought important economic changes in Fiji, as well as the maturation of its political system. Fiji’s major revenue sources industries are sugar and tourism.
The country is now diversifying into small-scale industries and the economy is strengthening, with more revenue now available for expanded public works, infrastructure, health, medical services and education development.
Fiji’s central position in south Pacific region has been strengthened by recent developments in sea and air communications and transport. Today, Fiji plays a major role in regional affairs and is recognized as a focal point of the region.
However, despite the increased prosperity, poverty levels are also rising and along with it the need to provide decent shelter for families currently living in growing informal settlements in and around Fiji’s urban centers. It is important to look beyond Fiji as the exotic tropical destination with white sandy beaches, azure seas and smiling faces depicted in holiday brochures.