The Republic of the Fiji is known for its lush vegetation. It is a tropical paradise made of approximately 330 tiny islands of which around 100 are inhibited. Located in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, Fiji is situated to the north of New Zealand and North West of Australia with a land mass of 18,376 square kilometres.
Fiji covers about 1.3 million square kilometres of the South Pacific Ocean. Fiji's total land area is 18,333 square kilometres. There are two major islands - Viti Levu which is 10,429 square kilometres and Vanua Levu 5.556 square kilometres. Other main islands are Taveuni (470 sq km), Kadavu (411 sq km), Gau (140 sq km) and Koro (104 sq km). 87.9% of land is owned by indigenous Fijians while 3.9% is State land. Freehold land comprises 7.9% and Rotuman land is 0.3%.
The capital is Suva and it is one of the two cities in Fiji. The other city is Lautoka and both are located on the island of Viti Levu. The islands are surrounded by sandy beaches and reefs with mountains covering the centre of most of the islands.
Fiji is blessed with a tropical South Sea maritime climate without great extremes of heat or cold. The islands lie in area which is occasionally traversed by tropical cyclones, and mostly confined between the months of November to April every year. On the average some ten to twelve cyclones per decade affect some parts of Fiji, and two to three cyclones can be very severe. At all seasons the predominant winds over Fiji are the Trade Winds from the east to south - east. On the western and eastern sides of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu however, day time breezes blow in across the coast.
In general, the winds over Fiji are light or moderate, the most persistent being in the period July - December. Temperatures average 22°Celsius (72°F) for the cooler months (May to October) while (November to April) temperatures are higher with heavy downpours. Although rainfall is highly variable, the average rainfall increases steadily inland from coastal areas. It usually increases between December - April, especially over the larger islands, but in May - October it is often deficient, particularly in the dry zone on the western and northern sides of the main islands.
Fijian culture & tradition
Fiji was first settled about three and a half thousand years ago. The original inhabitants are now called "Lapita people" after a distinctive type of fine pottery they produced, remnants of which have been found in practically all the islands of the Pacific, east of New Guinea, though not in eastern Polynesia. Linguistic evidence suggests that they came from northern or central Vanuatu, or possibly the eastern Solomons.
Before long they had moved further on, colonizing Rotuma to the north, and Tonga and Samoa to the east. From there, vast distances were crossed to complete the settlement of the Pacific to Hawaii in the north, Rapanui (Easter Island) in the east and Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the South.
Unlike the islands of Polynesia which showed a continuous steadily evolving culture from initial occupation, Fiji appears to have undergone at least two periods of rapid culture change in prehistorically times.This may have been due to the arrival of fresh waves of immigrants, presumably from the west. Pre-historians have noted that a massive 12th century volcanic eruption in southern Vanuatu coincides with the disappearance there of a certain pottery style, and its sudden emergence in Fiji.
It is hardly surprising then, that the Fijian culture is an intricate network and that generalizations are fraught with danger. Although the legendary king of Bau, Naulivou, and his successors had control over a large area of eastern Fiji, at no time before colonialization was Fiji a political unity. Nevertheless, Fiji does exhibit certain traits that set it apart from its neighbors, and it is this that defines a distinctive Fijian culture.
Visitors are often welcomed at resorts and hotels with a 'meke', a dance performance that enacts local stories and legends. While performances for tourists may seem staged, the meke is an ongoing tradition. The arrangement of the group and every subtle movement has significance. Important guests and onlookers are honoured with the best seating positions.
Bark cloth and traditional textiles
Masi, also known as tapa, is bark cloth with black and rust-colored printed designs. Masi played an important role in Fijian culture and its motifs had symbolic meaning and to a certain extent still do. It is used for special occasions - in 1996 the Tui Cakau wore masi ceremonial attire at his installation as paramount chief of the Cakaudrove region. Fijian masi is now mostly made for tourists and is used for postcards, wall hangings and other decorative items. Textile designers are now incorporating traditional masi motifs in their fabrics.
Mat and basket weaving
Most Fijian homes use woven pandanus-leaf mats for floor coverings, dining mats and as finer sleeping mats. They are much in demand as wedding presents and for baptisms, funerals and presentations to chiefs. Most village girls learn the craft, traditionally it was the hereditary role of the women of certain tribes. The pandanus leaves are cut and laid outdoors to cure, then stripped of the spiny edges and boiled and dried. The traditional method for blackening the leaves for contrasting patterns is to bury them in mud for days and then boil them with special leaves. The dried pandanus leaves, made flexible by scraping with shells, are split into strips of about 1 to 2cm.
Yaqona, otherwise known as kava, is an infusion prepared from the root of Piper methysticum, a type of pepper plant. It is extremely important in Fijian culture - in the time of the 'old religion' it was used ceremonially by chiefs and priests only. Today, yaqona is part of daily life, not only in villages but across the different races and in urban areas.
There are certain protocols to be followed at a kava ceremony and in some remote villages, it is still a semi religious experience. Sit cross-legged, facing the chief and the tanoa, or large wooden bowl. Women usually sit behind the men and won't get offered the first drink unless they are the guest of honour. Never walk across the circle of participants, turn your back to the tanoa or step over the cord that leads from the tanoa to a white cowry (it represents a link with the spirits).
The drink is prepared in the tanoa. The dried and powdered root, wrapped in a piece of cloth, is mixed with water and the resulting concoction looks (and tastes) like muddy water. You will then be offered a drink from a bilo (half a coconut shell). Clap once, accept the bilo and say 'bula' (meaning 'cheers', or literally, 'life'), before drinking it all in one go. Clap three times in gratification and try not to grimace. The drink will be shared until the tanoa is empty. You are not obligated to drink every bilo offered to you, but it is polite to drink at least the first.
The original people are called "Lapita people" after the characteristic type of a fine pottery they produced, remnants of which have been found in practically all the islands of the Pacific, east of New Guinea. They first populated the islands about 35 centuries ago. Since then, Fiji has been through quite a few settlement processes.
The estimated population of Fiji on December 31, 2004 stood at 840,201. Of the total 456,207 were Fijians, 320, 659 were Indians and 63,335 were others. For the last two officials Census there was a net increase of 57,280 persons. Fijian numbers had increased by 65,694 persons. Indian numbers registered a decrease of 0.3 per cent as a result of high international emigration, and lower rate of natural increase. The annual average growth rate between the Censuses was 0.8%.
Fiji has a relatively young population with about 53% or 413,100 persons below the age of 25 years. This percentage has declined from the 1986 figure of 58.7%. The economically active population in 1986 was 62% of the total population or 441,852 persons and in 1996 it was estimated at 67% or 523,428 persons. The number of people aged 60 years and over was estimated at 47,027 persons or 6% of the total projected population in 1996. This figure has risen from 4.9% or 35,395 in 1986. The dependency ratio in 1986 was 71 but declined to 70 in 1990 and 68 in 1996. This means that the percentage of people dependent on those who are working is decreasing.
Fiji is becoming increasingly urbanized as internal migration to towns and cities continue. Extension of urban boundaries has also contributed to this trend. By 1996, some 46 per cent of the population was living in urban areas, up from 39 per cent in 1986. Around 41 per cent of Fijians and Rotumans now live in urban areas. The urban population has grown at 2.6 per cent per year between 1986 and 1996 and the rural population has been shrinking by 0.5 per year. The Capital Suva is the most populated city with 167,975 persons followed by Lautoka with 43,274 and Nadi at 30,884. Apart from the indigenous Fijians, Fiji has accepted many other nationalities to its shores - Indians, Europeans, Chinese and other Pacific islanders.
English is the official language. However, Fijian and Hindi are also taught in schools as part of the school curriculum. Indigenous Fijians have their own dialects and you can tell which province one comes from, from their dialect. Indians, too have their own, and generally speak a distinctive Fiji-Hindi dialect. This is not the same as the one spoken in India.
A multiracial, multi-cultural nation, Fiji is represented by all the major religions of the world. This is quickly obvious to the visitor who will see Christian churches, Mosques, Sikh and Hindu temples in towns and the countryside. More than half of Fiji's population are Christians (52.9%), Hindus (38.1%), Muslim (7.8%), Sikhs (0.7%), others (0.5%).