The Republic of Fiji (Matanitu Tugalala o Viti in Fijian) is an island country in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean about 1,100 nautical miles (1,300 miles or 2,000 kilometers) northeast of New Zealand’s North Island. Its closest neighbors are Vanuatu to the west, New Caledonia to the southwest, New Zealand’s Kermadec Islands to the southeast, Tonga to the east, the Samoas and France’s Wallis and Futuna to the northeast, and Tuvalu to the north. Fiji is an archipelago of more than 330 islands, of which 110 are permanently inhabited, and more than 500 islets, amounting to a total land area of about 7,100 square miles (18,300 square kilometers). The farthest island is Ono-i-Lau. The two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, account for 87% of the population of almost 860,000. The capital, Suva on Viti Levu, serves as Fiji’s principal cruise port. About three-quarters of Fijians live on Viti Levu’s coasts, either in Suva or in smaller urban centers like Nadi (tourism) or Lautoka (sugar cane industry). Viti Levu’s interior is sparsely inhabited due to its terrain.
Fiji’s main island is known as Viti Levu and it is from this that the name “Fiji” is derived, though the common English pronunciation is based on that of their island neighbors in Tonga. Its emergence can be described as follows:
“Fijians first impressed themselves on European consciousness through the writings of the members of the expeditions of Cook who met them in Tonga. They were described as formidable warriors and ferocious cannibals, builders of the finest vessels in the Pacific, but not great sailors. They inspired awe amongst the Tongans, and all their Manufactures, especially bark cloth and clubs, were highly valued and much in demand. They called their home Viti, but the Tongans called it Fisi, and it was by this foreign pronunciation, Fiji, first promulgated by Captain James Cook, that these islands are now known.”
“Feejee”, the Anglicized spelling of the Tongan pronunciation, was used in accounts and other writings until the late nineteenth century, by missionaries and other travelers visiting Fiji.
Fiji has one of the most developed economies in the Pacific due to an abundance of forest, mineral, and fish resources. Today, the main sources of foreign exchange are its tourist industry and sugar exports. The country’s currency is the Fijian dollar. Fiji’s local government, in the form of city and town councils, is supervised by the Ministry of Local Government and Urban Development.
The majority of Fiji’s islands were formed through volcanic activity starting around 150 million years ago. Today, some geothermal activity still occurs on the islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni. Pottery art from Fijian towns shows that Fiji was settled before or around 3500 to 1000 BC, although the question of Pacific migration still lingers. It is believed that the Lapita people or the ancestors of the Polynesians settled the islands first but not much is known of what became of them after the Melanesians arrived; they may have had some influence on the new culture, and archaeological evidence shows that they would have then moved on to Samoa, Tonga and even Hawaii.
The first settlements in Fiji were started by voyaging traders and settlers from the west about 5000 years ago. Lapita pottery shards have been found at numerous excavations around the country. Aspects of Fijian culture are similar to the Melanesian culture of the western Pacific but have a stronger connection to the older Polynesian cultures. Trade between Fiji and neighboring archipelagos long before European contact is testified by the canoes made from native Fijian trees found in Tonga and Tongan words being part of the language of the Lau group of islands. Pots made in Fiji have been found in Samoa and even the Marquesas Islands.
Across 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) from east to west, Fiji has been a nation of many languages. Fiji’s history was one of settlement but also of mobility. Over the centuries, a unique Fijian culture developed. Constant warfare and cannibalism between warring tribes were quite rampant and very much part of everyday life. During the nineteenth century, Ratu Udre Udre is said to have consumed 872 people and to have made a pile of stones to record his achievement.
According to Deryck Scarr in A Short History of Fiji, “Ceremonial occasions saw freshly killed corpses piled up for eating. ‘Eat me!’ was a proper ritual greeting from a commoner to a chief.” Scarr also reported that the posts that supported the chief’s house or the priest’s temple would have sacrificed bodies buried underneath them, with the rationale that the spirit of the ritually sacrificed person would invoke the gods to help support the structure, and “men were sacrificed whenever posts had to be renewed”. When a new boat, or drua, was launched, if it was not hauled over men as rollers, crushing them to death, “it would not be expected to float long”. Fijians today regard those times as “na gauna ni tevoro” (time of the devil). The ferocity of the cannibal lifestyle deterred European sailors from going near Fijian waters, giving Fiji the name Cannibal Isles; as a result, Fiji remained unknown to the rest of the world.
The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman visited Fiji in 1643 while looking for the Great Southern Continent. Europeans settled on the islands permanently beginning in the nineteenth century. The first European settlers to Fiji were beachcombers, missionaries, whalers, and those engaged in the then booming sandalwood and bêche-de-mer trade.
Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau was a Fijian chief and warlord from the island of Bau, off the eastern coast of Viti Levu, who united part of Fiji’s warring tribes under his leadership. In 1871, the Kingdom of Fiji was established as a constitutional monarchy, with Cakobau as king but with real power in the hands of a cabinet and legislature dominated by settlers from Australia. Cakobau styled himself as Tui Viti or King of Fiji, and then Vunivalu, or Protector, after the cession of Fiji to the United Kingdom.
Before the establishment of the British protectorate, mail was carried by trading vessels to Sydney and placed in the post there. In 1870, the proprietors of the Fiji Times instituted an efficient letter and parcel service. This was not accepted by the British Consul, who tried to close it in 1871, and appointed an official postmaster. The government postal service was more expensive, but on May 8, 1872, the Fiji Times closed its service stating that it had “… received notice from the Fiji Government to discontinue the receipt and despatch of inter-island correspondence”.
On December 3. 1871, the Fijian government issued the first stamps with the cypher of King Cakobau and established their own service. The first Post Office Act was passed soon afterwards, and the stamps were overprinted with VR in 1874 when Fiji became a Crown Colony.
Fiji became a British colony on October 10, 1874. Sir Hercules Robinson, who had arrived on September 23, 1874, was appointed as interim Governor. He was replaced in June 1875 by Sir Arthur Gordon. Rather than establish direct rule in all spheres, Gordon granted autonomy over local affairs to Fiji’s chiefs, though they were now forbidden to engage in tribal warfare.
The colony was divided into four regions, each under the control of a Roko; these regions were further subdivided into twelve districts, each ruled by a traditional chief. A Great Council of Chiefs was established in 1876 to advise the Governor. This body remained in existence until being suspended by the Military-backed interim government in 2007 and abolished in 2012. Under the 1997 Constitution, it functioned as an electoral college that chose Fiji’s President, Vice-President, and 14 of the 32 Senators. In its early days, the Great Council was supplemented by a Native Regulation Board (now the Fijian Affairs Board); these two bodies together made laws for the Fijians. (European settlers, however, were not subject to its laws).
In 1875–76, an epidemic of measles killed over 40,000 Fijians, about one-third of the Fijian population.
Adopting a “Fiji for the Fijians” policy, Gordon prohibited further sales of land, although it could be leased. This policy has been continued, hardly modified, to this day, and some 83 percent of the land is still natively owned. He also banned the exploitation of Fijians as laborers, and following the failure of the cotton-growing enterprise in the early 1870s, Gordon decided in 1878 to import indentured laborers from India to work on the sugarcane fields that had taken the place of the cotton plantations. The 463 Indians arrived on May 14, 1879 — the first of some 61,000 that were to come before the scheme ended in 1916. The plan involved bringing the Indian workers to Fiji on a five-year contract, after which they could return to India at their own expense; if they chose to renew their contract for a second five-year term, they would be given the option of returning to India at the government’s expense, or remaining in Fiji. The great majority chose to stay. The Queensland Act, which regulated indentured labor in Queensland, was made law in Fiji also.
In 1882, the capital was moved from Levuka to the more accessible Suva.
Fiji joined the Universal Postal Union in 1891 at the same time as the Australian colonies. The currency of Fiji was complicated by the fact that the stamps and postage rates were in sterling while the locals used dollars and cents. The two different currencies had to be quoted on Post Office notices. Before Fiji became a member of the UPU, stamps were not accepted for prepayment outside the colony, though a special agreement must have existed between the islands and Australia and New Zealand.
Fiji was only peripherally involved in World War I. One memorable incident occurred in September 1917 when Count Felix von Luckner arrived at Wakaya Island, off the eastern coast of Viti Levu, after his raider, the Seeadler, had run aground in the Cook Islands following the shelling of Papeete in the French territory of Tahiti. On September 21, the district police inspector took a number of Fijians to Wakaya, and von Luckner, not realizing that they were unarmed, unwittingly surrendered.
Citing unwillingness to exploit the Fijian people, the colonial authorities did not permit Fijians to enlist in the military. One Fijian of chiefly rank, a greatgrandson of Cakobau’s, did join the French Foreign Legion, however, and received France’s highest military decoration, the Croix de Guerre. After going on to complete a Law degree at Oxford University, this same chief returned to Fiji in 1921 as both a war hero and the country’s first-ever university graduate. In the years that followed, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, as he was later known, established himself as the most powerful chief in Fiji and forged embryonic institutions for what would later become the modern Fijian nation.
By the time of World War II, the United Kingdom had reversed its policy of not enlisting natives, and many thousands of Fijians volunteered for the Fiji Infantry Regiment, which was under the command of Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau, another greatgrandson of Seru Epenisa Cakobau. The regiment was attached to New Zealand and Australian army units during the war. In 1940, the Local Defence Force was strengthened by the addition of New Zealand troops. Forces PO marks were used in the islands. Mails of the Fijian forces were also active in the Solomons with the New Zealand forces during World War II.
The Empire of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941 (Fiji time), marked the beginning of the Pacific War. Because of its central location, Fiji was selected as a training base for the Allies. An airstrip was built at Nadi (later to become an international airport), and gun emplacements studded the coast. Fijians gained a reputation for bravery in the Solomon Islands campaign, with one war correspondent describing their ambush tactics as “death with velvet gloves.” Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu, of Yucata, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, as a result of his bravery in the Battle of Bougainville.
Indo-Fijians, however, generally refused to enlist, after their demand for equal treatment to Europeans was refused. They disbanded a platoon they had organized, and contributed nothing more than one officer and 70 enlisted men in a reserve transport section, on condition that they not be sent overseas. The refusal of Indo-Fijians to play an active role in the war efforts become part of the ideological construction employed by Fijian ethno-nationalists to justify interethnic tensions in the post-war years.
After World War II, Fiji began to take its first steps towards internal self-government. The Legislative Council was expanded to 32 members in 1953, 15 of them elected and divided equally among the three major ethnic constituencies (indigenous Fijians, Indo-Fijians, and Europeans). Indo-Fijian and European electors voted directly for 3 of the 5 members allocated to them (the other two were appointed by the Governor); the five indigenous Fijian members were all nominated by the Great Council of Chiefs. Ratu Sukuna was chosen as the first Speaker. Although the Legislative Council still had few of the powers of the modern Parliament, it brought native Fijians and Indo-Fijians into the official political structure for the first time, and fostered the beginning of a modern political culture in Fiji.
These steps towards self-rule were welcomed by the Indo-Fijian community, which by that time had come to outnumber the native Fijian population. Fearing Indo-Fijian domination, many Fijian chiefs saw the benevolent rule of the British as preferable to Indo-Fijian control, and resisted British moves towards autonomy. By this time, however, the United Kingdom had apparently decided to divest itself of its colonial empire, and pressed ahead with reforms. The Fijian people as a whole were enfranchised for the first time in 1963, when the legislature was made a wholly elective body, except for two members out of 36 nominated by the Great Council of Chiefs.
The first step towards responsible government came in 1964 with the introduction of the Member system. Specific portfolios were given to certain elected members of the Legislative Council. They did not constitute a Cabinet in the Westminster sense of the term, as they were officially advisers to the colonial Governor rather than ministers with executive authority, and were responsible only to the Governor, not to the legislature. Nevertheless, over the ensuing three years, the then Governor, Sir Derek Jakeway, treated the Members more and more like ministers, to prepare them for the advent of responsible government.
A constitutional conference was held in London in July 1965, to discuss constitutional changes with a view to introducing responsible government. Indo-Fijians, led by A. D. Patel, demanded the immediate introduction of full self-government, with a fully elected legislature, to be elected by universal suffrage on a common voters’ roll. These demands were vigorously rejected by the ethnic Fijian delegation, who still feared loss of control over natively owned land and resources should an Indo-Fijian dominated government come to power. The British made it clear, however, that they were determined to bring Fiji to self-government and eventual independence. Realizing that they had no choice, Fiji’s chiefs decided to negotiate for the best deal they could get.
A series of compromises led to the establishment of a cabinet system of government in 1967, with Ratu Kamisese Mara as the first Chief Minister. Ongoing negotiations between Mara and Sidiq Koya, who had taken over the leadership of the mainly Indo-Fijian National Federation Party on Patel’s death in 1969, led to a second constitutional conference in London, in April 1970, at which Fiji’s Legislative Council agreed on a compromise electoral formula and a timetable for independence as a fully sovereign and independent nation with the Commonwealth. The Legislative Council would be replaced with a bicameral Parliament, with a Senate dominated by Fijian chiefs and a popularly elected House of Representatives. In the 52-member House, Native Fijians and Indo-Fijians would each be allocated 22 seats, of which 12 would represent Communal constituencies comprising voters registered on strictly ethnic roles, and another 10 representing National constituencies to which members were allocated by ethnicity but elected by universal suffrage. A further 8 seats were reserved for “General electors” – Europeans, Chinese, Banaban Islanders, and other minorities; 3 of these were “communal” and 5 “national.” With this compromise,
The British granted Fiji independence on October 10, 1970. The first stamps of the newly independent country were issued on the same day.
Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987 precipitated by a growing perception that the government was dominated by the Indo-Fijian (Indian) community. The second 1987 coup saw both the Fijian monarchy and the Governor General replaced by a non-executive president and the name of the country changed from Dominion of Fiji to Republic of Fiji and then in 1997 to Republic of the Fiji Islands. The two coups and the accompanying civil unrest contributed to heavy Indo-Fijian emigration; the resulting population loss resulted in economic difficulties and ensured that Melanesians became the majority.
In 1990, the new constitution institutionalized ethnic Fijian domination of the political system. The Group Against Racial Discrimination (GARD) was formed to oppose the unilaterally imposed constitution and to restore the 1970 constitution. In 1992, Sitiveni Rabuka, the Lieutenant Colonel who had carried out the 1987 coup, became Prime Minister following elections held under the new constitution. Three years later, Rabuka established the Constitutional Review Commission, which in 1997 wrote a new constitution which was supported by most leaders of the indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities. Fiji was re-admitted to the Commonwealth of Nations.
The year 2000 brought along another coup, instigated by George Speight, which effectively toppled the government of Mahendra Chaudhry, who in 1997 had become the country’s first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister following the adoption of the new constitution. Commodore Frank Bainimarama assumed executive power after the resignation, possibly forced, of President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Later in 2000, Fiji was rocked by two mutinies when rebel soldiers went on a rampage at Suva’s Queen Elizabeth Barracks. The High Court ordered the reinstatement of the constitution, and in September 2001, to restore democracy, a general election was held which was won by interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party.
In 2005, the Qarase government amid much controversy proposed a Reconciliation and Unity Commission with power to recommend compensation for victims of the 2000 coup and amnesty for its perpetrators. However, the military, especially the nation’s top military commander, Frank Bainimarama, strongly opposed this bill. Bainimarama agreed with detractors who said that to grant amnesty to supporters of the present government who had played a role in the violent coup was a sham. His attack on the legislation, which continued unremittingly throughout May and into June and July, further strained his already tense relationship with the government.
In late November and early December 2006, Bainimarama was instrumental in the 2006 Fijian coup d’état. Bainimarama handed down a list of demands to Qarase after a bill was put forward to parliament, part of which would have offered pardons to participants in the 2000 coup attempt. He gave Qarase an ultimatum date of December 4 to accede to these demands or to resign from his post. Qarase adamantly refused either to concede or resign, and on December 5 the president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, was said to have signed a legal order dissolving the parliament after meeting with Bainimarama.
In April 2009, the Fiji Court of Appeal ruled that the 2006 coup had been illegal. This began the 2009 Fijian constitutional crisis. President Iloilo abrogated the constitution, removed all office holders under the constitution including all judges and the governor of the Central Bank. He then reappointed Bainimarama as prime minister under his “New Order” and imposed a “Public Emergency Regulation” limiting internal travel and allowing press censorship.
For a country of its size, Fiji has fairly large armed forces, and has been a major contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world. In addition, a significant number of former military personnel have served in the lucrative security sector in Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion.
In 2013, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced plans of replacing Fijian national flag with a new design that would not include the Union Jack. He announced that a national competition to design the new flag would be held, with the aim of hoisting this flag on October 11, 2015, the 45th anniversary of independence. However, on June 30, Bainimarama announced that this feedback period was to be extended to December 31, 2015, saying, “(People) want more time to consider what form the new flag should take… By extending the deadline, there is now ample opportunity for Fijians of all ages and backgrounds to further contribute and consider what symbols most appropriately represent our wonderful nation.” In December, it was announced that five designs would be chosen through the Prime Minister’s Office in March 2016, with the public then having three months to select one. The government also said it expected to announce the new flag on July 1,2016 or at a later date, and that it planned to raise the new flag on Constitution Day, September 7, 2017 (a new public holiday celebrating the 2013 Constitution of Fiji).
However, on August 17, 2016, Bainimarama publicly announced that the government was abandoning plans to change the flag. He read out a statement saying: “While I remain convinced personally that we need to replace some of the flag’s colonial symbols with a genuinely indigenous expression of our present and our future, it has been apparent to the Government since February that the flag should not be changed for the foreseeable future”. The decision to retain the current flag was welcomed by opposition parties.
Scott #118 was issued on April 5, 1938, part of the first pictorial series of definitives issued by Fiji. As stated in a June 2016 article in Linn’s Stamp News:
“What makes these stamps so interesting are the images that convey the beauty and lifestyle of this island country in the South Pacific, as well as the complexity of several of the denominations. Spend even a short time working with and mounting some of these Fiji stamps and you will come away with knowledge and understanding of this nation of beautiful islands. But that’s not all: If you spend a little more time looking closely at them, you might find some curious varieties and discover how to seek other varieties that might be lurking in your collection.
…”For example, the ½d stamp issued in 1938 (Scott 119) shows a Fijian outrigger canoe, also known as a camakua, adrift offshore with no one aboard to sail it. The stamp was redrawn and reissued in 1940 (132), and — voila! — a Fijian man now is sailing the outrigger.“
The 1 penny bicolored (blue and brown) stamp depicts a native Fijian village. Designed by Miss C. D. Lovejoy, it was recess printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd. on paper watermarked with a multi-script CA, perforated 12½. An article on the website of Murray Payne Ltd. mentions that varieties of this stamp include “a number of minor re-entries, and also a series of marks in the middle triangle on the bottom frame. The cause of these marks is uncertain, and they are small, but nonetheless interesting. R3/10 is the best of the re-entries, with doubling of the figure of value.”