Culture and identity
People of Melanesian and Polynesian descent settled Fiji about 3,500 years ago. They are now called the ‘Lapita people’ after a distinctive type of fine pottery they produce. The descendants of these people make up 56% of the population. European settlement began in the 17th and 18th centuries. About 60,000 Indians were brought to work in the sugar plantations between 1879 and 1916 and thousands more Indians migrated in the 1920s and 1930s. The Indo-Fijian population formed the core of Fiji’s business class. Social unrest has prompted many Indo-Fijians to emigrate, reducing the population to 37% of the total population. Other Pacific Islanders and Chinese make up the rest of the population.
Indigenous Fijians follow their traditional rites and practices, which include mekes (narrative dances), bure (house construction), yaqona (kava ceremonies), masi (bark or tapa-cloth making), ibe (weaving mats from pandanus) and pottery.
Fijian culture also reflects its Indian heritage and there is a sense of national pride associated with being from Fiji regardless of the ethnic community a person is from. Regardless of background all communities join in all celebrations. Some local artists mix aspects of languages and traditional instruments from each culture.
Fiji has a comprehensive healthcare system and some indigenous Fijians use herbal medicines. Unlike other tropical countries, Fiji is free of malaria and yellow fever. The country guards itself against human, animal and vegetable pests and diseases through an effective quarantine system. Compared to other developing countries, the infant mortality rate is low at 19 per 1,000 live births and life expectancy is 72 years (female: 75 and male: 69). Most people have access to improved water sources and about 87% of the population has access to sanitation. Child immunisation is almost universal and Fiji has a very low prevalence of HIV/AIDS, 0.2%.
Religion and beliefs
Various religious beliefs coexist in Fiji. Nearly all of the indigenous Fijians are Christian; more than three-quarters are Methodist. Most of the Indo-Fijians are Hindu, while some are Muslim, Sikh or Christian.
Degei, the snake god, is the greatest of all Fijian gods. Firewalking as a custom is practised by the Sawau tribesmen. The yaqona (kava) drinking ceremony is an important religious and civil, public and personal ceremony for developing relationships. The tabua, a whale’s tooth, is a symbol of peace used in settling disputes.
Food and shelter
Taro and cassava, starchy root vegetables, are the staples of the indigenous Fijian diet. Leafy green vegetables and a variety of tropical fruits such as mango, papaya and bananas are eaten. Lolo or coconut milk is used in the preparation of many dishes. Beef, pork, chicken and seafood are the main forms of protein.
Traditional Fijian homes are built of wood and have a thatched roof and woven flooring. The kitchen is a separate structure. Urban houses are constructed of wood, tin and cement.