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The Republic of Fiji, generally known simply as Fiji or the Fiji Islands, is an island nation in the Melanesia region of the South Pacific Ocean. It is about eleven hundred miles northeast of the North Island of New Zealand. The nearest islands to the Fiji Islands are Vanuatu to the west, New Caledonia to the southwest, the Kermadec Islands to the southeast, Tonga to the east, Samoa to the northeast, and Tuvalu to the north. The Fiji Islands are an archipelago of more than three hundred and thirty islands, with one hundred and ten of them inhabited. Its two major islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu; together, they are home to about three-fourths of Fiji's total population. Its most distant island is Ono-i-Lau, which is actually a group of islands within a barrier reef system which forms the southernmost of the Lau Islands, which is the eastern group of the Fiji Islands.

Although the percentage of Fiji's population who are indigenous is less than many of the Pacific Islands, ethnic Fijians remain the majority on the islands, followed by Indo-Fijians, who are the result of contacts with people who came from India to work on Fiji's sugar plantations. Relationships between ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians have not been good, and the tension between these two communities has become a significant political issue. For four decades after World War II, indigenous Fijians were outnumbered by Indians. There are also small populations of Europeans, Chinese, and other Pacific Island groups, including the indigenous population of Fiji's Rotuma Island, whose culture has more in common with Tonga and Samoa. Although immigrants have accepted most aspects of indigenous culture, a strong national culture has not developed. Outsiders trading with the islands, missionaries, British colonial interests, Asian, Australian, New Zealanders and other immigrants have each imposed their own ideologies and infrastructure on the indigenous people. In the first half of the 20th century, Fiji's urban centers were dominated by South Asians and Europeans, while indigenous Fijians were considered to be a rural population. However, today about forty percent of ethnic Fijians live in cities and towns.

Because they were built by Europeans, Fiji's larger cities look more Western than Oceanic, and Suva has a distinct British colonial style. Smaller towns usually consist of a main street, with shops on both sides, that become sparser on both ends, where it becomes a rural road. Some have a few cross streets. Fiji's population is about sixty percent Christian, mostly Methodist, and about thirty percent Hindu. Most people speak at least two languages, English and the language of their own ethnic community. Many Christian Fijians still fear their spirit ancestors.

Approximately half of Fiji's land area is forested, although dry grasslands exist in the western areas of some of its large islands. Coconut palms grow in the coastal areas, and most tropical fruits and vegetables can be grown. Its shoreline is mostly reef and rock, and mangrove swamps are on the eastern coasts. There are not very many swimming beaches. Most of the animals on the islands are imported and domesticated. Fiji's first settlers arrived on the islands about three thousand years ago.

The early inhabitants of the various islands participated in a flexible network of alliances that sometimes brought them in an alliance, and at other times in opposition. They were not a united group, and warfare was not uncommon. The first European contact was initiated by Captain William Bligh, who traveled through the group of islands in his open longboat after the mutiny on the HMS Bounty in 1789. He returned to explore the islands in 1792. European commercial interests in the islands began when sandalwood was discovered in the early 1800s. This was particularly on Mbua Bay, in southwestern Vanua Levu, and the supply of sandalwood trees was depleted in about ten years. A few European beachcombers were adopted by some of the tribes, as they were used as interpreters. By the 1820s, European traders were visiting the islands for edible varieties of sea cucumber. In 1874, Fiji became a British crown colony. The British brought in large numbers of laborers from India to work on their sugar plantations, and these Indian immigrants were encouraged to become permanent settlers. During the Second World War, Fiji was occupied by Allied forces.

Fijian efforts toward independence began in the 1960s and were more of a response to international and British pressure than from a demand within Fiji. Independence was achieved in 1970, and Fiji's new constitution gave precedence to the country's ethnic Fijians. In 1987, a new government was elected that was dominated by Indians. After a few weeks, the leaders of the new government were arrested in a coup, and a new government declared. The new government declared Fiji a republic, revoking the 1970 constitution.

 

 

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