World Cultures | Fiji

Culture Name



Identification. The Republic of the Fiji Islands is a multicultural island nation with cultural traditions of Oceanic, European, South Asian, and East Asian origins. Immigrants have accepted several aspects of the indigenous culture, but a national culture has not evolved. Commercial, settler, missionary, and British colonial interests imposed Western ideologies and infrastructures on the native peoples and Asian immigrants that facilitated the operation of a British crown colony.

The indigenous name of the islands is Viti, an Austronesian word meaning "east" or "sunrise." Ethnic Fijians call themselves Kai Viti ("the people of Viti") or i Taukei ("the owners of the land"). Until the advent of colonial rule in 1873, the population of Viti Levu, the principal island of the Fiji group, was divided into hierarchically organized coastal peoples and more egalitarian highland peoples in the interior.

People from different parts of India, now called Indo-Fijians, came to work as indentured laborers on sugar plantations. After their term of service, many remained in Fiji. Some became merchants and business-people, others remained on the land as free peasant cultivators. The early immigrants were joined later by freely-migrating people from India's merchant castes, mostly from Gujarat. European immigrants came primarily from Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain.

Location and Geography. The republic includes approximately 320 islands, but only about one hundred are inhabited. The land area is 7,055 square miles (18,272 square kilometers); Viti Levu and Vanua Levu account for 87 percent of the landmass. Viti Levu contains the major seaports, airports, roads, schools, and tourist centers, as well as the capital, Suva.

The maritime tropical climate is characterized by high humidity and rainfall along the windward coasts and a drier climate in the interiors and along the leeward coasts, where savanna grassland was the natural vegetation. Much of the original savanna was turned into sugarcane plantations during the colonial period.

Demography. In 1996, the population was 775,077. Fifty-one percent of the population is Fijian, and 44 percent is Indo-Fijian. In the nineteenth century, epidemic diseases decimated the indigenous population, and the arrival of South Asian workers beginning in 1879 caused Fijians to become temporarily a minority in the islands from the late 1930s to the late 1980s. There are small populations of Europeans, Pacific Islanders, Rotumans, Chinese, and persons of mixed European-Fijian ancestry.

Linguistic Affiliation. Fijian, Hindi, and English became the official languages after independence in 1970, and linguistic autonomy was guaranteed by the constitution of 1997. English is the language of interethnic communication, administration, government, trade and commerce, and education. Fijian and Hindi often are spoken at home and are used in religious contexts and on radio and television.

The indigenous languages belong to the Central Oceanic branch of Eastern Austronesian and are divided into eastern and western branches. The Bauan dialect of Fijian was used by Christian missionaries and subsequently became "standard Fijian." The Euro-Fijian community tends to be bilingual, particularly among the educated classes. Fijian Hindi is related to several Hindi-related North Indian languages, and the Chinese community is primarily Cantonese-speaking.

Symbolism. The national flag includes the British Union Jack and Fiji's coat of arms, which still bears



British national symbols and, in Fijian, the motto "Fear God and Honor the Monarch." Three of the quadrants of the shield on the coat of arms depict sugarcane, the coconut palm, and bananas, and the fourth quadrant shows a dove of peace. The national anthem is based on a Fijian hymn, but the words are in English. Government offices, police and military uniforms still display the British crown, while the currency (the Fijian dollar) continues to bear a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.


History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Indigenous Fijians are descended from the Lapita peoples, a seafaring group from eastern Indonesia or the Philippines who probably arrived in the Fiji Islands during the second millennium B.C.E. and later interbred first with Melanesians from the west and subsequently with Polynesians (also Lapita descendants) from the east. Before European contact, Fijian social organization featured (as it still does) patrilineal clans, subclans, and lineages, and by the nineteenth century there were forty chiefdoms, twelve of which dominated the political scene.

During the nineteenth century there was an influx of European beachcombers, traders, planters, and missionaries. The planters and traders soon attempted to set up a colony on the model of those of Australia and New Zealand. The indigenous chiefs, backed by European settler interests, established several confederated forms of government, the last of which, the United Kingdom of Fiji, represented an attempt at forming a modern independent multi-ethnic state. Many of the administrative arrangements of the kingdom were subsequently accepted by the British colonial administration. After an initial refusal, in 1874 Great Britain accepted an offer of cession from the self-styled "king of Viti" and other principal Fijian chiefs.

Britain believed that the islands could be economically self-sufficient through the establishment of sugarcane plantations but did not want to end the traditional way of life of the Fijians. In 1879, the first boatload of Indian indentured laborers arrived. In the next forty years, sixty thousand Indians were shipped to the islands, becoming a class of exploited plantation workers who lived in a world of violence, cut off from their cultural roots. Depressed economic conditions in India caused most of those laborers to remain after their contracts expired, finding work in agriculture, livestock raising, and small business enterprises.

National Identity. Common citizenship, multi-ethnic institutions (some schools, colleges, the police force, civil service, civil aviation authority, etc.), an English-language mass media that caters to a multi-ethnic clientele, national sporting teams that attract intense following, and pride in the beauty and bounty of their oceanic homeland, are some of the factors that help to create a "Fiji Islands" national identity that surmounts the otherwise all-important ethnic affiliations.

Ethnic Relations. The principal ethnic groups— Fijians, Indo-Fijians, and people of mixed Euro-Fijian descent—intermingle with ease at the work place, in shops and markets, and in some educational and recreational settings, but interact much less freely at home. Religion and domestic custom tend to cause greater division than does language. But political aspiration is perhaps the greatest divisive factor, with indigenous Fijians demanding political paramountcy and Indo-Fijians, political equality. Naturalized European and part-European communities tend to mingle more closely with ethnic Fijians than with Indo-Fijians.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Most of Fiji's eighteen urban centers are on the two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. In the first half of the twentieth century, urban centers were dominated by South Asians and Europeans, while Fijians were considered essentially a rural people. Today, however, 40 percent of ethnic Fijians live in cities and towns. These urban areas are Western rather than Oceanic in appearance, and Suva still retains much of its distinctively British-style colonial architecture, although Asians have influenced the nature of the city and all the ethnic groups trade in the central market. In the colonial period, there was some residential segregation by ethnicity.

Smaller towns usually have a single main street, with shops on both sides, that eventually merges with the countryside; some have a few cross-streets. In most towns the bus station is a center of activity, lying near the market and itself filled with vendors.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Fijians have adopted chili peppers, unleavened bread, rice, vegetables, curries, and tea from the Indian population, while Indians have adapted to eating taro and cassava and drinking kava, a narcotic drink. However, the diets of the two groups remain noticeably different.

A traditional Fijian meal includes a starch, relishes, and a beverage. The starch component, which is referred to as "real food," is usually taro, yams, sweet potatoes, or manioc but may consist of tree crops such as breadfruit, bananas, and nuts. Because of its ease of cultivation, manioc has become the most widely consumed root crop. Relishes include meat, fish and seafood, and leafy vegetables. Canned meat and fish are also very popular. Vegetables often are boiled in coconut milk, another dietary staple. Soup is made of fish or vegetables. Water is the most common beverage, but coconut water and fruit juices also are drunk. Tea and an infusion of lemon leaves are served hot.

People generally eat three meals a day, but there is much variability in meal times and snacking is common. Most food is boiled, but some is broiled, roasted, or fried. Cooked food is served on a tablecloth spread on the floor mat inside the house. The evening meal, which is usually the most formal, requires the presence of all the family members and may not begin without the male head of the household. Men are served first and receive the best foods and the largest portions. Meals are meant to be

A group of musicians at a Kavo Ceremony. Both sacred and secular music are popular in Fiji.

shared as an expression of social harmony. Traditional food taboos relating to totemic animals and plants generally are ignored.


Indo-Fijian meals also include starch and relishes, and men and women eat separately. The staple tends to be either flatbread made from imported flour or else locally grown rice. Relishes are primarily vegetarian, but some meat and fish is consumed when it is available. Many Indo-Fijians obey religious prohibitions against beef (Hindus) or pork (Muslims). As with Fijians, most cooking is done by women.

Restaurants, tea shops, kava bars, and food stalls are ubiquitous in the towns. In the larger towns, Euro-Fijian, French, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and American fast-food restaurants serve a multi-ethnic clientele of local people, resident expatriates, and tourists.

Food Custom at Ceremonial Occasions. In a culture of gift giving, feasting on special occasions is a common practice among ethnic Fijians. The offering of food in substantial quantities ( magiti ) is an essential aspect of traditional community life. Ceremonial foods may be offered cooked or raw and often include entire pigs, oxen, or turtles as well as everyday foods such as canned fish and corned beef. The offering of ceremonial food often is preceded by the presentation of a "lead gift" such as whale's teeth, bark cloth, or kava. Among Indo-Fijians, feasting is associated with marriages and religious festivals. Kava and alcoholic drinks may be drunk on these occasions.

Basic Economy. Most ethnic Fijians who live in villages grow food in gardens where they may use swidden (slash-and-burn) agricultural techniques. The tourist industry draws vacationers primarily from Australia, New Zealand, and North America as well as Japan and Western Europe. Sugar production, begun in 1862, dominates and now engages over half the workforce. A garment industry relies on cheap labor, mostly female. The only commercially valuable mineral is gold, which has declined in importance since 1940, when it generated 40 percent of export earnings. Commercial agriculture consists of the production of copra, rice, cocoa, coffee, sorghum, fruits and vegetables, tobacco, and kava. The livestock and fishing industries have grown in importance.

Land Tenure and Property. The three types of land tenure involve native, state, and freehold land. Native lands (82 percent of the total) are the property of the ethnic Fijian community and consist of all land that was not sold to foreign settlers before colonization. Over 30 percent of native land is classified as "reserved" and can be rented only to ethnic Fijians and "Fijian entities" such as churches and schools. After 1966, Indo-Fijians were given thirty-year leases on their farmlands. The land tenure system dictates not only who can work a plot of land but which crops can be cultivated and what kind of settlement pattern can be established. Fijians who live in villages engage in subsistence farming on descent-group allotments, guided by traditional agricultural practices.

Commercial Activities. Some subsistence farmers earn cash from the sale of copra, cocoa, kava, manioc, pineapples, bananas, and fish. There are many Indo-Fijian and Chinese, but many fewer ethnic Fijian, shopkeepers and small-scale businessmen. The provision of tourist services also provides a living for some members of all the ethnic groups.

Major Industries. Most industrial production involves tourism, sugar, clothing, and gold mining. In 1994, over three hundred thousand tourists and seventeen thousand cruise ship passengers visited the islands. Most hotels are situated on secluded beaches and offshore islands; individual thatched tourist cabins are loosely modeled on village architecture. The largely government-owned Fiji Sugar Corporation has a monopoly on sugar milling and marketing. There is a rum distillery at Lautoka.

Trade. The major export items are sugar, fish, gold, and garments. The main export destinations are Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Imports include mutton and goat meat from New Zealand and a wide-range of consumer goods, principally of East Asian origin.

Division of Labor. The majority of indigenous Fijians who live in rural areas are either subsistence farmers and fishermen or small-scale cash croppers, while in town they are largely in service-providing occupations, as unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled workers. Rural Indo-Fijians are mostly cane farmers on leased land, while Indo-Fijians at the other end of the scale largely dominate the manufacturing, distribution, commercial farming, and service industries. Other non-ethnic Fijians and expatriates also have some input in these sectors, but ethnic Fijians are minimally involved, either as owners or entrepreneurs.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Precolonial society was highly stratified, with two major groups: gentry and commoners. Hereditary chiefs were distinguished by refined manners, dignity, honor, and self-confidence. Chiefs had to be addressed in a special "high language." In the nineteenth century, European settlers brought Western ideas of social class, while Indian indentured plantation laborers included people of many castes. The British colonial administration established a social hierarchy generally informed by nineteenth-century Western ideas about race and class. European people had the highest status, but Fijians, especially their chiefs, were ranked above Indo-Fijians who were tainted with the stigma of "coolie" laborers. After independence, Fijian chiefs, allied with foreign and local business interests and some wealthy Indians, dominated the national polity.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Capitalist penetration of the Fijian Islands over more than a hundred years has produced some class stratification, especially in the urban areas. There an elite that has numerous international contacts (both within the Pacific Islands and far beyond) enjoys a material lifestyle which, if not effusively affluent, certainly distinguishes its membership from that of the urban proletariat in terms of housing, the employment

A Hindu temple in Nandi, Viti Levu. Hinduism is Fiji's second largest faith.

of domestic servants, household gadgetry, transport facilities, entertainment, and the like.


Political Life

Government. As a British crown colony from 1874 to 1970, Fiji had a dual system of governance: one for the country as a whole, and the other exclusively for the ethnic Fijian population. Although a British governor administered the country and was the ultimate authority, British officials avoided interfering in the affairs of the autonomous Fijian administration. The colony had an executive council dominated by the governor and British administrators and a legislative council that eventually included resident European as well as Fijian legislators. The Indian population received the right to vote in 1929, and Fijians (previously represented by their chiefs) in 1963. The Fijian Affairs Board included an appointed Fijian secretary of Fijian affairs, Fijian members of the legislative council, and legal and financial advisers. The Council of Chiefs was established in 1876 to represent the interests of the chiefly class.

In the 1960s, the British prepared the country for independence by making the government elective rather than appointed. In 1970, Fiji obtained independence as a dominion within the British Commonwealth, and an ethnically-based parliamentary democracy with an independent judiciary was put in place. The House of Representatives had twenty-two seats reserved for Fijians, twenty-two for Indo-Fijians, and eight for all the other ethnic groups. The Senate was appointed by the Council of Chiefs, the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, and the Council of Rotuma.

In 1987, two military coups overthrew Fiji's democratic institutions, supposedly in the interests of the indigenous population. Power was handed over to a civilian government, and the constitution of 1990 provided that the prime minister and president would always be ethnic Fijians. In 1997, the constitution was revised to grant more power to the other ethnic groups, ensure the separation of church and state, guarantee equality before the law for all citizens, and encourage voting across ethnic lines. The appointment of the majority of senators by the Council of Chiefs was meant to safeguard the rights and privileges of the indigenous peoples. In 1999, an Indian-led political party won the first general election under the new constitution and an ethnic Indian became the prime minister. This situation led to an attempted coup in the year 2000.

Leadership and Political Officials. There are ethnically-based political parties as well as those that cross ethnic divides. The Fijian Association, an ethnic Fijian party established in 1956, formed the core of the Alliance Party, a coalition of conservative ethnically-based political organizations. The Federation Party grew out of conflict between Indo-Fijian cane farmers and foreign agricultural interests that culminated in a sugar-cane farmers' strike in 1960. In 1975, more radical Fijians split from the Alliance Party to form the Fijian Nationalist Party, which recommended the repatriation of all Indo-Fijians to India. In 1985, the labor movement founded its own multi-ethnic Fijian Labour Party. In 1987, a multiethnic socialist coalition was overthrown by the military. These parties have continued to vie for election, although in 2000 the constitution of 1997 was abrogated as part of a military takeover after an attempted civilian coup.

Social Problems and Control. Violent crime, alcohol and drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, unwanted pregnancy, and poor health are the major social problems. They have increased in frequency and severity as a result of migration to urban centers, where work is hard to find and traditional social restraints are frequently absent, and due to the inability of the economy to provide an adequate standard of living. Theft and assault are the major crimes.

The high court, a court of appeals, and a supreme court constitute the core of the justice system. The chief justice of the high court and some other judges are appointed by the president. The Republic of Fiji Police Force was established in 1874 as the Fijian Constabulary and now has two thousand members, over half of whom are ethnic Fijians and 3 percent of whom are female. It is responsible for internal security, drug control, and the maintenance of law and order. The police force has been invited to contribute to United Nations peacekeeping activities in Namibia, Iraq, the Solomon Islands, and several other countries. There are prisons in Suva and Naboro.

Military Activity. The Republic of Fiji Military Forces was established to defend the nation's territorial sovereignty. It is staffed almost exclusively by ethnic Fijians, some of whom have received training in Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain. In the absence of exterior military threats, this force has assumed some policing and civic duties as well as serving abroad under the United Nations. It also fulfills a ceremonial function on state occasions. Since 1987 the army has on three occasions for a limited period of time assumed political control of the nation. A naval squadron was formed in 1975 to protect the country's territorial waters and marine economic zone. After the military coups of 1987, the size of the armed forces was doubled.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Traditionally, social welfare was the responsibility of religious and private organizations rather than the government, but development plans have consistently stressed the need for primary health care, drinkable water, sanitary facilities, low-cost housing, and electricity for low-income and rural families. Other programs include assistance to poor families, the elderly, and the handicapped; rehabilitation of former prisoners; social welfare training; and legal aid services. The Department of Social Welfare runs a boys' center, a girls' home, and three old-age homes.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Voluntary and religious organizations provide services ranging from kindergartens for poor children to care for the blind, the handicapped, and the cognitively disadvantaged. Christian organizations such as the Salvation Army, YMCA, and Saint Vincent de Paul Society as well as Habitat for Humanity run rehabilitation centers and help construct low-cost housing. Hindu and Muslim religious organizations provide services to their own communities. Secular organizations also help deal with the country's social welfare needs.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Men associate primarily with other men, and women's activities are performed mostly with other women. A woman's traditional role is to be a homemaker, a mother, and an obedient wife. Men are the primary breadwinners, although women also contribute to the family economy. Ethnic Fijian women fish, collect shell-fish, weed gardens, and gather firewood; men clear land for gardens, hunt, fish, build houses, and mow the grass around the home and village. Among Indo-Fijians, men and women lead largely separate lives. Women help in the cultivation of rice and sugar.

In 1996, the labor force was 76 percent male and 24 percent female, with women working primarily in education and health. Eighty-two percent of legislative and high civil service positions were held by men, along with a similar proportion of executive jobs in the private sector.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. The Fijian and Indo-Fijian societies are strongly patrifocal, and a woman is formally subordinate to her husband in regard to decision making. Unless a woman is of high rank, she has little influence in her village. Although girls do better than boys in schools, fewer women than men receive a higher education. Rising poverty levels have forced many women into the lowest ranks of wage-earning jobs, and there has been an increase in the number of female-headed households and an erosion of traditional family values. Women are often victims of domestic violence and are over-represented among the unemployed and the poor. Fijian women have made greater advances than have Indo-Fijian women, often through the efforts of the National Council of Women, which has a program that encourages greater political involvement among women.

Marriage, Family, And Kinship

Marriage. Among ethnic Fijians, marriages were traditionally arranged, with the groom's father often selecting a bride from a subclan with which his family had a long-term relationship; ties between lineages and families were strengthened in this manner. Today, although individuals choose their spouses freely, marriage is still considered an alliance between groups rather than individuals. When parental approval is refused, a couple may elope. To avoid the shame of an irregular relationship, the husband's parents must quickly offer their apologies and bring gifts to the wife's family, who are obliged to accept them. Marriage is no longer polygynous, but divorce and remarriage are common. Intermarriage is rare with Indo-Fijians, but Fijians often marry Europeans, Pacific islanders, and Chinese. Indo-Fijian marriages traditionally were also parentally arranged. Religiously sanctioned marriages are the norm, but civil registration has been required since 1928.

Domestic Unit. Among ethnic Fijians, leve ni vale ("people of the house") include family members who eat together, share their economic resources, and have access to all parts of the house. The domestic unit typically consists of the senior couple, their unmarried children, and a married son with his wife and children and may extend to include an aged widowed parent, a sister of the head of the household, and grandchildren. Older people seldom live alone. Nuclear families are becoming more common in urban areas. The male household head controls the economic activity of the other males, and his wife supervises the other women. Indo-Fijians in rural areas live mostly in scattered homesteads rather than in villages. Their households tend now to comprise a nuclear family rather than the traditional joint-family of the past.

Inheritance. Among Fijians and Indo-Fijians, inheritance is largely patrilineal. Traditionally, a man inherited the symbols, social status, and property rights of his father's subclan, although men sometimes inherit from the mother or wife's family as well. Today property other than native land may be willed to anyone. National law dictates that a surviving widow is entitled to a third of intestate property, with the remaining two-thirds apportioned among the deceased's heirs, including daughters.

Kin Groups. For ethnic Fijians, interpersonal relationships and social behavior are governed by links of kinship. Households affiliate with households with which they share a male ancestor, forming an extended family group with extensive social and economic interactions. These lineages combine to form a patrilineal subclan ( mataqali ), which typically has exclusive claim to part of a village, where its members locate their homes. A village may have several subclans, among which the chiefly subclan dominates, receiving hereditary services from the others. These subclans are exogamous, and the members refer to each other by using kinship terms. Subclans come together to form clans ( yavusa ) that claim a common male ancestor, often from the distant past. Indo-Fijians arrived too recently to have developed extrafamilial kin groups similar to Indian castes. Kin-related activities involve actual or fictive paternal and maternal relatives.


Infant Care. The Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities pamper infants, providing them with every comfort and convenience and enveloping them in an atmosphere of loving attention. Older people are particularly affectionate toward the very young. As an infant grows, it is disciplined and socialized by both parents but especially the mother, siblings, and other members of the domestic unit.

Child Rearing and Education. Among ethnic Fijians, a child's level of maturity is measured by its capacity to experience shame and fear. Children learn to fear being alone in the dark and to feel safe at home and in the village as opposed to the forest. Mothers warn children that at night the souls of the recent dead can snatch them away, and children are threatened with supernatural misfortune in the form of ogres and devils. Children are given a great deal of freedom but are expected to recognize shame related to bodily functions and to being in the presence of social superiors. Children are socialized between three and six years of age by being taught about their role in the subclan and their familial inheritance.

Indo-Fijians traditionally have permitted their children much less freedom but have now begun to adopt Western ideas about child raising. In traditional homes, the relationship between father and son is formal and reserved, but fathers are more affectionate toward their daughters, who will leave the family after marriage. Mothers are extremely indulgent toward their sons and strict with their daughters, whom they prepare for the role of a daughter-in-law.

Public education is strongly influenced by Western prototypes and is considered the route to economic, social, and political opportunities. Schooling is not compulsory, but every child is guaranteed access to eight years of primary and seven years of secondary education. Primary schools are free, and secondary education is subsidized by the government. Most schools are run by

A family inside their house in Shell Village, Fiji. Traditional families might include unmarried children, married sons and their families, an elderly widowed parent, and the sister of the head of the household.

the local community and cater to a specific ethnic group. English becomes the language of education after the fourth year.


Higher Education. The government supports thirty-seven vocational and technical schools, including the Fiji Institute of Technology, the School of Maritime Studies, and the School of Hotel and Catering Services. Agricultural, teacher training, medical, nursing, and theological colleges draw students from other Pacific nations. Fiji makes the largest contribution to the University of the South Pacific (USP), which was founded in 1968; its main campus in Suva has over four thousand students, and there are another four thousand external students. Half the faculty members are from the region, with the remainder coming mostly from Western and South Asian countries.


Ethnic Fijians have informal personal relationships but also follow a tradition of ritual formality in a hierarchical society. In rural areas, people do not pass others without saying a word of greeting; the gentry receive a special form of greeting. In villages, the central area is where the chiefly lineage lives and people must show respect by not wearing scanty dress, hats, sunglasses, garlands, or shoulder bags, and by not speaking or laughing boisterously.

Footwear is removed before one enters a house. Guests are expected to hesitate before entering a house and to seat themselves near the door until invited to proceed further. A complex system of gift giving and receiving has existed for centuries. Sperm whale teeth ( tabua ) are the most precious items of exchange and are given at marriages, funerals and other important ritual occasions. Formal and lengthy speeches accompany the presentation of a whale's tooth. Guests are given kava to drink to promote solidarity between kin, friends, and acquaintances.

Among Indo-Fijians, domestic norms are determined by gender and age, although etiquette is less formal. Sons treat their fathers with great respect, and younger brothers defer to older brothers. Females are socially segregated, but urban living has eroded this practice.


Religious Beliefs. The population is 53 percent Christian, 38 percent Hindu, and 8 percent Muslim, with small groups of Sikhs and people who profess no religion. The pre-Christian religion of the Fijians was both animistic and polytheistic, and included a cult of chiefly ancestors. There was belief in a life after death. Souls of the departed were thought both to travel to a land of the dead and at the same time to remain close to their graves. Modern Christian Fijians still fear their spirit ancestors.

Christianity was brought to the islands in the 1830s primarily by Methodist missionaries. Other denominations became active after World War II, and fundamentalist and evangelical sects have grown in membership over the last two decades.

Indo-Fijian Hindus follow a variety of religious customs brought by their forebears from India and are divided between the reformed and the orthodox. The religious practices of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs inherited from India are characterized by fasts, feasts, and festivals as well as prescribed rituals that cover major life events.

Religious Practitioners. Priests of the traditional Fijian religion were intermediaries between gods and men. Today, Protestant ministers, Catholic priests, and lay preachers are the dominant religious leaders of the Fijians. In the Indo-Fijian community, religious scholars, holy men, and temple priests are the most important religious practitioners.

Rituals and Holy Places. In the pre-Christian Fijian religion, every village had a temple where people made gifts to the gods through a priestly oracle. In the nineteenth century, those temples were torn down and replaced with Christian churches, which became showpieces of village architecture. Indo-Fijian Hinduism relies on stories, songs, and rituals to teach its precepts. Ritualized readings of the Ramayana and worship before divine images at home or in a temple are important aspects of religious life. Annual ceremonies are sponsored by many temples.

Death and the Afterlife. Death evokes strong emotional and elaborate ritual responses in both Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities. But here the similarities end. Ethnic Fijians, almost entirely Christian, have integrated church-focused Christian practices and beliefs with their traditional funerary customs of gift-giving, feasting, kava drinking, and observance of mourning restrictions. Favoring burial over cremation, they also erect elaborate and colorful cloth decorations over their graves. Although Christian ideas of heaven and hell are thoroughly integrated into the Fijians' present-day belief system, old beliefs in the power of ancestral spirits still linger on. Among Indo-Fijians, Hindus may cremate their dead, though this is not the norm, as it is in India; Muslims insist on burial. These two religions offer very different visions of life after death: Hindus assume that the deceased's soul will be reborn and Muslims are confident that the true believer will be rewarded with eternal life in paradise.

Medicine and Health Care

Ethnic Fijians often attribute sickness to supernatural entities in their pre-Christian belief system. Illnesses that are ascribed to natural causes are treated with Western medicine and medical practices, but illnesses that are thought to result from sorcery are treated by traditional healers, including seers, diviners, massage masters, and herbalists. Healing occurs in a ritual context as the forces of good battle those of evil. Muslims and Hindus also turn to religious leaders to request divine intervention in the case of illness.

Government-provided biomedical services are available at several hospitals, health centers, and nursing stations. The Fiji School of Medicine is affiliated with the University of the South Pacific, and there is a Fiji School of Nursing and specialist hospitals in Suva for the treatment of leprosy, psychological disorders, and tuberculosis. Treatment is not free but is heavily subsidized by the government. Government-subsidized contraception is available throughout the islands as part of the family planning program.

Secular Celebrations

National holidays include major Christian, Hindu, and Muslim holy days: Christmas, Easter, the Hindus' Divali, and the prophet Mohammed's birthday. Purely secular festivals include Ratu Sakuna Day, which honors the man whom many regard as the founder of modern Fiji; Constitution Day; and Fiji Day. None of these holidays provokes intense patriotic fervor.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The Fiji Arts Council, the Fiji Museum, and the National Trust are the chief government-backed sponsors of the arts. Most funding for the arts comes from the tourist industry and from galleries and studios, along with aid from foreign governments. The USP's Oceania Center for Arts and Culture, founded in 1997, sponsors workshops and holds exhibitions of paintings and sculpture as well as music and dance performances and poetry readings.


Colorful storefronts in Levuka, Fiji. Urban architecture strongly reflects the influence of Fiji's western colonizers.


Literature. The Fijian tradition of storytelling around the kava bowl has been maintained, as have recitations of the Ramayana in Hindu homes and temples. There is a small community of writers, many of them associated with the USP. Traditional legends and modern social analysis are common themes in Fijian literature, whereas Indo-Fijian literary works tend to concentrate on injustices during the period of indentured servitude.

Graphic Arts. Almost every Fijian girl learns the art of weaving baskets and mats for home and ceremonial use. The production of bark cloth is another traditional female skill; the cloth, which is used as traditional clothing and is still important in Fijian ceremonies, is now also sold to tourists in the form of wall hangings and handbags. War clubs, spears, decorated hooks, kava bowls, and "cannibal forks" are carved by men almost entirely for tourist consumption. Pottery is made by women.

Performance Arts. The traditional dance theater ( meke ) combines singing, chanting, drumming, and stylized movements of the upper body to recreate stories, myths, and legends. Village-based, it is performed on special occasions such as the visit of a chief, a life-cycle event, or a ceremonial gift exchange. The Dance Theater of Fiji now choreographs these performances for modern audiences. Indo-Fijian and Chinese dances have been preserved and are taught in those communities. Ethnic Fijian choral singing is performed both during religious services and for secular entertainment; almost every village church has a choir. Western popular music is played live and on the radio. Among Indo-Fijians too, both secular and sacred music has maintained its popularity.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Social science education and research are centered in the University of the South Pacific's School of Social and Economic Development and the associated South Pacific Social Sciences Association. The Institute of Pacific Studies publishes academic works in sociology, ethnology, religion, culture, and literature. The Institute of Fijian Language and Culture, which was founded in 1987, has been working to produce a Fijian dictionary; it also produces radio and television programs.


Arno, Andrew. The World of Talk on a Fijian Island: An Ethnography of Law and Communicative Causation, 1993.

Becker, Anne E. Body, Self, and Society: The View from Fiji, 1995.

Belshaw, Cyril S. Under the Ivi Tree: Society and Economic Growth in Rural Fiji, 1964.

Biturogoiwasa, Solomoni, with Anthony R. Walker. My Village, My Life: Life in Nadoria, Fiji, 2001.

Clunie, Ferguson. Yalo I Viti: Shades of Viti–A Fiji Museum Catalogue, 1986.

Derrick, R. A. The Fiji Islands: A Geographical Handbook, 1951.

France, Peter. The Charter of the Land: Custom and Colonization in Fiji, 1969.

Geddes, W. R. Deuba: A Study of a Fijian Village, 1945.

Geraghty, Paul. The History of the Fijian Languages, 1983.

Hocart, A. M. Lau Islands, Fiji, 1929.

Howard, Michael C. Fiji: Race and Politics in an Island State, 1991.

Kaplan, Martha. Neither Cargo nor Cult: Ritual Politics and the Colonial Imagination in Fiji, 1995.

Katz, Richard. The Straight Path: A Story of Healing and Transformation in Fiji, 1993.

Kelly, John D. A Politics of Virtue: Hinduism, Sexuality and Countercolonial Discourse in Fiji, 1991.

Kirch, Patrick Vinton. The Lapita Peoples: Ancestors of the Oceanic World, 1997.

Lal, Brij V. Broken Waves: A History of the Fiji Islands in the Twentieth Century, 1992.

Mayer, Adrian C. Peasants of the Pacific: A Study of Fiji Indian Rural Society, 1961.

Nayacakalou, R. R. Leadership in Fiji, 1975.

——. Tradition and Change in the Fijian Village, 1978.

Norton, Robert. Race and Politics in Fiji, 1977.

Quain, Buell. Fijian Village, 1948.

Ravuvu, Asesela. Vaki I Taukei: The Fijian Way of Life, 1983.

Routledge, David. Matanitu: The Struggle for Power in Early Fiji, 1985.

Sahlins, Marshall D. Moala: Culture and Nature on a Fijian Island, 1962.

Thomas, Nicholas. Planets around the Sun: Dynamics and Contradictions of the Fijian Matanitu, 1986.

Thompson, Laura. Fijian Frontier, 1940.

Toren, Christina. Making Sense of Hierarchy: Cognition as Social Process in Fiji, 1990.

——. Mind, Materiality and History, 1999.

Ward, R. G. Koro: Economic Development and Social Change in Fiji, 1969.


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