History of Fiji till independence (October 10, 1970)

When Fiji’s very first settlers arrived from the islands of Melanesia at least 3,500 years ago, they brought with them a wide range of food plants, the pig, and a distinct style of pottery known as Lapita ware. That pottery is usually associated with peoples who had well-developed navigation and canoe building skills and were horticulturists. From Fiji the Lapita culture reached Tonga and Samoa, where the very first distinctively Polynesian cultures evolved. Archaeological evidence show that two other pottery styles were later on introduced into Fiji, though it is unclear whether they represent major migrations or simply cultural innovations brought in by small groups of migrants. In most regions of Fiji, the settlers stayed in small communities near ridge forts and practiced a slash-and-burn type of agriculture. In the fertile delta regions of southeast Viti Levu, there were large concentrations of population though. Fijian society was traditionally hierarchical. Leaders were selected according to rank, which was based on descent apart from personal achievement.

The first Europeans who sighted the Fiji islands were Dutch explorer Abel Janzsoon Tasman in 1643 and Capt. James Cook in 1774. Commercial interest in the islands was aroused by the discovery of sandalwood at the beginning of the 19th century, resulting in a rush to Bua (Mbua) Bay, at the southwestern end of Vanua Levu. Very soon accessible commercial stands of sandalwood were depleted, but by the 1820s traders again started paying visits to the islands to trade for edible varieties of sea cucumber.

Opportunities for new wealth and power, signified by the acquisition of muskets, deepened political rivalries and hastened the rise of the kingdom of Bau, a small island off the east coast of Viti Levu, governed first by Naulivou and then by his nephew Cakobau. By the 1850s Bau dominated western Fiji. Cakobau’s main rival was the Tongan chief Maʿafu. After a brief alliance with Maʿafu, Cakobau became a Christian in 1854, thus bringing most Fijians under the sway of Methodist missionaries.

By the 1860s Fiji was drawing European settlers intent on establishing plantations to capitalize on a American Civil War caused boom in cotton prices caused by the . Fiji became a British crown colony on October 10, 1874, after negotiations had led to an offer of unconditional cession. During World War II Fiji was occupied by Allied forces. Constitutional development towards independence began in the 1960s. It was not the result of any demand from within Fiji but a response to international and British pressures. Independence was achieved in a spirit of cooperation on October 10, 1970, the 96th anniversary of cession, in spite of the “race riots” during by-elections in 1968.

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