Alan's Class (1996/7)



by Ana I. González

Fiji is a group of more than 320 islands in the Pacific Ocean, but for me it also has a special meaning because "Fiji" is the name of my mother’s perfume, so when I hear it I am reminded of perfume!
Read on and find out all about this island paradise of ideal weather, exotic wild flowers and uncrowded islands surrounded by clear waters....

General introduction


The archipelago of Fiji comprises over 330 islands of which about 100 are inhabited. Some of them are like deserts with no source of fresh water. Fiji's two largest islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, which make up more than 85% of the nation's land mass. The third biggest island is called Taveuni.

The larger islands are volcanic and the wind gives each island a wet and a dry side. The smaller islands are mostly coral.


There are approximately 780.000 inhabitants, with the following ethnic breakdown:


English is the official language and is taught at school. Native Fijians speak various Fijian dialects, and many inhabitants are Hindustani speakers.


Car rentals are available almost everywhere. There are taxis in major urban centres. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road.


All commerce is carried on in Fiji Dollars.


The native Fijians are Methodists. Indians are 70% Hindu and 25% Muslim.



Fiji's economy is primarily agricultural. Fiji exports:

Products for domestic consumption include:

Other economic activities

I am not sure if they use their small islands commercially but you can also buy an island.

The main islands

Viti Levu

Viti Levu is the largest island, 146 km long and 106 km wide. It covers an area of 10,389 square km. It is where almost 80% of the population live.

The climate is tropical, with an annual temperature of 27º. Vegetation varies according to rainfall:

The highest point in the island is mount Tomaniivi (1,323 m.)

The island's airport is at Nadi, and 20 km away by car is Lautoka, the second largest city. The island is surrounded by a modern highway which makes driving around the island easy.

Places to visit

The people are regarded as Polynesians. There is a strong Tongan influence. In a village on the Lau island of Labeta they hold an annual ceremony in which shark are summoned.

Vanua Levu

The second largest island of the Fiji archipelago is Vanua Levu, with a population of approximately 130,000. It is 180 km long and 33 km wide. Surrounded by coral reefs, the island is less developed and less frequented by tourists; in consequence it offers a better opportunity to observe local tradition and culture.

There are two big villages:

Things to do

History and Culture

First Contact

In 1800 the American schooner Argo was wrecked on Bukatatanoa reef. Only one crewman died that night. The following day some natives from Oneata island arrived in canoes taking everything aboard not knowing what the things were. This was the first real contact of Fijians with people from beyond the Pacific.

The Argo crew were forced to live among the islanders but some of them were slaughtered and devoured. One man, named Oliver Slater, formed alliances with powerful Fijians chiefs. He used his musket to terrify enemies and win battles, thus winning the Fijians' confidence.

The contact between the Argo’s crew and the Fijians caused an epidemic, because the Fijians had never been exposed to the germs of the rest of the world and had no immunity. During several month the spread of disease devastated the population and left the villages empty and abandoned.

Three years later a Spanish ship named "El Plumier" rescued Oliver Slater, the only survivor of the Argo. He spent several months in the "Plumier" before being taken to Sidney.

Afterwards he returned to Fiji and started dealing in sandalwood from the forests, paying for the fragrant wood with alcohol and muskets. After a few years of supplying sandalwood, the Fijian forests had been exhausted.

Oliver lived among Fijians for several years. One day he was found dead. The reason for his murder was never discovered.


Kava is the Polynesian name for a typical drink, called "yanggona" by the Fijians. Kava is like chloroform. Kava drinkers are never aggressive. They look numb, like hypothermia victims, or patients who have just been dragged from a dentist’s chair. Kava drinkers are weak and compliant.

In Vanua Levu it is the woman who pounds the yanggona root in a big wooden mortar. Elsewhere the method is different. They sluice the pounded root and the narcotic drink is squeezed into the kava bowl.

The root can also be prepared by chewing it and spitting it out. The result, called "Tanna product" or "two-day kava", is stronger than kava, the reason being that human saliva reacts with the root and makes a stronger drink.

Native Religion

The designation "primitive religion" is often given to religious beliefs and practices of those traditional and often isolated cultures which have not developed urban and technologically sophisticated forms of society. The theories of anthropologists on this subject have moved between two poles:

But English anthropologist Robert R. Marett gives a different interpretation of primitive religion. He describes the meaning of mana as a supernatural power or influence.

Mana is a term for a diffuse supernatural power or influence that resides in certain objects or persons and accounts for their extraordinary qualities or effectiveness. In Melanesia a stone having mana may be buried in a garden to increase the crops. Mana may also be attached to songs, dreams or ideas. Mana is not the same as a personal power or influence. It is an arbitrary, uncontrollable force that may come or go without explanation.

There is commonly a distinction in primitive religions between:

Failure to act properly with respect to the sacred opens the door to negative experience. The specific term for this negative power among the Melanesians is taboo. Taboo is a powerful prohibition that regulates contacts between specific categories of individuals and things in particular circumstances.

Taboo refers to the caution against contacts that might violate approved social behaviour. For example, there is a taboo against incest. Other frequent subjects of taboo are menstrual blood, the dead and foods that are not to be eaten.


Fijians are proud of their cannibal past, and have never denied the anthropophagy of their ancestors. It is a cultural mystery.

There is a lurid summary of Fijian cannibal practices in the usually authoritative eleventh edition (1911) of the Encyclopaedic Britannica. 'The Fijians were formerly notorious for cannibalism, which may have had its origin in religion, but long before the first contact with European had degenerated into gluttony. The Fijian’s chief delicacy was human flesh, called "long-pig", and to satisfy his appetite he would sacrifice even friends and relatives.'

Suva Museum has evidence for the truth of the traveller’s tales about cannibals, for example the story of Peter Dillon who in the 1820's made a narrow escape from a Fijian cannibal feast but not before witnessing two of his fellow crew members being baked in ovens and gobbled up.



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Last updated: Tuesday, 20 January 2004