The Failure of Democratic Politics in Fiji

By Stephanie Lawson | Go to book overview

2
The Early Colonial Basis of Politics in Fiji

THE COLONIZATION OF FIJI

Fiji consists of 520 islands scattered over 650,000 square kilometres of the south-west Pacific Ocean with a total land area of just over 18,000 square kilometres. Occupation by the predominantly Melanesian people of Fiji dates from over three thousand years ago, as evidenced by fragments of pottery found in several areas which have been dated to 1500 BC.1 The people of this time had a culture which was much the same as those who migrated to Tonga and Samoa and became the ancestral Polynesians.2 The people of the latter islands developed in isolation from the west but in Fiji, later migration produced the mixed physical type of the present population3 which corresponds with the cultural variety found by archaeologists and linguists.4

A common view of 'traditional' or pre-colonial Fijian society characterizes it generally as being plagued by inter-tribal hostilities and incessant warfare. Fijians were depicted as ferocious, barbaric cannibals, almost beyond redemption. This was certainly the view taken by the early missionaries, one of whom, the Methodist James Calvert, described the society he found in the following terms:

within the many shores of this secluded group, every evil passion had grown unchecked, and run riot in unheard-of abominations . . . Constitutional vigour and mental force aided and fostered the development of every crime; until crime became inwrought into the very soul of the people, polluted every hearth, gave form to every social and political institution, and turned religious worship into orgies of

____________________
1
Kim Gravelle, Fiji's Times: A History of Fiji ( Suva, 1979), 7. See also Peter France , The Charter of the Land ( Melbourne, 1969), 4-5.
2
David Routledge, Matanitu: The Struggle for Power in Early Fiji ( Suva, 1985),
3
Ibid.
4
France, The Charter of the Land, 8.

-45-

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