Fiji History - History

Fiji History - History

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Though the islands of Fiji were first visited by Abel Tasman in the mid-17th century, it was not until 1874 that the region was made a British crown colony. To work the enormous sugar plantations, the British brought in so many Indians, that the indigenous population soon was outnumbered by those of Indian heritage. In 1970, Fiji was declared an independent parliamentary democracy with most of the power resting in the hands of the Fijian minority. Seventeen years later, the Indian party came to power but was ousted in a military coup almost immediately. Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka took over the government; five years later he became prime minister. A new constitution was adopted that guaranteed ethnic Fijians the majority of seats in the legislature. In May 1999, new elections brought another Indo-Fijian candidate to the premiership but simmering resentments came to the boiling point a year later when ethnic Fijians overthrew the government.


Episode 5: Coup Culture (Fiji) | Untold Pacific History

In this episode we will examine how and why Indian populations were brought to Fiji, and how the inequities under the colonial government’s ‘Girmit’ system, created a society of instability and countless coups.

Delving into the legacy of the colonial history that underpins much of the racial disharmony in modern day Fiji, this episode examines some of the fraught factors that have led to the migration of Indo-Fijian and indigenous Fijian communities to Aotearoa.

Jope Tarai being interviewed in Suva Photo: AFA RASMUSSEN

Mahendra Chaudry being interviewed in Suva Photo: AFA RASMUSSEN

Director, Tuki Laumea, interviews Mahendra Chaudry in Suva Photo: AFA RASMUSSEN

Aerial shot of Suva city and harbour today Photo: AFA RASMUSSEN

Aerial shot of Suva city and harbour today Photo: AFA RASMUSSEN

About Tikilounge Productions:

Tikilounge Productions Photo: Tikilounge Productions

Tikilounge Productions brings the stories of the Moana to the world and amplifies indigenous narratives by centering indigenous voices as the mainstream. The multi award winning young team of Tikilounge creatives are constantly evolving forms of Pacific storytelling, as they share their kaupapa and histories with the world.

The Untold Pacific History series is an attempt to unravel some of the histories of the Pacific region as a starting point to wider conversations around what has happened in NZ’s colonial past.

With a raft of award winning feature documentaries and a variety of Film and TV Producer credits under its belt, Tikilounge Productions is also the creator of the world's biggest online hub of Pasifika content in the portal the

Additional audio provided courtesy of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Photo: Ngā Taonga

Fiji History

The history of Fiji is founded in scientific findings, myths, and legends. Fijian culture and of course Fijian history must begin at the beginning which would be found in the various legends of the Fijian people. There are two main legends explaining the history of Fiji Islands or at least how it all began. One is that of Degei the Snake God whom only had one friend and that was Turukawa the hawk. To shorten the legend just a tad, Turukawa laid two eggs and from them came forth two humans. Degei cared for the humans until one day the male human finally noticed the maiden human on the other side of the tree. This was the beginning of humans of the Fiji Islands. On the other hand, another legend depicts an entirely different tale. In this legend, the great chief Lutunasobasoba brought his people across the seas to the new land, which was the Fiji Islands. Either way, ancient pottery items dating back to about 1000 BC has been earthed on the various islands of Fiji helping to recreate Fijian history and of course Fijian culture.

The first explorer that has been noted in Fiji Islands history was Abel Tasman who was a Dutch explorer searching for the Great Southern continent. While he traveled, he happened upon the Fiji Islands in 1643. Fiji history lets us know that European traders and missionaries made their way to the Fiji Islands in the early 19th century, which brought about many wars between the Fijian confederacies. Chief Ratu Cakobau conquered over the western islands sometime in the 1850's. This, however, did not stop the battles until 1874 when Cakobau and other chiefs ceded Fiji without any conditions to the British. The influx of so many Europeans wishing to call the area home brought about this major change in the history of the Fiji Islands. After the British gained control, Fiji Islands history began to emerge in a totally different direction. In 1874, under British rule, the islands were transformed into a colony. At this time, Indian contract laborers added to the history of Fiji as the British brought the laborers to the islands.

Independence came to the Fiji Islands October 1970, which was a large milestone not only in Fiji history but a major change in the overall Fijian culture. Throughout the readings of the history of Fiji Islands, this era is marked by being governed by the Indo-Fijian community or the Indian community that grew over time due to the laborers brought to the islands by the British.

Fiji Map

Once again, trouble was in the brewing. Fiji Islands history, in 1987, had unrest again with military coups. This brought about a democratic setup. At this time, the history of the Fiji Islands saw a major change as a non-executive president took over for the Governor and the British monarchy. At this time in Fiji history, the Fiji Islands known as Dominion of Fiji was changed to the Republic of Fiji. In 1997, the name was changed once again to the name we all know today, Republic of the Fiji Islands.

A few more military coups have occurred throughout the years. However, in 2001 a democratically elected government was put in place. Fijian history has throughout the years seen many countries and chiefs wanting to be in power. Today, Fiji is a great vacation location that offers a calm and relaxing atmosphere in a tropical and paradise setting.

The best historical sights in Fiji are home on the Coral Coast where you will find the Sigatoka Sandunes. If you take a tour, the guide will be able to point out ancient settlements along with quite a bit of Lapita pottery sherds poking out of the sand. Also on the Coral Coast just across the river from Taveuni is a living village with authentic thatch homes. You will enjoy not only the historical village but the locals will provide a delectable lovo lunch which will be prepared in an overground oven.

Chapter Eight: Chinese in Fiji

I’ve heard from so many of my family members that Chinese food in Fiji is the absolute best. I don’t remember it from when I visited, but it’s something that any Indo-Fijian will tell you. So, I thought to myself, I know how Indians came to Fiji but how did the Chinese arrive?

Currently, the Chinese make up for half of 1% of the Fijian population.

Although there were Chinese laborer’s in other countries, the CSR Company failed to capture the Chinese as indentured servants, although they tried. When the Chinese arrived in Fiji, despite being paid twice as much as Indian laborers, “they rioted when they saw the conditions under which they were expected to live and work.” Many did not return to China, instead staying in Ba, Fiji. (I tried to research more about the fact that the Chinese rioted against indenture in Fiji, but the only place I found this information was the Tears of Paradise book. Specifically, Chapter Five.)

It was not until the 1990s-2000s that another influx of Chinese immigrated to Fiji. This was part of the Fijian government’s plan to boost the economy. After the 1987 coup d’état more than 24,000 Indians fled Fiji, many who were professionals and entrepreneurs, leaving a gap in the economy. The decision to allow Chinese immigrants into Fiji was a financial one, which would bring in 2.5 million dollars into the Fijian economy. It was required that the Chinese (from Hong Kong) pay $30,000 to immigrate and then invest $100,000 in government approved projects.

However, in 2005 the military uncovered several thousand Chinese immigrants that were living in Fiji through a scam (bribery to the office of registrar general). After this surge in 2003, politics around race and corruption swirl around Chinese’ immigration in Fiji.

Aside from controversies, Fiji and China claim a politically friendly relationship with when it comes trade, cooperation at the United Nations level and even between the Prime Minister of Fiji and the President of China. Just recently Chinese Ambassador Qian Bo gave over two hundred thousand dollars to the Fiji Red Cross after Hurricane Yasa. (12/2020)

I like to be transparent in how difficult it is to find information on Fijian history online from the United States. Many take for granted to power of Google however when it comes to Fijian history, it just isn’t that simple.

I hope you learned a little background on Chinese in Fiji. It seems only right that I find some authentic Chinese recipes that I can learn and share here. More on that coming soon…

History of Fiji

The first inhabitants arrived in Fiji 3,000-5,000 years ago by double-hulled boats. The early inhabitants separated into various chiefdoms, lived in huts, and used whale teeth as money!

Abel Tasman, a dutch explorer, came across Fiji on his way to find (what is now called) Australia in 1643. Fiji remained mostly unbothered by Europeans until the discovery of sea cucumbers, which became a delicacy that they would love to eat, and sandalwood.

Levuka was the first town established in Fiji around 1820. By 1871, the islands of Fiji were unified into a single state under the rule of Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobao (though at the time, it was known as the Kingdom of Viti).

In 1854, Cakobau became a Christian, which brought many Methodist, Roman Catholic, and Anglican missionaries to the country.

Cakobao handed over rulership to Britain in the early 1870s, and Fiji became a British colony. In 1874 the first governor of Fiji took over. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, a measles epidemic struck the country and about one third of the overall population died.

In 1970, Fiji gained their independence. 4 Coups followed over the next 40 years, and by 2013, the most recent constitution was adopted.

Back in History: Fiji’s first local archbishop

The Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Suva, The Most Reverend Petero Mataca, was appointed Fiji’s first local archbishop in April 1976.

In The Fiji Times report on April 28 1976, it was stated that the archbishop would lead Fiji’s 50,000 Roman Catholics. Archbishop Mataca succeeded Archbishop George Pearce.

The resignation by Archbishop Pearce and the appointment of Bishop Mataca was announced by the Pope from the Vatican in April.

Installation of the new archbishop was due to take place in June, the archdiocesan office in Suva said.

No reasons were given for Archbishop Pearce’s resignation, but he had in recent years suffered long periods of poor health. Archbishop-elect Mataca was the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Suva.

He was born at Cawaci, Ovalau, in 1933 and was ordained in 1959.

He served as a priest in Ra from 1960 to 1963, taught at Suva from 1964 to 1966, when he was appointed Vicar General.

From 1967 to early 1970, he was the administrator of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Suva as well as the priest of the Raiwaqa parish.

He was the rector of the Pacific Regional Seminary since February 1973 and was ordained auxiliary bishop in December 1974.

He administered the archdiocese during Archbishop Pearce’s absence from Fiji in 1974 to 1975.

Fiji History

Despite evidence that Fiji has been inhabited for more than 2,500
years, little is known of its history before the coming of the Europeans.
In earlier times, the Fiji Islands were known as the "Cannibal Islands"
today's Fijians, with their open, friendly ways, bear little resemblance
to their warlike forebears.

The first known European to sight the Fiji islands was the Dutchman
Abel Tasman in 1643. European missionaries, whalers, traders, and
deserters settled during the first half of the 19th century. Their
corrupting influence caused increasingly serious wars to flare up
among the native Fijian confederacies. In 1871, the Europeans in Fiji
(about 2,000) established an administration under Ratu Seru Cakobau,
who had become paramount chief of eastern Viti Levu some years
before. Chaos followed until a convention of chiefs ceded Fiji
unconditionally to the United Kingdom on October 10, 1874.

The pattern of colonialism in Fiji during the following century was
similar to that in other British possessions: the pacification of the
countryside, the spread of plantation agriculture, and the introduction
of Indian indentured labor. Many traditional institutions, including the
system of communal land ownership, were maintained.

Fiji's revered chief, Ratu Sukuna, fought in the French Foreign Legion
during the First World War and was highly decorated. Fiji units aided
British forces in non-combatant roles. Fiji soldiers fought alongside the
Allies in the Second World War, gaining a fine reputation in the tough
Solomon Islands campaign. The United States and other Allied
countries maintained military installations in Fiji during that war, but
the Japanese did not attack Fiji.

In April 1970, a constitutional conference in London agreed that Fiji
should become a fully sovereign and independent nation within the
Commonwealth on October 10, 1970.

In April 1987, the Alliance Party of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, which
had governed Fiji since independence, lost a general election and was
replaced by an NFP-Labour Coalition government. The new
government was headed by Dr. Timoci Bavadra, an ethnic Fijian, with
most support coming from the ethnic Indian community. On May 14,
1987, Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, Chief of Operations of the Royal Fiji
Military Forces, staged a military coup. Rabuka's stated reasons for the
coup were to prevent inter-communal violence and to restore the
political dominance of the ethnic Fijians in their home islands. After a
period of confusion, Governor-General Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau took
charge. In September, the Governor-General and the two main political
groupings reached agreement on a government of national unity (the
Deuba Accords).

However, Rabuka objected to participation by the deposed Coalition in
the proposed government and the exclusion of the military from the
negotiations, and consequently staged a second coup on September 25,
1987. The military government declared Fiji a republic on October 10.
This action, coupled with protests by the Government of India, led to
Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth. The military regime was
unsuccessful in governing and Rabuka voluntarily handed over the
reins of government to civilians on December 6, 1987. Former
Governor-General Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau became President. Ratu Sir
Kamisese Mara was brought back as Prime Minister and formed a
mostly civilian Cabinet containing four military officers, including

In January 1990 the term of the first interim government came to an
end, and the President announced a second interim government with a
reduced seventeen-member Cabinet, devoid of active-duty military
officers. This government promulgated a new Constitution on July 25,
1990. Rabuka, now a Major-General, returned to the barracks as
commander of the Fiji Military Forces. In July 1991, Rabuka quit the
military to become Co-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home

A general election in June 1992 returned Fiji to elected government.
Rabuka was named Prime Minister by President Ganilau. His
government was dissolved in January 1994 over the inability to pass a
substantive bill--the FY94 budget. A snap general election was held
February 18-26, 1994, and Rabuka was again named Prime Minister
after his party won a near majority of the seats.

Fiji — History and Culture

Fiji’s culture is characterized by the Pacific Ocean that surrounds the nation. Tourism is the premier industry in this stunning corner of the Pacific, as thousands of holiday-makers flock to the majestic coral islands surrounding Viti Levu and Vanua Levu each year. Nevertheless, colonial influences are still strongly felt within the country to this day.


Even though the Fiji islands were often visited by European explorers during the colonial period, permanent settlement of the islands didn’t begin until the 19th century. Most of the early Europeans were missionaries or traders, but some were whalers using the islands as a resting base. It took some time for people to call the islands home as most Europeans were frightened by the ferocious and cannibalistic indigenous tribes that dotted the islands.

Britain first colonized Fiji in 1874, but by this time, the use of native populations for labor was frowned upon due to the destruction this practice had on local culture. Large Indian labor forces were migrated into Fiji to work in the sugar cane, timber, and other industries. By the beginning of WWII, Fiji comprised of some 200,000 citizens, almost half of which were Indo-Fijians. Chinese and European descendants made up a small percentage of the population, too. Britain continued to rule Fiji as a Pacific colony until 1970, when they became an independent sovereignty under the Commonwealth of Nations, enjoying a democratic-led government until 1987.

Two military coups were held during 1987, with the second resulting in civil upheaval. The coups were staged by ethnic Fijians who grew tired of the political dominance Indo-Fijians had over the country. As a result, thousands of Indo-Fijians fled, creating an economic hardship that Fiji still hasn’t fully recovered from. In 1997, another military coup ousted an Indian-led government.

Since the 1997 uprising, there have been several political issues within Fiji. The most recent problem was the 2009 constitutional crisis that eventually led to a stranglehold on international media, local press censorship, and internal migration.

Travelers can find out more about Fiji’s history by visiting the Fiji Museum (Botanical Gardens, Suva, Fiji), which boasts a plethora of exhibitions on British colonialism, ancient tribal culture, and independence.


Fiji has a unique culture. There are colonial pieces left behind by the Dutch and British, but ancient island culture is at its heart. Even though English is widely spoken in Fiji’s touristy areas and large cities, the native language is used sporadically.

Upon arrival in Fiji, you may experience cultural dances and communal get-togethers at resorts and hotels. Ancient traditional clothing such as the sulu (tapa cloth around the waist) or kuta (a dress of dried reeds) are usually worn when traditional dances are performed.

Visitors may even be lucky enough to sample kava, which is a traditional beverage drunken during ceremonies. Considered an acquired taste, the numbing drink should be tried at least once. There are plenty of ancient performances held throughout the country every month, however, festivals like the Bula and Hibiscus celebrations are a great time to witness Fiji’s traditional culture at its best.

History in Fiji

Fiji's oral history goes back some 2,500 years, when the current indigenous residents' ancestors landed on Viti Levu, but the first European eyes in these parts belonged to Dutch navigator Abel Tasman, who sighted Vanua Levu Island and some others in 1643. British Capt. James Cook, the famous South Pacific explorer, visited one of the southernmost islands in 1774. Capt. William Bligh was the first European to sail through and plot the group, after the mutiny on HMS Bounty in April 1789. Bligh and his loyal crew sailed their longboat through Fiji on their way to safety in Indonesia. They passed Ovalau and sailed between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Large Fijian druas (war canoes) gave chase near the Yasawas, but with some furious paddling and the help of a fortuitous squall, Bligh and his men escaped to the open ocean. For a while, Fiji was known as the Bligh Islands, and the passage between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu still is named Bligh Water.

The Tongans warned the Europeans who made their way west across the South Pacific that Fiji was inhabited by ferocious cannibals, and the reports by Bligh and others of reef-strewn waters added to the dangerous reputation of the islands. Consequently, European penetration into Fiji was limited for many years to beach bums and convicts who escaped from the British penal colonies in Australia. There was a sandalwood rush between 1804 and 1813. Other traders arrived in the 1820s in search of bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber). This trade continued until the 1850s and had a lasting impact on Fiji because along with the traders came guns and whiskey.

Cakabou Rises and Falls

The traders and settlers established the first European-style town in Fiji at Levuka on Ovalau in the early 1820s, but for many years the real power lay on Bau, a tiny island just off the east coast of Viti Levu. With the help of a Swedish mercenary named Charlie Savage, who supplied the guns, High Chief Tanoa of Bau defeated several much larger confederations and extended his control over most of western Fiji. Bau's influence grew even more under his son and successor, Cakobau, who rose to the height of power in the 1840s. Cakobau never ruled over all the islands, however, for Enele Ma'afu, a member of Tonga's royal family, moved to the Lau Group in 1848 and exerted control over eastern Fiji. Ma'afu brought along Wesleyan missionaries from Tonga and gave the Methodist church a foothold in Fiji (it still is the predominate denomination here).

Although Cakobau governed much of western Fiji, local chiefs continued to be powerful enough to make his control tenuous. The lesser chiefs, especially those in the mountains, also saw the Wesleyan missionaries as a threat to their power, and most of them refused to convert or even to allow the missionaries to establish outposts in their villages. Some mountaineers made a meal of the Rev. Thomas Baker when he tried to convert them in 1867.

Cakobau's slide from power began in earnest July 4, 1849, when John Brown Williams, the American consul, celebrated the birth of his own nation. A cannon went off and started a fire that burned Williams's house. The Fijians promptly looted the burning building. Williams blamed Cakobau and demanded US$5,000 in damages. Within a few years the U.S. claims against the chief totaled more than US$40,000, an enormous sum in those days. In the late 1850s, with Ma'afu and his confederation of chiefs gaining power -- and disorder growing in western Fiji -- Cakobau offered to cede the islands to Great Britain if Queen Victoria would pay the Americans. The British pondered his offer for 4 years and turned him down.

Cakobau worked a better deal when the Polynesia Company, an Australian planting and commercial enterprise, came to Fiji looking for suitable land after the price of cotton skyrocketed during the U.S. Civil War. Instead of offering his entire kingdom, Cakobau this time tendered only 80,000 hectares (200,000 acres) of it. The Polynesia Company accepted, paid off the U.S. claims, and in 1870 landed Australian settlers on 9,200 hectares (23,000 acres) of its land on Viti Levu, near a Fijian village known as Suva. The land was unsuitable for cotton, and the climate was too wet for sugar so the speculators sold their property to the government, which moved the capital there from Levuka in 1882.

Fiji Becomes a Colony

The Polynesia Company's settlers were just a few of the several thousand European planters who came to Fiji in the 1860s and early 1870s. They bought land for plantations from the Fijians, sometimes fraudulently and often for whiskey and guns. Claims and counterclaims to land ownership followed and, with no legal mechanism to settle the disputes, Fiji was swept to the brink of race war. Things came to a head in 1870, when the bottom fell out of cotton prices, hurricanes destroyed the crops, and anarchy threatened. Within a year the Europeans established a national government at Levuka and named Cakobau king of Fiji. The situation continued to deteriorate, however, and 3 years later Cakobau was forced to cede the islands to Great Britain. This time there was no price tag attached, and the British accepted. The Deed of Cession was signed on October 10, 1874, at Nasovi village near Levuka.

Britain sent Sir Arthur Gordon to serve as the new colony's first governor. As the Americans were later to do in their part of Samoa, he allowed the Fijian chiefs to govern their villages and districts as they had done before (they were not, however, allowed to engage in tribal warfare) and to advise him through a Great Council of Chiefs. He declared that native Fijian lands could not be sold, only leased. That decision has to this day helped to protect the Fijians, their land, and their customs, but it has helped fuel the bitter animosity on the part of the land-deprived Indians.

Gordon prohibited the planters from using Fijians as laborers (not that many of them had the slightest inclination to work for someone else). When the planters switched from profitless cotton to sugar cane in the early 1870s, Sir Arthur convinced them to import indentured servants from India. The first 463 East Indians arrived on May 14, 1879.

Following Gordon's example, the British governed "Fiji for the Fijians" -- and the European planters, of course -- leaving the Indians to struggle for their civil rights. The government exercised jurisdiction over all Europeans in the colony and assigned district officers (the "D.O.s" of British colonial lore) to administer various geographic areas. There was a large gulf between the appointed civil servants sent from Britain and the locals.

Fiji Becomes Independent

One of the highest-ranking Fijian chiefs, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, rose to prominence after World War I. (Ratu means "chief" in Fijian.) Born of high chiefly lineage, Ratu Sukuna was educated at Oxford, served in World War I, and worked his way up through the colonial bureaucracy to the post of chairman of the Native Land Trust Board. Although dealing in that position primarily with disputes over land and chiefly titles, he used it as a platform to educate his people and to lay the foundation for the independent state of Fiji. As much as anyone, Sukuna was the father of modern, independent Fiji.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor began the Pacific War in 1941, the Allies turned Fiji into a vast training base. They built the airstrip at Nadi, and several coastal gun emplacements still stand along the coast. Thousands of Fijians fought with great distinction as scouts and infantrymen in the Solomon Islands campaigns. Their knowledge of tropical jungles and their skill at the ambush made them much feared by the Japanese. The Fijians were, said one war correspondent, "death with velvet gloves."

Although many Indo-Fijians at first volunteered to join, they also demanded pay equal to that of the European members of the Fiji Military Forces. When the colonial administrators refused, they disbanded their platoon. Their military contribution was one officer and 70 enlisted men of a reserve transport section, and they were promised that they would not have to go overseas. Many Fijians to this day begrudge the Indo-Fijians for not doing more to aid the war effort.

Ratu Sukuna continued to push the colony toward independence until his death in 1958, and although Fiji made halting steps in that direction during the 1960s, the road was rocky. The Indo-Fijians by then were highly organized, in both political parties and trade unions, and they objected to a constitution that would institutionalize Fijian control of the government and Fijian ownership of most of the new nation's land. Key compromises were made in 1969, however, and on October 10, 1970 -- exactly 96 years after Cakobau signed the Deed of Cession -- the Dominion of Fiji became an independent member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Under the 1970 constitution, Fiji had a Westminster-style Parliament consisting of an elected House of Representatives and a Senate composed of Fijian chiefs. For the first 17 years of independence, the Fijians maintained a majority -- albeit a tenuous one -- in the House of Representatives and control of the government under the leadership of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the country's first prime minister.

Then, in a general election held in April 1987, a coalition of Indians and liberal Fijians voted Ratu Mara and his Alliance party out of power. Dr. Timoci Bavadra, a Fijian, took over as prime minister, but his cabinet was composed of more Indians than Fijians. Animosity immediately flared between some Fijians and Indians.

Within little more than a month of the election, members of the predominantly Fijian army stormed into Parliament and arrested Dr. Bavadra and his cabinet. It was the South Pacific's first military coup, and although peaceful, it took nearly everyone by complete surprise.

The coup leader was Col. Sitiveni Rabuka (pronounced "Ram-bu-ka"), whom local wags quickly nicknamed "Rambo." A career soldier trained at Britain's Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the then 38-year-old Rabuka was third in command of the army. A Fijian of non-chiefly lineage, he immediately became a hero to his "commoner" fellow Fijians. Rabuka at first installed a caretaker government, but in September 1987 he staged another bloodless coup. A few weeks later he abrogated the 1970 constitution, declared Fiji to be an independent republic, and set up a new interim government with himself as minister of home affairs and army commander.

In 1990 the interim government promulgated a new constitution guaranteeing Fijians a parliamentary majority -- and rankling the Indians. Rabuka's pro-Fijian party won the initial election, but he barely hung onto power in fresh elections in 1994 by forming a coalition with the European, Chinese, and mixed-race general-elector parliamentarians.

Rabuka also appointed a three-person Constitutional Review Commission, which proposed the constitution that parliament adopted in 1998. It created a parliamentary house of 65 seats, with 19 held by Fijians, 17 by Indians, 3 by general-electors, 1 by a Rotuman, and 25 open to all races.

The 2000 Insurrection and Coup

A year later, with support from many Fijians who were unsettled over the country's poor economy, rising crime, and deteriorating roads, labor union leader Mahendra Chaudhry's party won an outright majority of parliament, and he became Fiji's first Indian prime minister. Chaudhry had been minister of finance in the Bavadra government toppled by Rabuka's coup in 1987.

Chaudhry appointed several well-known Fijians to his cabinet, and the revered Ratu Mara encouraged his fellow Fijians to support the new administration. It didn't work, and in May 2000 a disgruntled Fijian businessman named George Speight led a gang of armed henchmen into parliament. Demanding the appointment of an all-Fijian government, they held Chaudhry and several members of parliament hostage for the next 56 days. While negotiating with Speight, the military under Commodore Frank Bainimarama disbanded the constitution and appointed an interim government headed by Laisenia Qarase, a Fijian banker. Speight released his hostages after being promised amnesty, but the army arrested him 2 weeks later and charged him with treason. His death sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

Fiji's supreme court then ruled that the 1998 constitution was still in effect and ordered fresh parliamentary elections to be held in 2001. Under the watchful eye of international observers, the Fijians won an outright majority, and caretaker leader Qarase became the legal prime minister. Chaudhry also was returned to parliament.

A Fiji nationalist, Qarase proposed a "Reconciliation, Tolerance, and Unity" bill, which opponents -- including Bainimarama -- claimed would grant amnesty to Speight and other participants in the 2000 insurrection. The proposed legislation was the most contentious issue in the general elections of May 2006, which returned Qarase's party to power.

Qarase further incensed the military by releasing some 200 coup participants from prison, and he continued to push his controversial reconciliation bill. He also proposed transferring ownership of Fiji's foreshore and lagoons from the government to indigenous seaside tribes, who would then be free to charge resorts, dive operators, fishers, and others to use their lagoons and coastal waters. This proposal created a firestorm of protest from the tourism industry as well as from Fijians who do not live by the sea -- and thus presumably would have to pay to go fishing.

Bainimarama warned Qarase for most of 2006 that the military would take power if he did not abandon the proposals. On December 5 -- a date Fijians refer to as "5/12" -- the military drove from Queen Elizabeth Barracks into downtown Suva and staged an entirely peaceful coup. Despite some protestors being taken to the barracks for a bit of persuasion, life outside tourism returned to normal relatively quickly. The initial military roadblocks and checkpoints markedly reduced Fiji's crime rate (it went back up when the soldiers were withdrawn, prompting some merchants to call for permanent checkpoints).

The interim regime has been surprisingly progressive. In addition to abandoning overtly racist government policies, Bainimarama has cracked down on corruption and uncontrolled government spending, which had become rampant under Qarase. Among actions with long-lasting consequences, he has opened Fiji's formerly monopolized communications industry to competition, which promises more over-the-air television channels (instead of one) and lower prices for phone and Internet services. He also has encouraged the thousands of Indian professionals who had fled the country to return home by letting them be permanent residents of Fiji as well as citizens of other countries (Fiji does not recognize dual citizenship).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

Our History

Jekishan “Jack” Khatri opened the first Jack’s Handicraft store in 1969 with only two employees. Mr. Khatri’s mission was to start a retail store different to the abundance of duty free stores that catered to the tourist market in Fiji during the 1960s. He was inspired by a visit to Hawaii where most tourist retail stores dealt with souvenirs and woodcraft.

In 1971, Mr. Khatri’s eldest son Dilip Khatri joined the business, and together they set about on an expansion and growth plan that took Jack’s Handicrafts to the forefront of Fiji’s tourism market. The business took off in 1978 when the Japanese tourist market started. The Japanese market was not interested in duty free products, most of which were manufactured in Japan. They were interested in handicrafts and souvenirs, which were Jack’s Handicrafts’ specialities.

Jekishan Khatri, sadly passed away in 1983 and Dilip took on his father’s vision and continued to build and expand the business. Dilip was later joined by his brothers Raju and Kirit and together they have built an organisation that employs over 1200 staff members.

Apart from opening other stores in strategic locations, Jack’s also started auxiliary companies to support the core retail business. Thus Jack’s Garments factory was started in 1989, Jack’s Manufacturing was started in 1992 and Jack’s Restaurants was established in 1993 under the brand name Chefs. After the 2000 coup, Jack’s diversified into the local market to reduce its dependence on tourism.

Jack’s Today

Jack’s Handicrafts was rebranded to Jack’s of Fiji in 2005. From its beginnings as a single store in Nadi town, Jack’s of Fiji has become a leader in the retail industry for both locals and tourists alike. Jack’s has grown from one store into a chain of forty stores Fiji-wide as well as venturing into the restaurant, garment, organic farming, manufacturing and construction sectors.

In 2015, Jack’s ventured into the Papua New Guinea market with their first store outside of the Fiji Islands. Jack’s of PNG at Waigani Central in Port Moresby opened for business on 30 March 2015. Due to its popularity, a second store was opened at Vision City Mega Mall on 7 December 2015, with further new stores planned in the near future.

Our Founder

Born in Navsari, India, Jekishan Khatri came to Fiji when he was 13 years old. He began his career working for N. Narottam & Company as an accountant. In 1956, he together with his father and brother started their own business called J. Ratanji & Sons. The business had many components including drapery, second-hand clothing, duty free items, toys and later handicrafts.

Mr. Khatri had a love for travelling and experiencing new cultures. It was during one of these trips in 1968 that he visited Hawaii and was inspired by the handicraft and souvenir store concept.

He was also actively involved in various societies including the Nadi Chamber of Commerce, Crippled Children’s Society and a founding member of the Nadi Bula Festival.

Jekishan “Jack” Khatri passed away in 1983, leaving the company to his sons Dilip and Raju. Jekishan’s third son, Kirit, joined the team in 1991.

Watch the video: History of Fiji (May 2022).