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
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.
source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1996