A bit about Fiji

17:43.7S 179:37.1E


A few days ago Franco said:

“I’ve never felt so ill prepared arriving in a new country. I haven’t read a thing about Fiji.”


“But you never do.” I pointed out.


“Ok” he replied, “YOU’ve never been so ill prepared for arriving in a new country!”


And he’s right. I enjoy the preparation for travel, the anticipation, nearly as much as the journey itself but the past five and a half months have been all about the boat. Hard days of work followed by evenings reading technical manuals while Franco caught up on Pesda Press work. Some nights we just collapsed exhausted in front of an episode of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ or ‘Vikings’ - for those of you familiar with the series, Caramor has adopted the theme tune as her anthem “Give me more, give me more, give me more...”


Luckily nights on an ocean passage are long so there’s been time to catch-up. Here’s some snippets of what I’ve learned so far about Fiji.


Fiji is made up of 332 islands of which approximately 110 are inhabited. Their combined land area is just a little smaller than Wales. There are two large islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu and the capital Suva where over half the population live is on Viti Levu.


Fiji was a British colony for nearly a century and became independent in 1970.


 ‘Fijians’ are 56.8% iTaukei, the first people to populate these islands, predominantly Melanesian with a Polynesian admixture, and 37.5% Indian, descendants of contract labourers brought by the British in the 19th century. After independence, tensions grew between the two communities until 1987 when concern that the government was dominated by the Indian community led to a military coup. The result was a mass Indian exodus which ensured the iTaukei became the majority ethnic group.


The following years saw much political turmoil until 2014 when elections were held again and the  leader of the last coup was duly elected. Happily the situation seems to be stable at the moment.


Tourism and money sent home by relatives working abroad are the chief contributors to GDP and the main export, surprisingly, is bottled water to the USA. Sugar is also exported but production has dropped as several plantations and a mill were damaged by a hurricane in 2016.


Scanning the map, I was wondering why these islands are collectively called ‘Fiji’ as the word doesn’t appear in any of the local names. Apparently it is Captain James Cook’s misnomer. The iTaukei call their home ‘Viti’ (as in Viti Levu, the largest island), however, the Tongans, to the east, know this land as Fisi which Cook transcribed as ‘fiji’.


According to the world factbook, Fiji is overly bureaucratic, a side we have already come across as we have had to give 48h notice of arrival to three separate government departments, using 2 different forms found on different websites and one text email. We will also need to apply tor a cruising permit through an agent. Arriving out of hours or during the lunch break incurs overtime charges so we will be on best behaviour.


Royal Cruising Club notes we have for the Lau Group (a widely spread group of islands to the south-east of the two main islands) dated 2010 mention ‘one public phone per Island which is answered randomly by a passerby who puts you on hold while they try and find the person you are calling’. Franco and I joked “I bet everyone has a mobile phone now”, based on our experience in the high Andes and the Amazonian jungle. Sure enough mobile phone ownership is 112 per 100 inhabitants (120/100 in the UK). Whether there is an aerial is a different matter.


Yet despite this ‘advance’ in technology, the iTaukei remain proud of their ancient customs. Learning about their culture is something we are looking forward to, if with some trepidation. It is all too easy to commit a faux pas, situations aren’t always as they seem and words, even when spoken in a common language, don’t always have a shared meaning.


Post by Kath