The indigenous inhabitants of Fiji were Melanesians; the Polynesian people intermingled with the inhabitants that were already living on the islands. The strong Polynesian presence is partly because of the Tongans, many of whom choose to settle down in Fiji. As a result, Fiji people came about as a result of the interaction that occurred between the Melanesians from the west and Polynesians from the east.
Characteristically, Melanesians are short, ebony-skinned with fuzzy hair. On the other hand, Polynesians are tall, well built, with fair skin and straight hair. When these two races intermingled, they produced the people of Fiji that you see today. Fijians have varying physical characteristics ranging from fair skilled and tall Fijians from Southern Lau to the hill people or Kai Colo, who are typically dark-skinned and short. As such, the people of Fiji have different complexions and physical attributes.
Although most indigenous Fijians are categorized ethnically as Melanesian people, their social and political organization is closer to that of the Polynesian people. Indigenous Fijians make up more than half of the total population today, however, about two-fifths of the population is made up by Fijians of Indian descent.
First people arriving on the islands
Genetic Anthropology shows that most Melanesian people carry a genetic marker that is also common in people living in today’s Indonesia, this implies a common ancestor.
Significant archaeological sites in the islands are no older than about 3500 years suggesting that the islands have not been settled before. Some have argued that evidence of human coastal settlement may have been covered by the rising oceans following the warming of the planet after the last ice age. However, the earliest sites and artifacts that have been found, all belong to the so-called Lapita Culture.
Lapita describes the ancient Pacific culture of the common ancestor of Polynesia, Micronesia and some islands of Melanesian. The term Lapita refers to the first found Lapita site in New Caledonia. Artifacts found are mainly ceramics and pottery. The Lapita people were skilled navigators and seafarers that settled the coastal area of the islands the discovered.
The earliest Lapita sites in Fiji date back to about 3000 years. Significant sites include unearthed skeletons and artifacts and tools on Moturiki Island, Sigatoka Sand dunes and Natadola. Artifacts include pottery, hunting tools, and ancient shell jewelry. Interestingly some tools found were made of Obsidian, a volcanic glass not found in Fiji, Those tools have obviously been brought from early settlers from Papua New Guinea.
Fijian Myth and Legend describes the indigenous Fijians of today as descendants of the chief Lutunasobasoba and his tribe that arrived with him on the Kaunitoni canoe. The place of their first landfall was at what is now called Vuda on the northwestern tip of Viti Levu.
Today the myth is popular amongst Fijians and many people believe them being descendants of Lutunasobasoba and his tribe.
You may also hear anecdotes from Fijans telling you that their ancestors came here by canoe from Tanzania in Africa.
Fiji’s Multicultural Society
The islands today enjoy a mix of different ethnic communities, which helps to advance the culture and popular Fijian customs. In particular, Suva has a varied population while the major sugarcane producing areas of Vanua Levu and Viti Levu are mainly populated by Indians. On some of the smaller islands, you can find indigenous Fijians that inhabit traditional villages.
Largely, the majority of the Fiji population resides in the urban areas of Suva, Viti Levu, Nasinu, which is a suburb, found in Suva, as well as Lautoka, which is situated in the northwestern region; Lautoka is the nucleus of the vibrant sugar industry of Viti Levu. The Lambasa area in Vanua Levu is also quite heavily populated with a mix of various ethnicities because it serves as the center of administration, sugar manufacturing and major social and entertainment services.
Fiji is one of the most multi-ethnic nations in the South Pacific region. In Fiji’s multicultural society nearly 900,000 people from different backgrounds live together.
About 55 % are so-called Indigenous Fijians, about 40 % are of Indian Origin, the rest is a mix of various cultures from the Pacific Islands, Chinese, Europeans and Part-Europeans
The draw of urban centers is high, but the majority of the native Fijians throughout the country live mainly in coastal villages. Village live is dominated by a mixture of Fijian traditional custom and Christian religion, nearly all Fijians are Christians.
The Indo-Fijian people live mainly in urban areas or in industrial or cane farming areas of the two largest islands.
Hinduism is the major religion of the Indo-Fijian people.
In the beginning of the colonial era, the British brought thousands of people from India as so-called indentured laborers to Fiji. those people were bound by contracts to work for some years after which they would be returned to India or be given some land and remain in Fiji. This also led to the immigration of Indian business caste into Fiji. Those business people with their ventures shaped Fiji’s economy.