Fiji is an island nation in the South Pacific, east of Australia and northeast of New Zealand. It is one of the most developed Pacific Island economies, owing largely to its natural resources, long history of relative independence, and a thriving tourism industry that caters to foreigners hoping to escape the cares of the world.
Native Fijians first settled their homeland around 1000 BC, but the large reefs surrounding the islands kept them largely free from foreign influence for the next 2500 years. Europeans first learned of the Fijians through their neighbors in Tonga, to whom they were known as fierce warriors and manufacturers of impressive boats, weapons, and cloth. Although the country was first visited by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1643, it was not colonized until 1874, at which time the new British overlords imported large numbers of contract laborers from India to work the islands’ sugar plantations. These Indians and their descendants became, alongside indigenous Fijians, one of the two major ethnic groups in Fiji. Unfortunately, relations between the two have not always been harmonious; since achieving independence in 1970, the country has experienced four military coups, all of which have centered around the political and social tension between Indo-Fijians and natives. As a result, many Indo-Fijians have emigrated from the country, creating a definitive native Fijian majority at the cost of damage to the economy.
Despite these problems, the Fijian tourism industry has suffered surprisingly little; it has, in fact, grown considerably since the early 1980s. Many of the main tourist destinations are located away from the country’s capital, Suva, on remote islands whose warm water, isolated beaches, and virgin rainforests make it easy for travelers to forget about Fiji’s social climate. Agriculture also makes up a significant portion of the economy, with exports being driven by sugar. Coconuts, ginger, and copra are significant commodities as well. Fiji also has plans to expand into the energy market, partly through sugar-generated ethanol, and partly through oil exploration.
The Indo-Fijians, of course, make up the largest historical immigrant group in Fiji, followed by small groups of Europeans and Asians. Most foreigners who make their homes in Fiji do so to work in the lucrative tourism business and enjoy a slower-paced lifestyle than what is typical in the industrialized West. Moving to Fiji on a long-term basis may be challenging, due to restrictions on land ownership and employment opportunities. Professionals in the fields of education, religion, and medicine will have an easier time getting a job in Fiji.
Fiji has three official languages. English is used in education and in most businesses, but may not be widely understood in rural areas. Fijian is the first language of under half the population, though approximately 200,000 speak it as a second language. Indo-Fijians speak Fiji Hindi, a dialect of Hindi that incorporates elements of Fijian, English, and numerous South Asian languages. In addition, natives of Rotuma Island have their own distinct language and culture.