Fiji, officially the Republic of Fiji, is a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean. This diverse tropical country is famed for its palm-draped beaches, azure lagoons, rugged mountains, colorful reefs offering world-class scuba diving and snorkeling, and amicable locals. Here are some interesting facts about Fiji.
Facts about Fiji
1. The nation of Fiji consists of more than 330 islands and 500 islets.
Located in Oceania, Fiji is an archipelagic state and consists of 333 islands and 540 islets. The islands are scattered across an area of around 3,000,000 km² (1,158,306 sq mi).
Only over 100 of the islands are permanently inhabited. The two biggest islands of Fiji are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu (formerly Sandalwood Island). Together, these two islands account for over 87% of the total land area of the nation.
Although the main islands are quiet today, they are part of the volcanically active and earthquake-prone “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific Ocean.
2. Fiji is the 151st largest country in the world.
Fiji has a total area of 18,274 km² (7,056 sq mi). Comparatively, Fiji is slightly smaller than the US state of New Jersey.
3. Fiji has a 1,129 km (702 mi) long coastline.
Along most of Fiji’s 1,129 km (702 mi) long coastline, you’ll come across gorgeous white-sand beaches and colorful coral reefs.
4. Mount Tomanivi is the tallest mountain in Fiji.
Situated in the northern highlands of the island of Viti Levu, the extinct volcano of Mount Tomanivi (formerly Mount Victoria) is the highest peak in Fiji. It rises to an elevation of 1,324 m (4,344 ft).
5. The International Date Line cuts right through Fiji.
The international date line is an imaginary north-south line drawn through the middle of the Pacific Ocean about halfway around the world, close to 180 degrees of longitude from the Prime Meridian.
Fiji is one of the first countries to welcome a new day and three of its islands — Vanua Levu, Rambi, and Taveuni — are actually crossed by the imaginary line. On the island of Taveuni, a marker indicates a spot where you can stand with one foot on the current day and the other foot on the day before!
Nevertheless, the whole country shares the same date and time, UTC/GMT +12 hours.
6. Prior to European colonization, Fiji was settled by the Polynesians and the Melanesians.
Fiji was first settled about three and a half thousand years ago by waves of Polynesians from Papua New Guinea who had descended from earlier Austronesian migrations. Melanesian people came from the west and began settling here around 500 BC.
It is speculated that the new arrivals from Melanesia replaced the Polynesians, whose ancestors had arrived some 1,000 years beforehand, but not before adopting much of Polynesian culture. The blending of the two cultures gave rise to the distinct indigenous Fijian culture we see today.
7. In 1643, the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman became the first known European to visit Fiji.
In 1643, the ship of Dutch explorer and navigator Abel Tasman was almost shipwrecked on the dangerous reefs of the northern islands of Fiji. Tasman charted the eastern tip of Vanua Levu and his descriptions about the hazardous reefs kept mariners away for the next 130 years.
8. The name “Fiji” actually comes from a mishearing.
In contrast to the indigenous Fijian name for the country which is “Viti”, “Fiji” derives from the Tongan name for the country, which is “Fisi”. European explorers misheard the Tongans pronunciation of Fisi as “Fiji.”
9. Fiji is a former British colony.
Prior to being a British colony, Fiji was ruled by a collection of tribes led by chiefs. By the 1850s, Cakobau (pronounced Tha-kom-bau) had risen to become the most powerful chief in Fiji. However, local chiefs in the rest of the country continued to be powerful enough to make his control tenuous.
Furthermore, the growing presence of Europeans contributed to political and economic instability. In 1871, some 3,000 Europeans supported Cakobau’s claim to rule as king of all Fiji, but unrest continued.
Cakobau’s government appealed to Britain for assistance and, on 10 October 1874, Fijian chiefs signed a Deed of Cession making Fiji a British Crown Colony. Besides financial stability, Cakobau thought conceding to the British would bring civilization and Christianity to the islands.
10. Fiji gained independence in 1970.
On 10 October 1970—exactly 96 years after Cakobau signed the Deed of Cession—Fiji became an independent nation.
11. In the past, cannibalism was common in Fiji earning the islands the moniker “Cannibal Isles.”
One of the most gruesome Fiji facts is that it was once known as the “Cannibal Isles.” It’s hard to conceive that until the mid-19th century, the ancestors of indigenous Fijians were among the world’s most ferocious cannibals.
According to the Museum of Fiji, archaeological evidence suggests that the practice of cannibalism in the country dates back over 2,500 years. Cannibalism was carried out for a number of tribal and spiritual reasons.
It’s believed that Fijian chiefs ate the flesh of their adversaries slain in battle not only as a means of power and revenge, but also as it was considered the ‘ultimate insult’ to the vanquished foe.
Victorious chiefs were even rumored to nibble on the fingers or tongues of the defeated, while the victims watched in agony. Thankfully, the only vestiges of Fiji’s cannibalistic past that can be found today are in handicraft shops in the form of four-pronged wooden cannibal forks.
12. According to Guinness World Records, the most prolific cannibal on record was a Fijian chief called Ratu Udre Udre.
The Fijian chief Ratu Udre Udre holds the macabre Guinness World Record of “Most Prolific Cannibal.” During the early 19th century, he is believed to have devoured between 872 and 999 people in his lifetime. It is said he was aiming to reach one thousand so he could become immortal but was unable to make it that far.
He kept a stone for every person he consumed, and there are over 800 stones still decorating his gravesite today. Precisely, how many people he ate is unknown, since some of the stones are missing.
13. In 1875, an outbreak of measles caused the death of about one-third of Fiji’s population.
To celebrate the annexation of Fiji, the Governor of New South Wales took Cakobau (the King of Fiji) and his two sons to Sydney, which at the time was dealing with a measles outbreak. Cakobau and his two sons contracted the measles and on their return to Fiji inadvertently spread the highly contagious disease by not quarantining.
Roughly 40,000 Fijians (one-third of Fiji’s population at the time) died during the measles outbreak in 1875. Since Fijians had never been exposed to the disease before, it spread quickly with devastating results.
14. From 1879 to 1916, Britain transported more than 60,000 indentured laborers from India to work on sugarcane plantations in Fiji.
Seeking cheap labor to work on Fiji’s profitable sugarcane plantations, the British government decided to import workers from India. On 14 May 1879, the Leonidas, a labor transport ship, arrived at Levuka from Calcutta (now Kolkata) and landed 463 indentured servants to work Fiji’s sugarcane fields.
These first immigrants signed agreements (girmits) requiring that they work in Fiji for 5 years after which they would be free to return to India. Over the next 37 years, more than 60,000 Indians arrived in Fiji. The indenture system stopped in 1916 after antislavery groups in Britain pressured the colonial government to abandon the system.
Despite the hardship they encountered, most of the Indians who came over opted to stay in Fiji after they had served their contract and many brought their families over from India.
The Indians who arrived were a diverse mix, some 85% were Hindus, 14% were Muslims, and the remaining 1% were Sikhs and Christians. Most of these Indians hailed from the present-day states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in north India.
15. From the mid-1950s to 1987, ethnic Indians constituted a majority of Fiji’s population.
One of the most interesting facts about Fiji is that Indo-Fijians, most of whom are descendants of laborers brought to work on the country’s sugarcane plantations constituted over half of Fiji’s population from the mid-1950s to 1987.
Relations between Indo-Fijians and the indigenous Fijians have traditionally been tense. Indigenous Fijians generally perceive Indians as money-obsessed, stingy, calculating, and egotistic. On the other hand, the Indo-Fijians generally see the indigenous Fijians as backward, naive, and living on land they will not sell.
Indo-Fijian remained the majority until 1987 when a political coup, which favored ethnic Fijian control of the government, led to heavy Indian emigration. Between 1987 to 1992, about 50,000 Indo-Fijians left Fiji for Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
Although their numbers have dwindled since 1987, Indo-Fijians still make up around 37% of Fiji’s population whereas indigenous Fijians account for approximately 57% of the population.
16. Fiji has three official languages.
Fiji has three official languages—English, Fijian, and Fiji Hindi (Hindustani). To greatly oversimplify, the native Fijians speak Fijian, the Indo-Fijians speak Hindi, and English, which is widely used in government, business, and education, serves as a lingua franca between the two communities.
17. Christianity is the predominant religion in Fiji.
Approximately two-thirds of the Fijians are Christians, primarily Methodists and Roman Catholics. 27% of Fijians follow Hinduism making it the second-most common religion in the country. The rest of the population is either irreligious or follows other religions.
18. Although Fiji is a republic, the Fijian national flag is still emblazoned with the Union Jack (the flag of the UK).
Despite being a parliamentary republic since 1987, the national flag of Fiji is still surprisingly emblazoned with the Union Jack in the top left-hand corner.
There have been ongoing calls to remove the colonial symbolism from the flag and although the Fijian government announced plans to design and adopt a new flag in 2013, no design has yet been chosen.
19. Several Hollywood films have been filmed in Fiji.
Fiji’s breathtaking scenery is a major drawcard for Hollywood, especially for shooting “island paradise” scenes. Some of the most prominent films shot in Fiji include Mr. Robinson Crusoe (1932), His Majesty O’Keefe (1953), The Dove (1974), The Blue Lagoon (1980), Savage Islands (1983), Return to the Blue Lagoon (1991), Contact (1997), Cast Away (2000), and Adrift (2018).
In addition to movies, several documentaries have also been shot in Fiji as well as the hit American reality television series Survivor.
20. The Fiji Crested Iguana was discovered when a herpetologist watched the 1980 film The Blue Lagoon.
The endangered Fiji Crested Iguana was discovered in 1981 when a herpetologist named John Gibbons saw them in the movie The Blue Lagoon (1980), which was partially filmed in Fiji. He had been studying a related species, the Fiji banded iguana, at the time.
21. The currency of Fiji is the Fijian dollar (FJD).
The Fijian dollar has been the legal tender in Fiji since 1969 when it replaced the Fijian pound.
22. Rugby Union is the most popular sport in Fiji.
Rugby Union is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Fiji making it one of the few nations where rugby union is the main sport. The Fiji national rugby team has qualified for the Rugby World Cup on five occasions, even making it to the quarter-finals twice.
23. Fiji has won only one medal at the Olympics.
Despite having competed in the Summer Olympics since 1956, Fiji has managed to win only one medal. In the 2016 Olympic Games, Fiji won its first Olympic medal—a gold, after beating Great Britain 43-7 in the Rugby Sevens.
24. Suva is the capital and largest city of Fiji.
Located on the southeast coast of the island of Viti Levu, Suva is Fiji’s political, economic, and cultural hub. Roughly a third of the nation’s population lives within Suva’s metropolitan area.
25. The national drink of Fiji is Kava.
Kava, otherwise known as yaqona, or grog, is the traditional national drink of Fiji. Steeped in Fijian tradition, this mildly narcotic and sedative drink is prepared by mixing the crushed root of the kava plant (piper methstyicum) with cold water.
26. The national dish of Fiji is Kokoda.
Kokoda, the Fijian national dish, is a delicacy made of raw fish (traditionally mahi-mahi or Spanish mackerel) marinated in coconut cream, onions, tomatoes, lime, and chilis. Kokoda is similar to Peruvian ceviche and Hawaiian poke and it’s often served inside a coconut shell or clamshell to accentuate the flavors.
27. The traditional dance of Fiji is the Meke.
Fiji’s traditional dance, the meke (pronounced meh-kay), has been around since the 1800s. Meke is a combination of dance and storytelling through song and is commonly performed by male or female-only groups.
There are various styles of Meke. Men, while performing the meke, will often dress up as warriors and simulate the use of spears or clubs. Fijian women mostly perform the meke as a fan dance, dressing in traditional skirts and applying sweet-smelling coconut oil to elevate the sensory experience.
28. There is one UNESCO World Heritage Site in Fiji.
The one and only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Fiji is the Levuka Historical Port Town.
29. Fiji is home to around 800 species of plants found nowhere else on Earth.
One of the fun facts about Fiji is that it is home to a set of unique flora found nowhere else on the planet. The most unique of these is the tagimoucia (pronounced tahng-ee-mow-theea), which is Fiji’s national flower. The crimson and white flower only grows on a single mountain ridge on the island of Taveuni.
30. Fiji was the second country in the world to explicitly protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation in its Constitution.
In 1997, Fiji became the second country in the world after South Africa to explicitly safeguard its people against discrimination based on sexual orientation in its Constitution.
31. Fiji was the first country in the world to incorporate GPS into its aviation navigation system.
One interesting trivia tidbit about Fiji is that in April 1994, the airspace above the country’s islands was the first one to ever incorporate the Global Positioning System (GPS) into its aviation system. Therefore, Fiji forever changed the way we get from Point A to Point B!
32. Fiji drives on the left.
Perhaps not surprising seeing that it is a former British colony and part of the Commonwealth.