Archipelago formed by almost 250 islands (and by numerous coral reefs) located in the Pacific Ocean at approximately between 16 ° and 20 ° S., 177 ° E. and 178 ° W, at 3400 km. approximately north-east of Sydney and 2200 km. north of New Zealand.
According to GETZIPCODES, the group is thus crossed by the meridian opposite Greenwich and the international date line passes to the west of it (in correspondence with Fiji it is displaced to the east with respect to the 180 ° meridian).
The islands were discovered by the Dutch navigator Tasman in March 1643 and later explored by the British Cook and Bligh. The first white settlers were the Sidney deportees, who landed on the islands in 1804; in 1835 some merchants settled in Levuka. The most famous king was Thakombau, a cannibal, who in 1855 came into conflict with the American government: he offered to sell the islands to satisfy his demands, but in 1861 his proposal was refused. In 1873 the agreement was reached instead with England. In 1875 Sir A. Gordon was appointed first governor.
There are two major islands, Viti Levu (10,650 sq. Km.) And Vanua Levu (6300 sq. Km.). Taviuni and Kandavu are also quite extensive, all the others have an area of less than 150 square kilometers. The larger islands are mountainous and consist mainly of newly uplifted igneous rocks, in which streams have carved deep, narrow valleys. There is only an important river, the Rewa Rewa, in Viti Levu, navigable by light boats for about 80 km. Sigatoka, on the same island, and Dreketi, in Vanua Levu, are of minor importance. The larger island above is made up largely of steatite, an altered volcanic tuff. Andesitic lavas are very common, but there are also rocks similar to granite. Great interest is the presence of slates and quartzites in some valleys in the interior of the island: these rocks ” the relatively recent uplift is also indicated by the narrow “young” gorges of the rivers and the razor chains that form the highest rocks. Mount Korombasambasanga, “the mountain with the divided top”, to the NE belongs to one of these reliefs.
The highest mountain in Viti Levu is Victoria (1386 m). In Vanua Levu the highest peak reaches 1260m.
The climate is tropical and healthy; malaria is absent altogether, but the diseases brought by the Europeans have caused great damage among the Fijians. Thus the scarlet fever brought in 1875 by an English ship caused the death of 40,000 individuals in a short time. The average annual temperature in Suva (in Viti Levu) is about 26 °: February and March are the hottest months, July and August the coldest. The average rainfall is about 3810 mm.: the most abundant rains fall during the hot season, while the period July-October is the driest. From time to time you also have hurricanes.
At the end of 1928 the residents of Fiji amounted to 176,793, of which 91,028 were Fijians, 70,996 Indians and 4,569 Europeans. The introduction of Indian workers, especially from Madras and Calcutta, whom the large sugar companies had hired for plantation work, brought particular problems to the islands. They form the working mass in Fiji: in 1909 they amounted to 35,000, in 1917 to 61,000, partly notable women. In recent years the system of employment contracts has been abandoned and many Indians have remained free settlers on the land they have leased. The Fijians belong for the most part to the Methodist church; only one sixth of them are Catholics.
The main export products were in 1927: sugar (72,000 tons), copra (20,000 tons), bananas (544,000 clusters), Trochus shells (267 tons) and, to a lesser extent, molasses, rubber, cotton. There are 5 sugar factories on the islands: the most important cane plantations are located in the SE. on the main island, on the Rewa Rewa. The area cultivated with sugar cane is about 20,000 hectares, and slightly less than that occupied by coconut crops. Livestock numbers 11,000 horses, 50,000 cattle, 9,000 goats and 6,000 pigs.
There are only two rather large cities: Suva, at the mouth of the Rewa Rewa, which welcomes 1700 Europeans, and Levuka, on a small island 130 km. to N. of Suva. Until recently, each island was crossed by only one path; the only wide road was the one that led from Suva into the interior of Viti Levu. Today there is a road network of 3000 km., 550 of which are suitable for the transit of cars. A 170 km long private railway. connects Tavua with the Sigatoka district. Regular steam and submarine cables connect Fiji with Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The islands are now governed as far as possible by the natives, especially through village and district councils. Of the 19 provinces, 6 are administered by indigenous leaders and 13 by European commissioners. At the head is a legislative council chaired by the governor, which includes representatives of the Fijians and Indians.
The islands are covered with dense vegetation. One of the most beautiful trees that grow there is the kauri (Dammara), which can reach 25 m. high and 2 m. in diameter. Dacrydium and Calophyllum are also important for wood. Casuarinas, pandans, and magroves are common in Fiji as well as other islands in the western Pacific. The sandalwood forest was nearly destroyed; very tall ferns (Alsophila) help to make the jungle very beautiful. Coconut is especially common on the coasts. Breadfruit is also abundantly cultivated. A mulberry tree (Broussonetia) in the past provided the fabric with its rind, but is now replaced by cotton. The yam, the taro (Colocasia), banana, sweet potato (Batata) are indigenous plants that are used for food.
The fauna of Fiji, like that of many other Polynesian islands, does not have characteristic forms or groups of animals. The mammals lacking in the Polynesian region are represented only by a few cosmopolitan species of Bats and Gnaws. The relatively numerous birds have many species common to Australia and many specific to Polynesia. Among the Reptiles, the Ophidis are represented by a fair number of forms; so the Lacertilî (Scincus Iguane, Geconidi, etc.). Among the Amphibîs the Urodeles are missing, and among the Anurans there are some species of frog. The world of invertebrates is richly represented by numerous arthroodes, terrestrial molluscs, etc.