Suva Commonwealth Walkway

Fiji / The Pacific

FIJI  Fiji is a country in the South Pacific, an archipelago of more than 330 islands, of which 110 are inhabited, and 500 islets.  It is about 1,770 kilometres north of New Zealand.  The international date line was slightly diverted to the east of the island group.  Fiji is famed for its rugged landscapes, palm-lined beaches and coral reefs and clear lagoons.  Its major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu contain most of the population.   The islands were originally settled by Melanesian people.  The first European to arrive was the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman (1603-59) in 1643.  Captain Cook came there in 1774.  The monarchy of Fiji arose in the mid-nineteenth century when the native ruler, Seru Epenisa, known as Cakobau (ca 1817-83), consolidated control of the Fijian Islands and declared himself King or Paramount Chief of Fiji.  But in 1874, troubled by challenges from chiefs and from the Tongan leader, Ma’afu, he voluntarily ceded sovereignty of the islands to Britain, which made Fiji a Crown colony within the British Empire.  He sent Queen Victoria his favourite war-club, which had been used as the mace.  In the 1930s King George V returned it to Fiji to be used as ‘the Mace of the Legislative Council.’  The first Governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, GCMG (1829-1912), later Lord Stanmore, was popular with Fijians, though less so with Europeans.  He created a Great Council of Chiefs to advise him. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh paid Fiji a memorable visit on their way to New Zealand as part of their long Commonwealth tour – the first time a reigning monarch had visited the country.  The imaginative Governor, Sir Ronald Garvey (1903-91) asked that the Queen wear the Order of the Garter and a ‘really spanking tiara’ for the dinner and state ball.  She obliged.   In 1953 a legislative council was introduced and by 1964 the main government responsibilities were in the hands of three members of an executive council.   Independence was granted on 10 October 1970, with the Queen as constitutional head of state.  But there were two coups in 1987 staged by Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka (born 1948), as a result of which Fiji declared itself a republic, the Governor-General, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, GCMG, KCVO, KBE, DSO, ED (1918-93) becoming President, and Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, GCMG, KBE (1920-2004) as Prime Minister (which he had been since 1970).  Ganilau wrote to the Queen to say that his attempts to preserve constitutional government in Fiji had proved in vain.  As a result, the Queen effectively abdicated as Queen of Fiji. There was another coup in 2000, in which indigenous Fijians attempted to reassert their political dominance.  Further coups and political unrest followed.   CAPITAL Suva is the capital, chief port, and commercial centre of Fiji.  The city lies on the southeast coast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s principal island.  Founded in 1849, Suva became the capital in 1882 and was made a city in 1952; it is now one of the largest urban centres in the South Pacific islands. It lies on Suva Point between the mouth of the Rewa River (east) and Suva Harbour (west), a regular stop for transpacific shipping.  The city has road and air connections with Nadi (Nandi), some 130 miles (210 km) west, the site of an international airport.  Suva’s economic activities include tourism (encouraged by its status as a free port) and light manufacturing such as cigarette making and soapmaking, copra crushing, baking, and brewing. The government is by far the largest local employer.  The Government Buildings (1939), which today house most state ministries, were once headquarters for Britain’s South Pacific colonies.

6.4 miles / 10.2 kilometres

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