300 islands make up Fiji, 100
of which are inhabited. The highest peak is at
1,323 meters Mount Victoria, in the main island
of Viti Levu.
Fiji was settled about 1,500 BC
from people to the west, now the Melanesian nations
of Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Culturally, Fijians
are classed as Melanesians and Polynesians.
Fiji was a colony of Britain by
request from the island's traditional leaders or
chiefs, worried over the strong influence of a warrior
from neighbouring Tongan Islands to the east. It
formally became colonised on October 10th, 1874.
Independence came almost a century later, on October
Fiji is home to golf great Vijay
Singh. Although he resides with his family in the
United States, Vijay was born in Lautoka, Fiji's
second largest city. It was in Fiji that his skills
and passion for golf was born and nurtured.
Almost half of Fiji's population
are those with Indian ethnicity, descendants of
labourers brought in by the British rulers to work
on cotton and later sugarcane plantations. One of
their sons, Mahendra Pal Chaudhry, created history
when he became Prime Minister in May 1999 only to
be ousted from power in a coup exactly one year
is a breeding ground for talented and highly skilled
players in the game of rugby. It is the home of
Waisale Serevi, dubbed the 'King of Sevens' by fans
of the abbreviated rugby sevens code.
Fiji boasts 1,000 identified species
of plants and some 23 endemic species of birds.
National icon is the tagimoucia flower (Medinilla
waterhousei) that is only found in a mountainous
lake on Taveuni, dubbed the Garden Island of Fiji
for its rich and volcanic soil. The crested iguana
is the official mascot of the 12th South Pacific
Games Fiji is hosting in 2003.
The British monarch was head of
state of Fiji until September 1987. A military coup
led by then Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka reverted
Fiji to republic status. It now has a Prime Minister
and a President and has just been re-admitted into
the Commonwealth group of nations from where it
has been expelled twice.
Fiji has an unusual source of foreign
exchange: Soldiers serving in UN peacekeeping forces.
This began in 1978 when a contingent left to join
the UN forces in Lebanon. Although Fiji pulled out
from the region in December 2002, the stint has
been a source of work and income for thousands of
Fiji's young men and women. Soldiers and police
officers from Fiji currently serve in UN forces
in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Bosnia, East Timor and Bougainville
in Papua New Guinea.
Home to several regional organisations,
Fiji likes to claim it is the hub of the Pacific.
Among regional bodies that have Fiji as their home
are the University of the South Pacific, the Pacific
Islands Forum Secretariat, part of the Secretariat
of the Pacific Community, the South Pacific Applied
Geoscience Commission and the South Pacific Tourism