From the land of ‘world's first newspaper’
Six parliamentarians were selected to represent India at Fiji, under the leadership of Saifuddin Soz, a senior member of Parliament from Jammu and Kashmir. It was indeed an act of good fortune that granted me the chance to be part of the group of Indian representatives attending the Asia-Pacific Parliamentarians Conference held in the island nation. I must admit, that the six days that we had spent in this small country had helped us understand various aspects of the place – including its people, culture and history.
We were also lucky to enjoy the hospitality of the country’s leaders, including that of the President, Prime Minister and Speaker. Laisenia Qarase, who has Fiji’s Prime Minister from 2000-2006, had also hosted us.
A peak into history
Fiji was initially the land of many tribal communities. For almost a century, Fiji was under the control of various European invaders. It began in the year 1643, when a Dutchman named Abel Tasman had entered the nation during his quest for the Great Southern Continent. In 1874, about a century after the voyage of an Englishman named Captain James Cook, Fiji had become a British Colony. Many Indians were transported to the nation to work as labourers at various British plantations. The island nation was granted independence in the year 1970 and in the year 1987 it had attained the title – Republic of Fiji.
Fiji – a quick insight into the country’s geography
While Japan is called “the land of the rising sun,” it would probably be more apt to consider handing over the title to this island nation. Over 300 islands constitute the Republic of Fiji.
Republic of the Fiji Islands is situated approximately 2000 kilometres away from New Zealand. It’s capital city is located in Suva, which is a part of the Viti Levu island. This is also the country’s main port. Tuvalu, an independent island nation situated in the South Pacific, is located approximately 1000 kilometres away from Fiji. Unlike Fiji, this country has an area of only 26 square kilometres with a population of about 10,000 people. “Tuvalu has been an independent nation for over 12 years,” said Tuvalu’s speaker Otinielu Tausi.
Surrounded by the world’s largest ocean – Pacific Ocean – this country is bound to remind you of Kerala in several respects.
We had boarded the Fiji Airways Flight from Sydney, Australia to the Fiji International Airport in Nadi. This journey lasted for about four hours. When we began de-boarding the flight at Nadi, it felt like we hadn’t left the Cochin International Airport in Nedumbassery. Everything around us seemed rather familiar – the greenery, the coconut palms, banana plantations, paddy fields and many more. In addition to these there were many cocoa plantations as well.
The view of the sea, however, was indeed unique.
Fiji is known for its aquatic life. With a wide variety of fish and coral reefs, this place is paradise for those who enjoy exploring the ocean.
Another startling feature of the island nation is the sand dunes. These dunes are formed due to the erosion in the area behind the coast. Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park situated in Fiji’s Viti Levu island is the most popular destination to witness this wonder of nature. Interestingly, the dunes are also an important source of archaeological artefacts. The dune system is spread across an area of 650 hectares. Each of these dunes are about 60 metres tall. This area has been a favourite shooting location for many Hollywood and Chines film directors. Perhaps, Indian directors could consider exploring this land for a change!
It could also be noted that Fiji is located in a time zone that is approximately six-and-a-half hour ahead of Indian Standard Time.
The Fiji Times
To begin with, I know that the Fiji Times established in the year 1869 is not the oldest daily in the world. By then, even Kerala had witnessed its first Malayalam daily.
For many years, the newspaper was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. In the year 2010, Mahendra Motibhai Patel had purchased the publication from Murdoch and has been under this control ever since.
The publication also faced certain issues pertaining the censorship of content before the country saw the first military coup in May 14, 1987. As mark of protest, the Fiji Times was published, with blank spaces in the editorial section.
The mas head of the newspaper claims that it is “The First Newspaper Published in the world every day.”
But this claim is not based on history but the positon of this country. The International Date Line passes through Fiji, which witnesses the sunrise for the first time.
People, culture and political hierarchy
The country also witnessed two military coups in 1987 and 2006. However, it is now a democratic country with the implementation of various constitutional procedures. The judiciary is rather powerful in the island nation.
There are over nine lakh people residing in Fiji with 87 percent of the population living in two of the country’s most popular islands. The building constructed during the British reign add a special charm to the place. Most people in Fiji speak English, which is also the country’s official language. Apart from English, the people also speak Fijian and Hindi.
Christians constitute about 65 percent of Fiji’s population. A large majority of the Christians belong to the Methodist congregation followed by Catholics. Hindus constitute about 28 percent of the total population while six percent of the resident are Muslims.
The residents are pleasant and have a cheery disposition. ‘Bula’ is a term that they use to greet people (similar to the Indian word – Namaste). Sulu or the skirt is the traditional attire of the men living in Fiji. The Sulu Vakataga is a rectangle cloth of varying length( below-knee but above the ankle) wrapped around a man’s hips and legs and traditionally fastened by tying at the waist. These sulus, lately, are fastened with buckles. Women, on the other hand, wear sulu jaba which are long skirt worn on occasions.
India in Fiji
About 44 percent of the population consists of people of Indian-origin. These residents speak an interesting dialect of Hindi that is blend with Fijian phrases and words.
When I was walking along with Menaka Gandhi through Suva’s municipal market, I saw people greeting her most politely and speaking to her. Now, this was an experience that I had sensed during my visits to the Gulf countries. It is no wonder that Indian movies are screened in theatres in Fiji. One can even read about the latest developments in India in Fijian newspapers.
I could also see the offices of a few established Indian firms in Suva, including The New India Assurance Limited, Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and the Bank of Baroda (BOB). The Indian High Commissioner’s office was situated in the LIC building on Butt Street.
Diwali is celebrated in a most grand fashion. The Subramanya Swamy Temple in Nadia is yet another popular tourist destination. This place of worship follows those rituals observed in the temples of Tamil Nadu.
Popular tourist destinations in Fiji
Some of the other popular places to visit in Fiji are the Albert Park and the Thurston Botanical Park in Suva. While the Albert Park was named after the husband of Queen Victoria (the late British rule) the Thurston Botanical Park is named after the British governor Thurston. The botanical park also houses a museum and library. Artefacts, over 3700 years old, are preserved in the museum while the library has over 12,000 books.
As I decided to dip my feet in the vast Pacific Ocean that was seen flowing next to the Warwick Hotel in Korovelu, Fiji, the beauty of the island nation had left an impression that was deeply engraved in my mind.
Things to remember while travelling to Fiji
You can avail your VISA upon reaching Fiji. The best month to visit Fiji is in August.
(Translated by Gitanjali Diwakar)