I went to Fiji not really knowing what to expect, besides plenty of beaches and palm trees. I’d never read much about Fiji, or seen a lot of pictures, I had no idea what made it different from anywhere else in the South Pacific.
Well, this country surprised me in a big way. Not only was it incredibly beautiful, it has a lot of unique quirks that make it so much more than just a beach. I’m going to write plenty of detailed articles later on, but I thought I’d start with a short primer on some of the more surprising things that you probably never knew about Fiji:
1. It’s Made Up of a LOT of Tiny Islands
332 to be exact, not include over 500 tiny islets. These are spread out over 7000 square miles, making Fiji bigger than you’d think. It becomes slightly less daunting when you realize that only 110 islands are inhabitable and 87% of the population lives on the two biggest islands Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.
2. They Kind of Used to be Cannibals
Let’s just get that one out of the way right now. It’s 100% true that prior to the 19th century the Fijians practiced human sacrifices as well as cannibalism. According to the Great Wikipedia:
The bodies of enemies slain in battle, or in sacrifice, were piled up and cooked for festivals, such as the installation of chiefs or the launching of a great canoe.
The last man to be cannibalized in Fiji was the Reverend Thomas Baker in 1867. His partially consumed shoes can still be seen in the National Museum. The tribe apologized to the Reverends family in 2003.
Of course once Christianity spread, the practice was abandoned. Fijians are literally some of the nicest, most friendly people I have met anywhere on earth. They stick to fish now.
3. Village Culture is Still the Way of Life
While there are a handful of small cities, most native Fijians still lead a life centered around their village. Community is very important to their culture, and most wealth and resources are divided among the residents of a village. Even most of the resort staff I got to know all go home to their villages in the evening.
Some areas are very poor, without electricity or running water, and some are doing quite a bit better, but the community spirit can be seen everywhere.
4. Literally Everyone Speaks English
This one might surprise you, until you consider the fact that Fiji was an English colony for over a century, up until 1970. All children are taught English starting from first grade, in addition to standard Fijian AND their local dialect (and sometimes Hindi or Chinese as well!).
Other imports from the English include Christianity, fish and chips and a deep passion for rugby.
5. Fiji is Pretty Diverse
Ethnic Fijians comprise only 54% of the country’s population. Really. One of the most surprising things I learned about Fiji is that it has a huge Indian population. Brought over as indentured servants by the British in the 1800’s, their descendants make up nearly 40% of the population. This means it’s really easy to find a good samosa.
There are also white Fijians and even Chinese Fijians who have been in the country for generations.
6. The Bottled Water Thing is Real
It really does come from Fiji! In the United States, Fiji Water is one of the priciest, classiest and, well most wasteful water brands. In Fiji they hand it out like candy.
7. They are Big on Sustainability
It might be because they live on small islands with limited resources, but Fiji is incredibly conscious about sustainable tourism practices. The villages of course, are almost completely self-sustaining. Many of the resorts also strive for self-sufficiency and many of the tour companies practice responsible tourism. Basically, unlike Thailand or some other places, you don’t have to feel like crap for being a tourist here.
8. It’s Not Just a Luxury Destination.
Yes Fiji is full of really beautiful luxury resorts (and I saw some great ones) but that’s not the only way to experience lovely Fiji. There are a lot of reasonable, and even budget resorts, hotels and hostels, and I saw quite a few backpackers headed out to the islands.
9. It’s Gorgeous
Well maybe you knew that, but it’s still so true!
So there’s your primer… stay tuned for more!
Special thanks to Tourism Fiji for inviting us to Fiji and covering our stay.
All opinions are my own.