Fiji’s maritime borders make it a relatively isolated state and vastly reduces interest in the outside world, and the rest of humanity’s presence is felt in Fiji largely through imported TV. However, Fiji is populated by migratory humans much like every other spot of habitable land on Earth, and has had its fair share of trade, war and colonization.
Beginning with immigration and up until the mid-1800s, the vast majority of Fiji’s foreign relations were with its close neighbors, especially Tonga. The Lau group, an archipelago of small islands in Fiji’s southeastern quadrant, have served as a bridge for Tongan invasions and cultural imperialism for centuries.
Initial contact with Europeans spread a fierce reputation of widespread ritual cannibalism – not an inaccurate portrayal at the time. The islands were thus largely left alone until the 1830s, when European missionaries became increasingly rabid and ambitious. Missionaries left an enormous cultural impact, spreading Christianity and crushing a wide range of traditional artefacts and beliefs. Cession in 1874 made British domination complete
Fiji, like many former colonial subjects, has reversed the migrant flow, and tens of thousands of Fijians now live in English-speaking Western nations such as Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK. They have moved abroad in search of jobs and new opportunities, leaving behind the occasional political instability. Contemporary immigrants in Fiji are mostly in-country, leaving rural areas for urbanity, though there is a growing population of Chinese entrepreneurs and road workers in Suva and across the country.
Today, Fiji’s relations are dominated by it’s colonial history, status as a small developing nation and its as well as it’s trade ties. Without land borders, Fiji faces few security threats. This is helped by its participation in multinational security missions, which not only buys goodwill with Western nations but keeps Fiji’s reputation far from that of say, America under Bush.
The 2006 coup led to widespread condemnation from Western leaders – many of Fiji’s biggest trading partners. The coup-maker has since been legitimately elected president and business is booming. Much of this business is resort tourism, consisting of Australians and wealthier Westerners. Fijians all speak English, giving it an edge over Francophone neighbors Vanuatu when it comes to ease-of-travel.
Most notably, trade ties with the Chinese have boomed over the past decade. They can be most often seen hawking wares in urban areas or managing local labor on road construction sites. This new wave of Chinese immigration suffers from some of the same difficulties as earlier groups of Chinese – an immense cultural gap. It is poorly managed by the Chinese government, whom most clumsily wield the soft power of cultural attraction through authoritarian management styles, and is taken advantage of by a typical local rumor mill looking to point fingers elsewhere. Not helping the scenario is the very real presence of young (sometimes underage) Chinese prostitutes in urban areas and reports of Chinese involvement in the local drug trade.
One theory is that the Chinese are interested in Fiji’s strategic naval position – it was used as a major Pacific base by the US during WWII. The more likely answer, however, is that the Chinese expansion in Fiji is closely paralleling it’s expansion elsewhere: increasing China’s international roster of allies; putting Chinese businesses to work in quickly-growing developing nations; and providing an escape hatch for many young, hardworking Chinese tired of the domestic rat race.
In Sabeto, Master Jim’s Kids Club of twenty-something 12-15-year-olds are flying to Australia for a week-and-a-half-trip, from the 23rd of December to the 4th of January, an awesome experience for these young village kids. They’ve been practicing mekes and short speeches and a rendition of a hip-hop dance that place first in Australia’s Got Talent a few years back, and will go to Australian homes, museums and cultural spots. Props to Master Jim for getting this trip going from start to finish, organizing funding and rambunctious youngsters as well as making mad dashes to the airport for last-minute changes in scheduling.
In my own pursuit to introduce Fijians to the world, I’m collecting resources to paint a world map on the school’s administrative building, facing the main school block, hoping to have it used in social studies classes or kids to just stare and ask questions. On my Mom’s trusty advice, I’ve decided to use a Pacific-centered map, in the interest of having students look outwards at the world, in all directions, rather than see themselves on the edge of the world. As for labor, I figure I’ll take a leaf from the Chinese and employ the newly-returned Kids Club members in January.