Fiji Islands

Fiji Islands a group of islands in Polynesia, situated 340. miles north-west of the Friendly Islands, between lat.15° 30' and 19° 30', and long. 177° and 1780 West. It comprises 225 islands, of which 95 are inhabited. The others are occasionally resorted to by natives for the purpose of fishing, and taking the bichede-mer, or sea-slug. Two are large islands, stretching north-east and south-west nearly throughout the whole extent of the group, and are supposed to be each about 300 miles in circumference. The group comprises seven districts, and is under as many principal chiefs. All the minor chiefs on the different islands are more or less connected or subject to one of these. The area of the whole group is estimated at 8033 sq. miles, and the population at from 125,000 to 150,000. The white population is about 2000, among whom are 40 Americans. The people are divided into a number of tribes, independent of and often hostile to' each other. In each tribe great and marked distinction of rank exist. The classes which are readily distinguished are as follows: 1. kings; 2. chiefs; 3. warriors; 4. the king's messengers (matanivanua, literally "eyes of the lands");: 5. slaves (kaisi). Mbau, the metropolis and imperial city, is situated on a small island, about two miles in circumference. It contains nearly one thousand inhabitants.

War is a constant occupation of the natives, and engrosses most of their time and thought. In 1809 they became acquainted with the use of fire- arms. The crew of a brig which had been wrecked on the reef off Nairai, in order to preserve their lives, joined the Mbau people, instructed them in the use of the musket, and assisted them in their wars. Next to war, agriculture is the most general occupation of this people. They have a great number of esculent fruits and roots, which they cultivate in addition to many spontaneous productions of the soil.

Of the religion of the natives, the following account is given in Newvcomb, Cyclopcedia of Missions: "The pantheon of the Fijians contains many deities. Many of the natives,' says Mr. Hunt, in his Memoirs of Mr. Cross -' believe in: the existence of a deity called Ove, who is considered the maker of all men; yet different parts of the group ascribe their origin to other gods. A certain female deity is said to have created the Vewa people; and yet if a child is born malformed it is attribute to an oversight of Ove The god most generally known next to Ove is Ndengei. He is worshipped in the form of a large :serpent, alleged to dwell in a district under the authority of Mbau, which is called Nakauvandra, and is situated near the western end of Viti-Levu. To this deity they believe that the spirit goes immediately after death for purification, or to receive sentence. All spirits; however, are not believed to be permitted to reach the judgment-seat of Ndengei; for, upon the road, it is supposed that an enormous. giant, armed with a large axe, stands constantly on the watch. With this weapon he endeavors to wound all who. attempt to pass him. Those who are wounded dare not present themselves to Ndengei, and are obliged .to wander about in the mountains. Whether the spirit be wounded or not depends not upon the conduct in life; but they ascribe an escape from a blow to good luck. They have four classes of gods besides their malicious deities.' The occasions on which the priests are required to officiate are. usually the following: to implore good crops of yams and taro; on going to battle; for propitious voyages; for rain; for storms, to drive boats and ships ashore, in order that the natives may plunder them; and for the destruction of their enemies. Their belief in a future state, guided by no just notions of religious or moral obligation, is the source of many abhorrent practices, among which are the custom of putting their parents to death when they are advanced in years, suicide, the immolation of wives at the funeral of their husbands, and human sacrifices." The islands were discovered in 1643 by Tasman, partly rediscovered in 17- 73 by Cook, visited in 1789 and 1792 by Bligh, but accurate information about them was for the first time obtained through the expeditions of Dumont d' Urville (1827) and Wilkes (1840). The; history of the Christianization of the Fiji Islands began in 1835. In October of that year, the Rev. Wm. Cross and D. Cargill Wesleyan missionaries from England, proceeded from Vavau,. one of the Friendly Islands, to Lakemba, one of the Fiji Islands. It. is but a small island, being only, about 22 miles in circumference, and did not contain above 1000 inhabitants. The chief, to whom their object was explained, appeared friendly, gave them a piece of land on which to live, and built a temporary dwelling for each of their families. In a few months the missionaries baptized number of the natives, some of whom had previously obtained a knowledge of Christianity in the Friendly Islands. The chief, being only a tributary chief, appeared unwilling to take any step in favor of Christianity until he knew the minds of-the more powerful chiefs of Fiji, and amen threatened and persecuted the converts. Is the course of a few years, the missionaries, with the aid of native teachers and preachers, some of whom came from the Vavau Islands, introduced the Gospel into various other islands of the Fiji group besides Lakemba, as Rewa, Vewa, Bua, Nandy and some others of minor importance. They were favorably received by a number of the chiefs and the people, in some instances, however from motives of a secular character. In 1845 and the following year 'there was a great religious movement in the islands of Vewa, which extended as-o to other islands, and resulted in large additions to the Christian churches. Among the most remarkable fruits of the movement was the conversion of a chief whose name was Varin and who had long acted as the human butcher of Seru, being called the Napoleon of Fiji.

In 1854, the chief king of the islands, king Thakombau, who occupied several of the smaller islands and the eastern coast of Viti-Levu, together, with his tribe, embraced Christianity. Since this time the prosperity of the islands has rapidly increased, and they are now partially civilized. .A number of whites have; settled on the island, and have developed to a considerable extent the natural resources of the soil. A great part of the territory of Thakombau is now mapped off into cotton and. sugar plantations, most of the planters being Australians. There is also in the island of Levuka, now the head-quarters of the king and his seat of government, a flourishing little town called Ovalau, which has a hotel and a number of stores, all of them kept by whites. There is a British consul also stationed in this island, and in 1868 an agent of the American government was sent there from Sidney. About the same time that king Thakombau embraced Christianity, the crews of two American whalers were murdered by his subjects. The American government preferred a claim for compensation, and it was ultimately agreed that $45,000 should be paid by the Fijians in reparation for the outrage committed.; The king, finding it difficult-to raise the sum agreed upon, offered in 1858 his entire territory to the English government, by which it was, however, declined. In 1868 the king's prime minister, C. H. Hare (an Englishman), proposed that the American government should not only take possession of the three islands which had been mortgaged to it, but that it should also purchase all the other islands of the group. As the government of the United States was disinclined to buy the islands, an offer was accepted from a company in Melbourne the Fiji Trading and Banking Company, Which undertook to pay the amount due to the U. States, and in re turn received very extensive rights and privileges.

Christianity is now the predominant religion in the Fiji Islands. In the Wesleyan Methodist Calendar for 1869, the statistics of the mission are reported as follows: circuits, 9, chapels; 4 53 other preaching-places, 339; missionaries and assistant missionaries, 58; subordinate paid and unpaid agents, 4051; members, -17,836; on trial for membership, 4609; scholars in schools, 35,617; attendants on public worship, 109,088. The Christianization of the whole group makes rapid progress. One heathen island was visited in 1867 for the first time. In the same year the Rev. Mar. Baker, a Wesleyan missionary, also a native assistant missionary, a native catechist,'and six native students were murdered by the people in the interior of Viti Levu. See Newcomb, Cyclopedia of Missions, p. 720; Brown's History of Missions, vol. i ; J. Hunt's Life of Mr. Cross; Walter Lawry, Missions in Tonga and Fiji; G. R. Rowe-, Life of John Hunt T. Williams and James' Calvert, Fiji 'and the Fijians (London, 2d edit. 1868, 2 vols.). (A. J. S.)

 
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