Fijian people are the major indigenous people of the Fiji Islands, and live in an area informally called Melanesia. The Fijian people arrived in Fiji from western Melanesia approximately 3,500 years ago. Later they would move onward to other surrounding islands including Rotuma, as well as blending with other (Polynesian) settlers on Tonga and Samoa. They are indigenous to all parts of Fiji except the island of Rotuma. The original settlers are now called "Lapita people" after a distinctive pottery produced locally. Lapita pottery was found in the area from 800 BCE onward.
As of 2005, Fijians constituted slightly more than half of the Fijian population. Indigenous Fijians are predominantly of Melanesian extraction, with some Polynesian admixture. Other ethnic groups in Fiji include Fiji Indians, the Rotuman people, and minority communities, which include Caucasians, Chinese, and others.
New Zealand has a large Fijian population, according to the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs. In 2001, Fijian people were the fifth largest Pacific ethnic group living in New Zealand. There was a decrease of 8 percent between 1996 and 2001. The estimated population size is 231,800 in 2001.
The Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) once passed laws and regulations governing the Fijian people. Today, the Great Council of Chiefs meets yearly to discuss Fijian concerns. The council is responsible for appointing the Fijian president. The council is made up of 55 chiefs selected from the 14 provinces. Included in the council are three appointees from the island of Rotuma and six appointed by the Minister of Fijian Affairs. The Minister of Fijian Affairs consults with the Fijian president as part of the selection process. Finally, former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka serves a lifetime appointment on the council.
The Tabua is a much revered. It is a whale's tooth which is used in both public and private occasions. The tooth is considered sacred.
About 86 percent of Fijian land is owned by indigenous Fijian people. In 1876, Sir Arthur Hamilton-Gordon, the British colonial Governor, prohibited the sale of Fijian land to non-ethnic Fijians. This policy has been continued, hardly modified, to this day. The Governor also banned the exploitation of Fijians as laborers, and in 1878 imported indentured laborers from India to work in the sugarcane fields. The effects of this immigration created an ethnic polarization which has proved culturally and politically challenging to modern Fiji.
Indigenous Fijians are overwhelmingly Christian, with the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma claiming the loyalty of 66.6% (1996 census). Other significant denominations include the Roman Catholic Church (13.3%), the Assemblies of God (6.2%) and the Seventh-day Adventists (5.1%). About 8% belong to other churches from a large number of denominations. About 0.8% follow non-Christian religions or no religion.
Fijians have been known as expert canoe-builders, using them to trade with Tonga. They were usually double canoes, similar except one was shorter and served as a type of outrigger. They are united by beams, with a platform on it that extended beyond the sides.
His Royal Highness Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, sent the Instruments of Independence to Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. They were received on October 10, 1970. In 1972, the first general elections were held using the 1970 constitution. In 1987, two coups were staged. The first coup was a bloodless military coup. The second coup severed ties with the British Monarchy. In 1990, a new constitution was adopted and in 1992 the first general election using the new constitution was held.
The Fijian traditions and ceremonies are historically based and share commonalities throughout the provinces.