Spread across 18,372 square miles of the South Pacific, and consisting of 332 islands, of which 110 are inhabited, lies the Republic of the Fiji Islands.
The exact origins of the first inhabitants of the islands of Fiji remain a mystery, since the Fijians had no written language and relied on memory for their history. It is most commonly accepted that the first settlers arrived around 1500 B.C.
What is clear, however, is that Fiji was settled by two distinct races, today known as the Melanesian and Polynesian races.
The Melanesian people made their way to Fiji from the islands of Vanuatu, New Caledonia and the eastern Solomon Islands. These settlers were dark skinned with many of the physical characteristics of the Negro race.
The other settlers of the island of Fiji were taller, lighter skinned, and with straighter hair. They are often referred to as the Lapita people, named for an area in New Caledonia where large deposits of their distinctive form of pottery were found. Lapita pottery, marked by geometric designs formed by stamping the unfired clay with a tooth-like implement have been found from New Guinea eastward to Samoa.
The Lapita people were also skilled sailors and navigators who subsisted largely, but not entirely, by fishing along the coasts of the islands on which they lived. These people and their descendants form what is now known as the Polynesian race.
Scholars debate which race arrived in Fiji first, although evidence suggests that the Lapita people may have been the first to arrive - from Southeast Asia via New Guinea and New Caledonia, settling along the shorelines of the major islands of Fiji.
The Melanesian people arrived sometime later and were forced to settle further inland in the less hospitable areas of the islands.
Over the centuries the population of the Melanesian people increased and tensions arose between the two races. A large portion of the Lapita people were forced, or chose, to leave the islands of Fiji for places further east - Tonga, Samoa and eventually the other islands which today comprise the area known as Polynesia. The Melanesian people remained in Fiji and became the dominant race of the islands.
Interestingly, however, many aspects of the Lapita culture were adopted by the Melanesians, including their chiefly hierarchical structure.
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