FIJI or VITI ISLANDS:
Description and History.
A group of two hundred and fifty islands in the Southern Pacific, comprising an area of nearly 8,000 square miles. The two largest islands are Vanua Levu ("Great Land"), which is one hundred miles long and has an area of 2,600 square miles, and Viti Levu ("Great Viti or Fiji"), which is ninety by fifty miles and 4,250 square miles in extent. Some eighty of the islands are inhabited. They are of coral and volcanic formation, and have a pleasant climate. The islands were discovered by Tasman in 1643, and were visited by Bligh in 1789, and by Wilson in 1797. The Fijians combine characteristics of the Melanesian and Polynesian types. Physically they are an athletic, well-formed race, and mentally they are far above the Papuans. The population was divided up into tribes, and ruled by kings, until 1874, when the islands were annexed to Great Britain. The more powerful chiefs voluntarily proposed the cession, and signed articles to that effect in Oct., 1874. When Sir Arthur Gordon, the first English governor, arrived in 1875 a pestilence had carried off one-third of the population, and the islands were in a state of great poverty. Under English rule the yearly revenues have increased from £16,000 in 1875 to £138,167 in 1903, a code of laws has been adopted, and courts have been established for the administration of justice. The census of 1901 gave the population as 120,124, of whom 2,459 were Europeans, 94,397 Fijians, 17,105 Indians, etc. The steady extinction of the native element is shown by the number of births and deaths in 1903, 3,244 and 5,725 respectively. The chief productions are yams, sugar-cane, tea, maize, copra, and bananas.
The native religion included a belief in a future state and two classes of gods. Witchcraft was widely practised and taboo was in full force. Polygamy prevailed and female infanticide was practised. The wife or wives were strangled at the death of the husband. Life was cheap, the kings sacrificing men at the launching of a new canoe, the inception of a campaign, or the erection of a house. The islands were the headquarters of cannibalism although there were some natives whom the missionaries found averse to eating human flesh. The victims of war and shipwrecked sailors were commonly eaten, and human flesh was pronounced more palatable than pork. A chief registered the number of bodies he ate by stones and one of the missionaries counted 872 of these stones.
The first missionaries were Messrs. Cross and Cargill, who went to Fiji in 1835 from the Friendly Islands. In 1839 they were reinforced by Messrs. Lythe and Hunt, and by Mr. Williams and others in 1840. The work was carried on amidst discouragements and perils during the first years, but was rewarded with extensive revivals, and the gradual conversion of nearly the whole population. Thokombau, the leading chief, after resisting the missionaries for a number of years, was baptized in Jan., 1857, giving up all his wives but one. The language was reduced to writing; and the Bible, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, a Fijian-English dictionary (by Rev. David Hazlewood), and other books, have been printed in the native language. Cannibalism has been given up except among a few remote tribes and polygamy no longer prevails. Churches are well attended. Many natives have proved faithful preachers and catechists. The Sabbath is observed and family-worship is held in many families. The dark side of the picture is furnished by the constant decrease in the native population, their proneness to idleness, and the contaminating contact with the baser whites.
The English Wesleyans have been the only Protestants laboring in Fiji until recently the Seventh-day Adventists have entered the field. The Wesleyan churches in 1905 were divided into 12 circuits with 799 organized congregations, 17 European (or Australian) missionaries, 80 native ministers, 75 native catechists, 1,004 native teachers, 3,411 native local preachers, and 5,999 native class leaders, 35,456 native church members, and 5,499 on probation. There were 1,163 Sunday Schools and 28,403 native teachers and scholars, 1,151 day schools with 18,130 scholars. The "attendants at public worship" numbered 86,005. The chief institution of higher learning is Navuloa where ministers as well as teachers are trained. There are also high schools for boys and girls. In 1905, 22 new church buildings were put up in the single circuit of Ra.
The Roman Catholics are actively engaged on the islands and in 1903 had 30 European priests and 20 nuns, 71 churches and chapels, 163 schools, and 1,880 scholars. All the schools on the islands are supported by the Wesleyans and Catholics, except two, which receive subsidies from the government. A large missionary problem is offered by the laborers transported from British India and numbering in 1905 26,000 with only two missionaries laboring among them. The Fijians also send out foreign missionaries trained at Navuloa.
D. S. SCHAFF.