Story: Fijians

The four military coups since 1987 have prompted many Fijians to look for a more secure life in New Zealand. Representing varied ethnicities and political views, members of the Fijian community preserve their differences and share their heritage through religion, sports and cultural events.

Story by Jacqueline Leckie
Main image: Fijian children drawing pictures of Fiji at Te Papa, 2002

Story summary

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The Fijian community

There are many different ethnic groups among Fijians. The two largest groups are indigenous Fijians (Taukei and Rotumans), and Fijians of Indian descent (Indo-Fijians or Fiji Indians). Indo-Fijians are descended from the 60,000 Indians who were hired by British colonists to work in Fiji’s sugar industry. Conditions were harsh, and out of their hardship they developed a unique culture.

Because of the ethnic diversity of Fijian people, it is difficult to gauge the number living in New Zealand.

First waves of immigration

Throughout the 19th century Fiji attracted New Zealand planters, traders and missionaries. Close relations between the countries continued into the 20th century, especially in military defence, nursing and education. As connections increased, more Fijians looked to settle in New Zealand. Some came on temporary work schemes and stayed.

Post-1987 immigration

Twice in 1987 Fiji’s military force overthrew the nation’s government, causing political, economic and personal crisis. Thousands fled for the security of countries such as New Zealand. During the military rule that followed, many Indo-Fijians emigrated to avoid persecution. Farmers who feared their land leases would not be renewed also came. Politicians sought refuge in New Zealand and started groups that campaigned to restore democracy in Fiji.

Another coup in 2000, when civilians took members of the government hostage, unleashed violence aimed mostly at Indo-Fijians, and prompted Fijians of many ethnic groups to emigrate.

Community and culture

Community associations and clubs help to keep the Fijian culture alive in New Zealand. The Fiji Association began in Auckland in 1977. It organised sporting and cultural events, and sponsored dancers and musicians from Fiji and India. A number of women’s societies were set up in the 1990s to give practical and legal support for women facing domestic or immigration problems.

How to cite this page:

Jacqueline Leckie, 'Fijians', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 May 2024)

Story by Jacqueline Leckie, published 8 February 2005, updated 25 March 2015