Story: Fijians

Page 1. The Fijian community

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Ethnic groups

Fijians in New Zealand, as in Fiji, consist of different ethnic groups. Their ancestors come from places as diverse as Europe, China, India, Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific islands. The two largest groups are indigenous Fijians (Taukei and Rotumans), and Fijians of Indian descent (Indo-Fijians or Fiji Indians).

Fiji’s ethnic complexity is a consequence of British colonisation between 1874 and 1970. Official policies separated the indigenous, Indian, European and other communities in economic, administrative, political and social spheres. A striking feature of colonisation was the indentured labour system. Between 1879 and 1916 about 60,000 Indians were hired to work under harsh and restrictive conditions in Fiji’s sugar industry. The workers called themselves Girmitiyas, a word which evolved from the English word ‘agreement’. A unique Indo-Fijian culture developed, which explains why many Indo-Fijians are distinct from other New Zealand Indians. It also underlies different political and economic causes of migration.


How big is the Fijian population in New Zealand? The answer depends upon how Fijian identity is defined. In 2018, 19,772 people said they had Fijian ethnicity (up from 14,445 in 2013), while 15,132 claimed Indo-Fijian ethnicity (10,926 in 2013). However, 62,310 New Zealand residents of various ethnicities were born in Fiji (up from 52,755 in 2006). The latter group included many ethnicities, especially Indo-Fijians (probably counted under Asian or Indian ethnic categories). Moreover, the total number of New Zealanders with Fijian ancestry is even higher because of the rapidly increasing percentage of New Zealand-born Fijians. In 2018, by place of birth, Fijians were the largest Pacific group living in New Zealand.


Finding suitable work has not always been easy. The exodus of Indo-Fijians from Fiji to New Zealand during the late 1980s coincided with high unemployment in New Zealand. Discrimination was also a problem. Many had to accept less skilled jobs, and some opened shops. Nevertheless, in 2018 Fijians had the highest rate of full-time employment (56%) among Pacific peoples in New Zealand.

Fijians are now well represented in the professional, technical, service and retail sectors. Others work as machine operators, assemblers, and in forestry. Fijians are more likely to be self-employed or employers than other Pacific Islanders.

How to cite this page:

Jacqueline Leckie, 'Fijians - The Fijian community', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 July 2024)

Story by Jacqueline Leckie, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Jul 2024