Story: Fijians

Page 2. First waves of immigration

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Links between Fiji and New Zealand

During the 19th century Fiji attracted New Zealand planters, traders and missionaries, and on several occasions it was suggested that Fiji be made a state of New Zealand. A powerful economic bond between the two nations was the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. This was an Australian company with plantations in Fiji that produced sugar, mostly destined for a refinery at Birkenhead, Auckland. New Zealand helped uphold Britain’s colonial power in Fiji, and sent troops at Britain’s request when Indian workers went on strike in 1920. New Zealand unions protested, initiating close bonds between organised labour in New Zealand and Fiji.

Increasingly, New Zealand became involved in Fiji’s administration. In 1936 nursing in Fiji came under New Zealand supervision. During the Second World War New Zealand was responsible for Fiji’s defence, and later established an air base at Laucala Bay. And in the 1960s many Fijian students learned more about New Zealand than their own country, following the adoption of the New Zealand School Certificate system. As a result, Fijians became familiar with New Zealand and New Zealanders, and this may have influenced immigration patterns.

Settlement before 1945

Before the Second World War, few Fijians came to live in New Zealand. Until 1936 there were fewer than 1,000 Fijian-born residents, and in 1945 the number was 1,173. Some temporary residents included the children of the Indian élite, who were educated in New Zealand.

Fijians pose as Māori

The Fijian government rejected Indo-Fijian volunteer soldiers during the Second World War. Both indigenous Fijians and Europeans were concerned at the power that military training might give Indo-Fijians. Memories of the 1920 strike, and concern at the nationalist movement in India fuelled these fears. Some Indo-Fijians subsequently enlisted in the 28th (Māori) Battalion in New Zealand using false names.

Post-war Fijian settlement

After the Second World War Fijians with predominantly European ancestry were allowed to settle permanently in New Zealand. Others gained permanent residence through marriage to New Zealanders. However, the small Fijian community at this time consisted mainly of temporary residents who were tertiary students or contract labourers. The earliest were a few Fijian female domestic servants. In the 1950s Indo-Fijians worked as temporary scrub cutters in Whanganui.

Work schemes

Fijians immigrated temporarily under various work schemes between 1967 and 1987. They laboured in arduous, low-paid agricultural and scrub cutting work in the lower North Island or in tussock grubbing in North Canterbury. By 1969 work included fruit picking, forestry, vegetable and tobacco cultivation, and halal slaughtering. Initially most who worked under these schemes were Indo-Fijians. But by the 1970s and early 1980s, they were increasingly indigenous Fijians, partly because of the Fijian government’s preferential policies. Some of these temporary workers remained illegally in New Zealand and eventually became permanent residents. Auckland became the principal centre of settlement, followed by Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton and Dunedin. A community of indigenous Fijians settled in Whanganui.

How to cite this page:

Jacqueline Leckie, 'Fijians - First waves of immigration', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/fijians/page-2 (accessed 7 December 2019)

Story by Jacqueline Leckie, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 25 Mar 2015