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Fiji, The People of Fiji

Fiji School of Medicine, sulus, Fijian culture, subsistence crops, population of Fiji

The population of Fiji (2002 estimate) is 856,346, giving the country an overall population density of 47 persons per sq km (121 per sq mi). About 20 percent of the people live in Suva (population, 2000, 77,366). The second and third largest urban areas are Lautoka (36,083) and Nadi (9,170), also located on Viti Levu. Some 50 percent of Fijiís population is rural, with most people living in fishing or farming villages of less than 600 people.

Fijiís population is ethnically and culturally mixed. The Fijians, who comprise about 50 percent of the population, belong to the Melanesian ethnic group. Fiji lies in a transitional zone between Melanesia and Polynesia, however, and the Fijian culture is more closely related to that of the Polynesians. Indians, whose ancestors were brought between 1879 and 1916 to work on British plantations in Fiji, comprise about 45 percent of the population. The remainder consists of Europeans, Chinese, other Pacific Islanders, and people of mixed ethnicity. About 56 percent of the people are Christians, with Methodists and Roman Catholics forming the largest groups. Hindus comprise 33 percent of the population, and Muslims, 7 percent. Fijians are mostly Christians, while most Indians are either Hindus or Muslims. English is the official language and nearly everyone can speak it. With one another, however, the ethnic Fijians usually speak Fijian, while most Indians speak Hindi.

Although education is not compulsory in Fiji, virtually all children attend primary school. The government provides free education for eight years. Tuition is charged for levels 9 through 12, but some financial assistance is available. In 1996, 70 percent of secondary school aged children were enrolled. An estimated 99 percent of the population age 15 and older can read and write. The University of the South Pacific (founded in 1968), the Fiji School of Medicine (1885), and numerous vocational schools are located in Suva.

The lifestyle in Fiji varies between ethnic Fijians and Indians. Rural Fijians practice subsistence agriculture. Some live in traditional bures, one-room houses with woven mat walls and thatched roofs. However, many bures have been replaced by concrete houses that withstand cyclones better. Furniture is sparse, as floor mats are preferred to sofas and chairs. Village life is communal, with everyone expected to share in ceremonial preparations and village upkeep. People are respectful of traditional patriarchal authority; the village chief, usually a man, leads the villagers and presides over important rituals. Kava, a non-alcoholic drink made from the crushed root of a pepper plant, is the ceremonial drink. It is served from a bilo (coconut cup) and drunk to ritual clapping, once before drinking and three times after swallowing. Rice, yams, and fish are typical foods. Western-style clothing is common, but sulus, wraparound skirts for men and women, are also worn.

Rural Indians also live in small villages. Many lease land from Fijian landowners and grow subsistence crops and sugarcane as a cash crop. Their homes are made of concrete or wood. Foods are cooked with curry and often served with roti, a flatbread. Long pants and shirts are common for Indian men, while many women wear saris (wraparound dresses).

Although more than half of Fijiís population is rural, there is a shift to urban areas, and urban growth is associated with increased poverty and crime. Dwellings range from modern Western-style homes to makeshift housing in poor areas. There is no formalized segregation, but neighborhoods, villages, schools, and voluntary associations tend to divide along ethnic lines. Relations between Fijians and Indians are strained, and there is little intermarriage.

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