Fiji Guide

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Books

Below are some of my favorite Fiji books. Some may or may not be in print but most are available on Amazon.com (see links below.)

Travel

Moon Fiji by David Stanley (Avalon Travel Publishing, Berkeley, CA, 2011). Travel writers come and go but one of the few people who you can count on, especially when it comes to the South Pacific, is David Stanley. A long time Fiji-fanatic, Stanley’s latest Fiji Handbook is still the best on the market. Price is US $19.95. www.southpacific.org

On Fiji Islands (Penguin Books, 1987), by Ronald Wright, captures the spirit of Fiji in a way I’ve not encountered in any other book. Mr Wright, a polished writer with a background in anthropology, does not miss a nuance. His book is a distillation of a sojourn to Fiji which took in everything from the cane fields to the cocktail bars. His real gift is providing insight by weaving a modern chronicle of Fiji in with its history and culture. Wright’s anecdotes, which recreate conversations with Fijians of every stripe, are true to life and often very amusing. If you were to purchase one book as a supplement to this guide, I would recommend this one.

Fiji: Islands of the Dawn by Leonard Wibberly (Ives Washburn, New York, 1964). A wonderfully written account of one man’s experiences in Fiji within a historical context. Wibberly, author of {The Mouse that Roared} and other books, has keen powers of observation and a wit to match.

Moon Handbooks South Pacific (Avalon Travel Publishing, Emeryville, CA, 2004). Any traveler planning to do a South Pacific sojourn should start by picking up this book. Price is US $24.95. www.southpacific.org

The Fiji Explorer’s Handbook (Graphics Pacific, Suva, 1985), by Kim Gravelle, is a very fine road guide covering Viti Levu and Ovalau. This is the book to get for the serious driver – it has good maps. (You’ll need to buy this in Fiji.)

Natural History

Birds of the Fiji Bush by Fergus Clunie (Fiji Museum, Suva, 1984) describes birds of Fiji with illustrations by Pauline Morse. It’s the best book on the subject.

Fiji’s Natural Heritage by Paddy Ryan (Southwestern Publishing Co, Auckland, 1988) is quite readable, authoritative and interesting. It has terrific photos and informative text that covers all manner of Fijian flora and fauna. It’s really the only book on the subject but fortunately, it’s a good one.

The Snorkeller’s Guide to the Coral Reef From the Red Sea to the Pacific Ocean (Exile Publishing, 1994) by Paddy Ryan is both a primer for neophytes that covers every conceivable aspect of snorkelling and provides a wonderful introduction to the flora and fauna of the coral reef. It is a valuable resource both for the serious snorkeller or diver who has the intention of ever dipping a toe into Fiji’s warm waters.

History

Where the Waves Fall by K R Howe (George Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1984). This book is subtitled `A new South Seas history from first settlement to colonial rule’ and is thus not strictly a work about Fiji. It is a scholarly but very readable tome and one of the best books available on the exploration and settlement of Fiji and its South Pacific neighbors.

Fiji – A Short History (George Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1984), by Deryk Scarr, is a very thorough work by a leading Fiji historian. Unfortunately, the writing style is heavy-handed.

Fiji Times – A History of Fiji (The Fiji Times & Herald, Suva, 1979), by Kim Gravelle, is a collection of 50 stories originally published in a newspaper series by the Fiji Times, Fiji’s oldest publication. It is probably the most entertaining historical account available, but its newspaper-like format spotlights only particular areas and thus is limited.

Broken Waves: A History of the Fiji Islands in the Twentieth Century Brij Lal is a Australia-based academic born in Fiji. One reviewer this book a “magisterial history of twentieth-century Fiji.”. Lal ties together a disparate wealth of information and scholarship. It’s a good read and one of the few good contemporary works.

Matanitu—The Struggle for Power in Early Fiji (University of the South Pacific, Suva, 1985) by David Routledge is, according to the experts, one of the very best books on Fiji’s history. It’s focused on the years learding up to cession. The title translates as ‘Confederation of States’, a term that incorporates both the old and new systems of government.

The People From the Horizon, An Illustrated History of the Europeans Among the South Seas Islanders was written by Sir Philip Snow (Phaidon, Oxford & McLaren, London, 1979, 1986) once a highly respected civil servant in Fiji’s colonial government from 1938 to 1952. A fluent speaker of Fijian and Fiji Hindi, he has an intimate knowledge of Fiji as well as other islands of the Pacific and has written a number of books. It details the exploration, settlement and development by Europeans in the Pacific. It also discusses the problems that arose regarding the contact between the indigenous and foreign cultures.

Suva – A History & Guide (Pacific Publications, Sydney, 1978), by Albert Schutz, is a very fine booklet (52 pages long), painstakingly researched and well written. Schutz, who is a professor of Polynesian languages at the University of Hawaii, details virtually everything you ever wanted to know about Suva and its environs, including the people behind the street names and the history of every neighbourhood. Although more a historical work than a guidebook, it is a must for the serious Fijiphile. (You’ll need to buy this in Fiji.)

A History of Fiji (Government Press, Suva, 1946), by R A Derrick, is a seminal work on Fijian history written by an educator who was considered an all-time authority on the subject. Available in Fiji if you’re lucky enough to find it.

Language

Say it in Fijian, by A.J. Schutz (Pacific Publications, Sydney 1972) is the best primer on the Fijian language available.

People & Society

Under the Ivi Tree by Cyril S Belshaw (University of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1964; and Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1964). An exhaustive socioeconomic study of the Fijian people drawn from the author’s obviously considerable personal experience in the islands.

Kava: The Pacific Elixir : The Definitive Guide to Its Ethnobotany, History, and Chemistry by Vincent Lebot, Mark Merlin, Lamont Lindstrom it was originally published by Yale University Press. This is a complete guide to kava. It summarizes the literature and research of Piper methysticum which is now popular as an anti-stress supplement. The book describes its use in the religious, political, and economic life of the Pacific islands.

Fiji in Literary History

Whereas the great Fiji novel has yet to be written, a number of great writers did drop in, namely Rupert Brooke, Jack London, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham. However none of their visits resulted in exceptionally good literature. Kipling did write a short poem about the old capital of Levuka and Twain did comment on his short stay in Fiji in Following the Equator in 1897, but these are minuscule compared to the volumes of literature set in other parts of the Pacific. London wrote a short story called ‘The Whale Tooth’ which appeared in his South Sea Tales and was probably based on the killing of Reverend Baker, but it is not one of his best. Perhaps the best book yet written about Fiji by a major author is Leonard Wibberly’s contemporary account Fiji: Islands of the Dawn (Ives Washburn, New York, 1964). Although out of print, it is worth looking for. The book is a wonderfully written account of one man’s experiences in Fiji within a historical context. That is, the author alternates between chapters dealing with his own encounters and an entertaining history of Fiji. Wibberly, author of The Mouse that Roared and other books, has keen powers of observation and a wit to match. Unfortunately, he seems to be the only writer of stature in modern times to have drifted into Fiji and left us with something in print. The dearth of literature on Fiji makes his book all the more important.

If you are a Michener fan, he wrote an essay on Fijian-Indian relations called ‘Fiji’ which was at best a subjective if not vituperative blast at Indians. Likewise, his short story ‘The Mynah Birds’ portrayed Indians in an ugly and racist manner. Both pieces appeared in Michener’s Return to Paradise. To his credit Michener apologised about his untoward remarks years after the publication of the book.

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