“We, the Black people in Fiji, came here a long time ago to our present homes in Fiji from Tanganyika, in East Africa. We don’t know exactly when we came to Fiji but we know that we came from Africa.” –Fijian Tradition
INTRODUCTION TO THE AFRICAN PRESENCE IN FIJI April 14, 2000 By RUNOKO RASHIDI
On March 14, 2000 I returned to Honolulu, Hawaii from a combined, and very much needed, nine day vacation- holiday and study tour to Viti Levu, Fiji. Fiji, as is well- known, is an island nation deep in the South Pacific. The island of Viti Levu (which means “Great Fiji”) is the largest and most populous island in Fiji with an approximate area of 10,400 kilometers and 75% of the total Fijian population. The Fiji isles themselves, of which there are more than 300, are situated at a kind of ocean crossroads between the mighty island chains of Polynesia and Melanesia.
I considered that traveling to Fiji was a kind of exceptional reward for me. I had just completed a lecture tour in Hawaii and I was ready for something even more special. During February 2000, in honor of African History Month, I had made major presentations in ten states and the District of Columbia and had traveled to most of the geographic regions in the United States. I had enjoyed a wonderful travel experience but it was also an extremely demanding lecture tour and by the end of February, as they sometimes say, “I was fried (really worn out).”
On March 1, I flew from Los Angeles to Hawaii. I was so tired that I could barely talk and even had some difficulty sitting down and standing up. My resistance was vastly depleted and I had managed to catch a bad head cold. I needed a large break and believed that I had justly earned one. Hawaii itself is a wonderful place, extremely beautiful and always a pleasure to visit. It just doesn’t have enough Black folk to satisfy my needs. Fiji promised to be different. Indeed, I found Fiji to be a tropical paradise and the Fijians turned out to be some of the most beautiful Black people that I’ve ever encountered. In fact, much to my delight, the brothers and sisters in Fiji, dark-skinned Black people who wore big natural type hairstyles, didn’t merely identify themselves as Black but said that they came from Africa and said it with great pride! What a refreshing revelation.
In Fiji, needless to point out, I felt right at home. These Black folk were just my kind of people. As a matter of fact, the brothers and sisters in Fiji that I met seemed as interested in me as I was in them. Believe me when I say that if there is one thing that I excel in it is in asking questions and I asked the Fijians all kinds of questions about exactly what part of Africa they came from, when they got to Fiji, how they got there, what their present living conditions were like, what was their relationship with the recently arrived Indian population, how did they feel about White people, the nature of their oral traditions, myths and religious beliefs, male-female relationships, diet, health, other Pacific islanders, general projections about the future and just about everything that I could think of.
They never got tired of answering my questions and had quite a few for me also. They told me that the two most well known African-Americans were Rev. Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali. Of course, they knew about Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and most of the major African-American sport figures. One Fijian brother, a businessman that I met in the lobby of a luxury hotel, told me how proud he was of the brothers and sisters in America and how much African-Americans had advanced the cause of Black people around the world.
I asked the Fijians how often they encountered Black people from the United States. They replied that African-Americans frequently came to Fiji for holiday vacations but that I was different in that I spent a lot of time with them and wanted to know all about them. These responses delighted and thrilled me. As often as possible I went into Fijian villages, many of them deep in the interior of Viti Levu. I was always designated as a distinguished visitor and the Fijians told me that they were honored by my presence. The Fijians always referred to me as “brother” and singled me out for special treatment. We drank kava together (an extremely important Fijian tradition) and really bonded, and I met people who looked like all the Black folks that I have ever known. In fact, one village chief physically seemed to be almost a twin brother of Dr. John Henrik Clarke! When I told him of the resemblance he seemed to be extremely pleased and insisted that I come and sit next to him!
Runoko Rashidi is an historian, writer and public lecturer with a pronounced interest in the African foundations of humanity and civilizations and the presence and current conditions of Black people throughout the Global African Community. He is particularly drawn to the African presence in India, Australia and the islands of the Pacific. Also see Blacks in the Pacific By RUNOKO RASHIDI .