Gulliver’s Other Islands
A New History of Fiji
Scarr is the doyen of writers on Fiji. This magisterial new history of the islands does not disappoint.
Fiji, or ‘Viti’, lies among intricate Southwestern Pacific reefs with upwards of 300 habitable islands and many islets. This book reveals the long history of this overlooked island nation since voyagers first settled there 4,000 years ago. .
The oral tradition of meke (action songs) preserves the culture of deified ancestors controlling the environment, represented by chiefs who were also regarded as gods — until Christianity was established in the mid-nineteenth century. Deryck Scarr charts the impact of European planters and traders on the island, first in forcing independent Fiji’s cession to a reluctant Britain in the mid-1870s, and then in the expansion of indentured Indian labour.
This Indian presence was felt following independence in 1970, which the indigenous population opposed for fear of passing from British to Indian rule — when the perception of Indian dominance led to coups in 1987 and 1997, economic loss and heavy Indian emigration ensued. Yet nothing has defeated the resilience of Fiji’s people, not even a fourth military takeover in 2006. Gulliver’s Other Islands explores the complex human dynamics of this archipelago, placed by geography and history at a unique cultural intersection.
Deryck Scarr of the Emeritus Faculty at ANU in Canberra is the author of books on Seychelles, the Mascareignes, and Pacific Islands. He first worked in Suva's extensive archives in 1962-3 and has spent a good deal of time in Fiji since then.