Fiji 1989

When I was 19, my Dad’s home country of Fiji saw its first military coup: the first in the Pacific Islands, and a seismic shock to the region. Two years later, I wrote an undergraduate essay about it, which set me on a path to an honours dissertation on the coup and a PhD on Fiji and Tonga.

I’d visited Fiji twice as a child, at the ages of seven and thirteen, and a couple of months after writing my essay on the coup was back there again with my parents (my brother staying home this time). Nineteen eighty-nine was a bleak year politically for Fiji, with thousands of Indo-Fijians leaving the country, and a new draft constitution which would enshrine the aims of the coup-makers.

We saw glimpses of military presence in the capital city of Suva, but were only in Suva for a couple of days of our trip, spending the rest at a resort on the Coral Coast near Sigatoka. From there we took day trips around the west coast to Lautoka, through the central highlands to Ba, and to the Sigatoka Sand Dunes—complete with relics of the ancient Lapita people of Polynesia—shortly before they were declared Fiji’s first national park. We also spent time out on the local reef, enjoying the palm-lined beaches, and visiting a few more tourist sites, such as the Kalevu Cultural Centre and Kula Bird Park.

Unlike our travels of 1985–86, I now had a bit more money in my pocket, having worked part-time for a couple of years. It meant I could afford to take more photos, going through five rolls of film in just under a fortnight, which would have taken me a month in Japan and Europe. From the 200-odd photos that resulted, about forty percent have ended up in this gallery of our trip, which isn’t a bad strike rate compared with my digital photography days. The photos include glimpses of sea cucumbers, hermit crabs (kasi kasi in Fijian), a Wishbone Chicken van, a market full of bananas and dalo (taro), canefields and sugar mills, and highland villages full of traditional thatched bure.

Nineteen eighty-nine was pre-website and pre-web, so I was taking these for nothing more than a physical photo album at the time. It’s satisfying to give them new life here. Before long, I hope, I’ll be able to add a second gallery of my time in Fiji in 1993, under very different circumstances.

5 December 2019 · Memory