Is Fiji Melanesian or Polynesian in Origin?

08 Aug

polynesian islands @ plc
Please note: My views and statements in this post do not in any way support patriotism. It is simply about history and life learning experience. In no way am I attempting to make a separation between indigenous Fijians and Fijians from other backgrounds or cultures either. My stance is, and remains, completely neutral.


I’ve been doing some thinking of late, and as you can see above, is a picture i took of the islands. It was hanging on a wall in Tahiti within the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Hawaii (Check out the Fiji FRO, lol!)… *thinking*… I mentioned to my wife the other day that one thing I really appreciated about our trip to Hawaii was the respect that Hawaii showed for Fiji. It was this and a mix of things that helped me grow more respect for my own origins which include:

1. My own personal respect for Hawaii, and learning that they are very much still in touch with their culture. The Hawaiian language is still spoken, in fact many different dialects still remain spoken…
2. The familiarity I had with many of the island things that I, even though Australian grown, still grew up around. e.g. polynesian style food, island music, island tapa designs, island fashion, and island people etc.

Those coupled with me being in such a relaxed state on vacation with my wifey really allowed me to think seriously about where my mind was at up until that point, and these things I was so familiar with had reached and awoken a place in my heart and mind that I had not paid much attention to and may have taken for granted. I have a choice to learn about my own Fijian background and language and respect it, something I unfortunately was never taught to do. (and right now i’m learning the Fijian language)

I will never forget our hiking tour guide, Jake, in Maui to who I had mentioned i’m Fijian during our conversation and my many inquisitive questions to him about Hawaiian culture. When i mentioned it he said: “OH heeey.. you’re Poly bruh”. Then quickly thrust out his hand to fist pump me… so i fist pumped him back! *POW*… YEAHH! 

The Polynesian Cultural Centre has Fiji Island in there too. Is Fiji really very similar to Polynesians in terms of culture?

I still had a few more questions that needed answering after Hawaii:

  • Are Fijians Melanesian, or Polynesian?
  • Don’t Fijians look Melanesian, not Polynesian?
  • Why are Fijians considered Polynesian according to Hawaiians?

Which brings us to this post. Are Fijian’s really Melanesian, or Polynesian? Please see below what I found on the Captain Cook Cruises website *** See link here***


While many visitors come to the island nation to enjoy a Fiji holiday characterised by sunshine, beautiful beaches and leisure opportunities, many of the best Fiji holiday packages allow insight into the interesting history of Fiji. Fiji has a rich Melanesian and Polynesian history which continues to influence the ways that people live, work, interact and celebrate in this beautiful part of the South Pacific.

Early history

It is believed the first settlers of Fiji arrived in around 1500 BC. The history of Fiji and its first inhabitants remains something of a mystery prior to this as the Fijian people depended on memory in the absence of written language.

However, it’s widely agreed that two distinct races of people, the Melanesian and Polynesian races, first settled Fiji, and today, those enjoying Fiji holidays are more interested than ever to learn more about these peoples and their influence.

Melanesian people

Melanesian people came to Fiji from nearby islands, including Vanuatu, New Caledonia and the eastern Solomon Islands. With dark skin, the Melanesian settlers had many of the physical attributes and qualities of what people sometimes referred to as the Negro race.

Polynesian people

The Lapita people were the other settlers of Fiji. These people came from an area of New Caledonia where significant deposits of their unique forms of pottery were found. Lapita pottery is defined by the geometric designs that were created by stamping the unfired clay with an implement that can be likened to a tooth, and examples of this pottery have been found in New Guinea and further east in Samoa.

lapita pottery

The Lapita people were taller and had lighter skin and straighter hair than the Melanesian people. These people and their descendants are now referred to as Polynesian people and were known to be skilled as sailors and navigators. This is logical, as the subsistence of the Lapita people came predominantly from fishing along the coasts of the islands that they inhabited.

Who was there first?

There is some conjecture as to which group of people first came to Fiji. Much evidence suggests that the Lapita people were the first settlers of Fiji and that they came from Southeast Asia via New Guinea and New Caledonia. These people settled on the major islands of Fiji and close to the shorelines of these islands.

It is believed that the Melanesian people came to Fiji some time later and settled in the less hospitable and accommodating areas of the islands, located further inland.


As the centuries passed, the Melanesian population of Fiji increased significantly. As it did so, tensions between the Melanesian and Polynesian people grew and, ultimately, a significant number of the Lapita people chose, or were coerced, to leave Fiji and settle in locations further east, such as Tonga, Samoa and other islands which are today collectively known as Polynesia.

The Melanesian people stayed and their race soon came to dominate the various islands comprising Fiji. However, it is interesting to note that various aspects of the Lapita culture were taken up by the Melanesian people, most notably their hierarchical social structure*.

While English contact and settlement further shaped and influenced Fiji and political independence was won in 1974, the influence of the Melanesian and Polynesian people continues to be felt in the island nation. The history of these two groups is often of interest to people visiting from Fiji from many parts of the world.


So, what about this: Hierarchical Social Structure? This informative website *see link here* was extremely helpful. It mentions this:

‘We know who the Fijians are today, but we also know that they are not truly Melanesian when compared with what must have been the parent stock back in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands or New Caledonia. The people of Fiji are larger – much larger in some cases, as in the province of Nadroga where even the women are nearly 180 centimeters (6 ft) tall. They speak a different language and enjoy their own material culture.’ 

David Stanley shows the following in his book ‘Fiji Islands Handbook’:

snippet from The Fiji Handbook

Ok, so the Fijian people are known to have originated from the Lapita people who eventually branched out to the other Polynesian islands. Though some things remained in Fiji, namely the way the Chiefs ran the show which was identical to Polynesians; through family line rather than the Melanesian system where Chiefs are determined by stature. Interesting… What else can we learn?


Polynesian Triangle

Here is what’s known as the Polynesian Triangle according to Wikipedia (i know… probably not the most trusted source out there):

Major Polynesian cultures include New Zealand Māori, Native Hawaiians, and the indigenous peoples of Easter Island, the Marquesas, Sāmoa, American Samoa, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands and Tonga. (There is no Fiji)

polynesian triangle wikipedia


Want a more legit source of info? Here’s a pic from Encyclopedia Brittanica (Still no Fiji):

polynesian triangle brittanica


Now, here is the Polynesian Triangle according to the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Hawaii ***See link here***:

polynesian triangle PCC

Notice here that this map INCLUDES Fiji. Here’s their explanation on the website:


Most indigenous Fijians are actually Melanesians, but for several thousand years Fijians have been sailing to, interacting and intermarrying with Polynesians, especially the people of Samoa and Tonga and other smaller island groups around. 

So if you ask me, If that’s good enough for them and the rest of the Polynesian islands, while also considering history, then it’s good enough for me to be accepted as Polynesian. Now I can see the history, it’s much clearer, though I’ve always kind of known in some way (without knowing) that Fiji had some close relations with the other Poly islands from when I was younger (e.g. parents always had close poly friends, and other poly’s i met always seemed to now someone Fijian…). If secular historians are eliminating the fact that these Lapita people did not first originate in Fiji before Melanesians (despite the 1000+ year old findings of their pottery in Fiji), then it’s heartwarming to know that the Polynesians lovingly accept Fijians this way, as part of their Polynesian family.                    


So, quite clearly we could say Fijians are Polynesian for following reasons:
  1. Hierarchical social structure similar to Polynesians
  2. Lapita people original settlers in Fiji, followed by Melanesians
  3. Close Relations with Tonga and Samoa (trading and intermarriage) for centuries after Lapita people left Fiji Islands
  4. Resulting in similarities in culture (inc. food, fashion, tapa design, language etc.


Here’s a really interesting comment made by a gentleman on a website providing information about Fiji…

comment about fiji origins

And that just about sums it all up folks. I sincerely believe that all people and are equal, but when considering history, Fijians definitely have strong case if determining whether they should be considered as Polynesian in origin.

If you have any comments regarding this post, please don’t shy away from letting me know your feedback on this information.


Until next post it’s Moce Mada, Sota Tale (see you later) 🙂


Posted by on August 8, 2014 in FIJI


Tags: , , ,

4 responses to “Is Fiji Melanesian or Polynesian in Origin?

  1. Bronwyn Bale

    August 8, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    Thank you for that interesting information.


  2. Aca Isaac

    February 15, 2015 at 4:54 am

    I appreciate the read. Why does it matter if you are considered Polynesian or Melanesian? You are Fijian, not matter which umbrella you fall under. I am Fijian and I don’t care about acceptance. Be proud to be Fijian. Here is a link you may find interesting which my wife’s cousin was President of the Fijian community in Los Angeles had some words. I was always taught that we are descendants of Africa thousands of years ago.


  3. emitagica

    April 3, 2015 at 9:58 am



  4. emitagica

    April 3, 2015 at 10:01 am

    I need to meet whoever wrote this article. This means so much, you have no idea- vinaka!!!



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