Suva, capital and largest city of the Fiji Islands (often referred to simply as Fiji). Located in Rewa Province, Suva is on the southeastern coast of Viti Levu Island, on Suva Point, near the mouth of the Rewa River. It is Fiji’s chief seaport, with excellent harbor facilities.
The port is a primary stop for transpacific shipping traffic and for Pacific cruises. Local exports include gold, sugar, and processed timber. Light manufactures include the production of cigarettes, soap, textiles, processed food, and beverages. Duty-free shopping, tropical scenery, and unusual hotels attract thousands of travelers from Asia, Australia, and the United States to Suva each year; tourism employs a significant number of the city’s workforce.
Since the 1960s the Suva skyline has been reshaped by hotels and other modern buildings constructed to accommodate tourists. Growth in industrial production and tourism since the 1970s resulted in a swelling population. This growth outstripped the government’s ability to build affordable housing, encouraging crowded, temporary settlements to sprout up along the urban fringes of Suva. Many colonial-era buildings still stand in downtown Suva, including the massive Government Buildings that were once the center for British colonial administration of the region.
The University of the South Pacific (1968), funded collectively by Pacific Islands countries that send students to the university, is located near downtown Suva. Suva is also the site of the Fiji School of Medicine (1886), the National Archives of Fiji (1954), and the Fiji Museum (1906), which houses collections of archaeological and ethnological artifacts from Pacific islands.
Modern Suva is the most ethnically diverse city in the Fiji Islands, with about equal numbers of Indians and indigenous Fijians. There are chronic tensions between the Fijians and the Indians, who are descendants of workers brought by the British in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to work on the island’s sugar plantations. On a few occasions these tensions have erupted into violent skirmishes in Suva as the two groups grapple for political and economic power.
People settled on the Fiji Islands around 1000 bc; they cultivated gardens, raised domesticated animals, and produced pottery. Dutch explorers sighted the islands in the 17th century. Europeans developed coconut, cotton, and sugar plantations on the islands, and Britain annexed them in 1874 to obtain access to the Suva port. Suva became the colonial capital later in the 1870s.
During World War II (1939-1945) Suva served as a forward base for Allied naval and air forces. It became the capital of independent Fiji in 1970 when the British relinquished control of the islands. The country was expelled from the Commonwealth of Nations in 1987 following a coup in Suva.