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Vicariate Apostolic of Fiji
Comprising the islands belonging to the Fiji Archipelago. This archipelago forms the central portion of Western Polynesia, and extends between 15 and 20 degrees South latitude and between 170 and 180 degrees West longitude. It includes about 250 islands, of which some 90 are inhabited; its total land area is 7435 square miles, while the population in 1911 was 139,541 (3707 Europeans; 87,096 Fijians; 4286 Indians; the remainder of other eastern races). The islands were discovered by Captain Cook in 1773. There was, however, little European intercourse with them until the arrival of Wesleyan missionaries in 1835, and the first thorough survey was that of the United States Exploring Expedition of 1840. After long internecine troubles the government of the islands was unconditionally ceded by the native chiefs to Great Britain in 1874. The Fijians belong to the Melanesian (Papuan) stock, much crossed with Polynesian strains, and are in many ways superior (physically and mentally) to other branches of the same family. Their religion, which is being rapidly displaced by Christianity, is a species of ancestor-worship; the spirits of their chiefs, heroes, and other ancestors are included among the gods of subordinate rank, although they are esteemed to be still liable to human passions and even to death. Besides the malicious deities (of whom there are many), the natives have four classes of gods. While the most widely worshipped deity is Ove, who is regarded as the maker of all men, Ndengei undoubtedly occupies the most impressive place in the native pantheon. This deity is worshipped under the form of a serpent, and to him spirits proceed immediately after death for purification or to receive sentence. To reach the judgment seat of Ndengei, however, the spirit must pass an ever- vigilant giant armed with a mighty axe, and if wounded it may not present itself before Ndengei. Whether the spirit escapes unscathed or not is unfortunately ascribed to a stroke of luck (not to previous conduct during life), and to this want of any just notion of religious or moral obligation may be traced the many revolting practices which were until late years almost universally cultivated among the unchristianized natives (cannibalism, the putting to death of parents when they were advanced in years, suicide, immolation of wives at the funerals of their husbands, human sacrifices, etc.).
The Fiji Islands were included in the territory of the old Vicariate Apostolic of Central Oceania, created by Propaganda in 1842. The first Catholic mission in Fiji was founded in 1844, and on 10 March, 1863, the territory was erected into a prefecture Apostolic. On 5 May, 1887, the present vicariate was established and entrusted to the Marist fathers. The first and present vicar Apostolic is the Right Rev. Julian Vidal, D.D., S.M., titular Bishop of Abydos (consecrated 27 Dec., 1887). Catholic missions have been already established on the islands Viti Levu, Ovalau, Vanua Levu, Tavenui, Kavavu, and Rotuma, the official residence of the vicar Apostolic being at Suva on the first mentioned island. The latest statistics for the vicariate show: 30 priests (Marist fathers), who tend 18 central stations and 273 villages; 11 Little Brothers of Mary (Marist brothers), who have charge of a boarding and day school at Suva, of a seminary and college at Cawaci, and of an English school for natives at Rewa; 24 European and 31 native Sisters of the Third Order of Mary (with 14 houses; novitiate at Solevu), who conduct the majority of schools for girls; 8 sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny (2 houses), who conduct the parochial school at Suva; 10 Sisters of the Holy Name of Mary (Marist Sisters), who have charge of the school and orphanage at Levuka, a school at Ba, and assist the Marist brothers in the seminary and college at Cawaci; 12 native brothers (novitiate at Loretto) in 4 communities. The English college at Cawaci for the the training of catechists and the children of the chiefs has on its roll 42 catechists, 80 boys, and 12 girls. In the central stations the Marist brothers and sisters teach reading, writing, etc., as well as religion, to 500 boys and 450 girls, while in the villages 315 catechists give elementary instruction to about 2000 children. The churches and chapels number 65, and the total Catholic population is about 12,000 (300 Europeans). A station for lepers is conducted on Makogai Island by one Marist father and two sisters of the Third Order of Mary.
Australasian Catholic Directory (Sydney, 1912); THOMSON, The Fijians (London, 1908); PIOLET, Missions cath. franc., IV (Paris, 1902), 183-220.
Moira K. Coyle.