Monarchy of Fiji

The monarchy of Fiji arose in the nineteenth century, when native ruler Seru Epenisa Cakobau consolidated control of the Fijian Islands in 1871 and declared himself King or paramount chief of Fiji (Fijian: Tui Viti). In 1874, he voluntarily ceded sovereignty of the islands to Britain, which made Fiji a crown colony within the British Empire.

Monarchy of Fiji
Coat of arms of Fiji[lower-alpha 1]
Last to reign
Elizabeth II
10 October 1970 – 6 October 1987[lower-alpha 2]
First monarchSeru Epenisa Cakobau
Formation5 June 1871
Abolition6 October 1987
(1987 Fijian coups d'état)

After nearly a century of British rule, Fiji became a Dominion, an independent sovereign state within the Commonwealth of Nations with Elizabeth II as head of state. After a second military coup in 1987 led by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, Fiji became a republic, and the monarchy was ended.

Nevertheless, the Great Council of Chiefs recognised Elizabeth II as Tui Viti or the traditional Queen of Fiji, but the position was not one of a constitutional, or otherwise legal nature. The Great Council of Chiefs was disestablished in 2012 by decree of President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau. Elizabeth II did not use the title, and the Fijian government does not recognise it.


Reign of Seru Epenisa Cakobau (1871–1874)

Royal Standard of Cakobau as King of Fiji, 1871–1874

Seru Epenisa, known as "Cakobau", or "destroyer of Bau", ruled the short lived Kingdom of Fiji (1871–1874) as Tui Viti, which translates as "King of Fiji" or "paramount chief of Fiji".

On 8 December 1852, Cakobau succeeded as Vunivalu of Bau. Claiming that Bau had suzerainty over the remainder of Fiji, he asserted that he was the King of Fiji. However, Cakobau's claim was not accepted by other chiefs, who regarded him, at best, as the first among equals. Cakobau consequently engaged in constant warfare for almost nineteen years to unify the islands under his authority.

Supported by foreign settlers, he finally succeeded in creating a united Fijian kingdom in 1871, and established Levuka as his capital.[1] He decided to set up a constitutional monarchy, and the first legislative assembly met in November of that year. Both the legislature and the Cabinet were dominated by foreigners. He gave his war club to Queen Victoria on 10 October 1874, when he signed the Deed of Cession, that granted the British Empire sovereignty over the islands in 1874.[2]

Reign of Queen Elizabeth II (1970–1987)

In 1970, 96 years of British rule came to an end, and Fiji became an independent sovereign state within the Commonwealth of Nations. The official name of the state was the "Dominion of Fiji".[3][4] Fiji's Head of State was Elizabeth II, who was represented by a Governor-General and was also queen of other countries, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The queen's realms were all independent from one another, and the Queen acted independently in each realm, but they shared the same person as monarch. As a constitutional monarchy, executive power was held by a prime minister, usually the leader of the majority party in an elected legislature. The prime minister was appointed by the Governor-General.

Queen Elizabeth II on Fijian stamps


On 14 May 1987, a coup led by Sitiveni Rabuka resulted in the overthrow of the government of Fijian Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra, elected at the 1987 Fijian general election.[5]

The Fijian Supreme Court ruled the coup unconstitutional, and the Queen's representative, the Governor-General of Fiji Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, unsuccessfully attempted to assert executive power. He opened negotiations, known as the Deuba Talks, with both the deposed government and the Alliance Party, which most indigenous Fijians supported. These negotiations culminated in the Deuba Accord of 23 September 1987, which provided for a government of national unity, in which both parties would be represented under the leadership of the Governor-General.[6]

Fearing that the gains of the first coup were about to be lost, Rabuka staged a second coup on 25 September, abolished the monarchy on 6 October, and declared Fiji a republic.[7] Penaia Ganilau resigned as Governor-General on 15 October 1987, and Fiji was expelled from the Commonwealth of Nations.

Ten years later, after constitutional talks and an election, Sitiveni Rabuka, who instigated the two military coups, presented a tabua, a tooth of a sperm whale, to Queen Elizabeth during the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. This gesture from Rabuka, by now the Prime Minister of Fiji, is a traditional sign of profound respect and was given as an apology for having broken his oath of allegiance to her as an officer of the Military of Fiji. The agreed Constitution of 1997 provided for a President as Head of State of a Fijian republic, with the President chosen by the Great Council of Chiefs, a formal body of mostly hereditary chiefs.

Current position

Despite abolishing the monarchy in 1987, Fiji continued to issue new banknotes with the queen's portrait until 2012.

Though Fiji has been a republic since 1987 and was suspended from the Commonwealth for a second time in 2009, until 2012 the Queen's effigy was still displayed on Fiji's currency and the Queen's Official Birthday remained a public holiday. In 2012, Frank Bainimarama's government abolished the official birthday holiday,[8] and replaced the Queen's image on banknotes and coins with indigenous flora and fauna.[9][10] The St Edward's Crown still forms part of the badges of the military and the police. The Queen and the royal family retain widespread affection among the Fijian people, and there have also been sporadic public debates on whether to return to a constitutional monarchy. The motto of the republic remains "Fear God and honour the Queen"[11] or "Fear God and honour the King" (Fijian: Rere vaka na kalou ka doka na Tui), which was adopted by Cakobau in 1871.[12]

The rank insignia of a Fijian Rear admiral (left) and Commissioner of the Fijian Police (right) featuring the St Edward's Crown

In 1998, the Great Council of Chiefs debated Elizabeth II's role as "supreme tribal chief", and as the Sovereign of Fiji.[13] In 2002, on behalf of the Council, the Council's chairman, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, the son of Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, said that "the royal 'Tui Viti' and the 'Vunivalu' titles had been bestowed upon the English throne in a traditional installation procedure in 1902 and confirmed in 1937". He reiterated that Elizabeth II was still the traditional Queen or paramount chief of Fiji or Tui Viti, even though this position no longer conferred any constitutional prerogatives and it was "not widely known that she is the paramount chief of Fiji in the traditional sense; only some of the council members remembered her status".[14][15][16]

As Queen Elizabeth II made no official claim to the Tui Viti title, and it is not officially recognised by the current de facto Fijian government, it remains dormant in usage. When broached on the subject of restoration by Sitiveni Rabuka during a meeting with the Queen in 1997, her response was simple: "Let the people decide".[17]

After another coup in 2000, further political tension led to a fourth coup in 2006. The Great Council of Chiefs was suspended in 2007,[18] and the Constitution, which gives the Council the right to appoint the Head of State from among its members, was suspended in 2009. On 14 March 2012, the Council was formally de-established.[19]

In the last two decades since Fiji became a republic, the question on restoring the monarchy has not abated. The former Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama displayed portraits of the former Queen and her consort, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, above his office desk. He has also described himself as a monarchist: "I'm still loyal to the Queen. Many people are in Fiji. One of the things I'd like to do is see her restored as our monarch, to be Queen of Fiji again."[20]

List of Fijian monarchs

Name Portrait Arms Birth Reign Marriage(s) Death
Sovereign of the Kingdom of Fiji (18711874)
Seru Epenisa Cakobau 1815
Lakeba, Lau Islands
5 June 1871[lower-alpha 3]

10 October 1874
(3 years, 127 days)
Adi Litia Samanunu
(1st wife)
Adi Salote Qalirea Kaunilotuna
(2nd wife)
8 children[21]
1 February 1883
(aged c. 68)[21]
Fiji under Colonial rule. No independent monarchy existed (18741970)
Sovereign of the Dominion of Fiji (19701987)[22]
Elizabeth II 21 April 1926
17 Bruton Street, Mayfair
10 October 1970[lower-alpha 4]

6 October 1987
(16 years, 361 days)
Philip Mountbatten
Westminster Abbey
20 November 1947
4 children
8 September 2022
(aged 96)


  1. Left: 1871–1874
    Right: 1908 – present
  2. Recognised as Tui Viti (Paramount Chief of Fiji) by Great Council of Chiefs in 1998 but this was not recognised by the Fijian Government
  3. Cakobau had been the Vunivalu (Warlord/Paramount chief) of Bau since 1852. He had long styled himself the Tui Viti (King) of Fiji, but had not been recognized as such by other Ratu (Fijian chiefs), and he exercised no direct authority outside Bau until he unified the country under his rule 1871. His ancestors, going back as far as 1770, have often erroneously been listed as Kings of Fiji. For more details about this period of Fijian history, see Fiji during the time of Cakobau.
  4. Elizabeth II became Queen on 6 February 1952, assuming the thrones of the United Kingdom and six other independent countries. Fiji, a Crown colony since its annexation in 1874, was considered a British possession and was under the sovereignty of the Crown. From Fiji's independence on 10 October 1970, the link between the British monarchy and Fiji officially ended, and Elizabeth II became Queen of Fiji, a position independent of her role as British Sovereign. Between 1970 to 1987, the Dominion of Fiji was one of many independent states headed by Elizabeth II.


  1. Cakobau, King of Fiji British Museum
  2. "King Cakobau's Club". III(3) Pacific Islands Monthly. 19 October 1932. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  3. U.S. Department of State (1975) Countries of the world and their leaders, Gale Research Co., ISBN 0-8103-1046-5, p. 405
  4. Handbook of Fiji, Pacific Publications, 1972, pages 6-7
  5. Lal 2010, p. 350.
  6. Lal 2010, p. 390.
  7. "Historical timeline". Fiji Government. 13 September 2009. Archived from the original on 13 September 2009.
  8. "Fiji Scraps Queen's birthday holiday". NewstalkZB. 31 July 2012.
  9. "Anger over plan to remove Queen from Fiji money". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 12 December 2012. Archived from the original on 28 July 2013.
  10. "Fiji's new flora and fauna design banknotes and coins". Reserve Bank of Fiji. 25 October 2013. Archived from the original on 27 July 2013.
  11. "Our country: National symbols" Archived 23 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine, government of Fiji
  12. Smith, Whitney (1980). Flags and Arms across the World, London: Cassell, p. 250, ISBN 0-304-30659-2
  13. "Fiji votes to make Queen 'supreme tribal chief'", Robert Keith Reid, The Independent, 20 July 1998
  14. "Fiji chiefs say Britain's Elizabeth still Queen of Fiji". Radio New Zealand International. 19 November 2002. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 26 October 2011.
  15. "Queen still chief of Fiji", Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 2002
  16. "Britain's queen is still the 'king of Fiji'", IOL, 20 November 2002
  17. "Still the Queen of Fiji?", AOL Canada, retrieved 23 November 2009 Archived 24 October 2019 at the Wayback Machine
  18. "Fiji coup leader sacks chiefs". Television New Zealand. Reuters. 12 April 2007. Archived from the original on 6 October 2012. Retrieved 26 October 2011.
  19. "Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs abolished". 14 March 2012.
  20. Despot for diversity, The Australian, May 1, 2009
  22. Fiji: Polity Style: 1970-2021


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