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The maritime tropical climate is characterized by high humidity and rainfall along the windward coasts and a drier climate in the interiors and along the leeward coasts, where savanna grassland was the natural vegetation. Fifty-one percent of the population is Fijian, and 44 percent is Indo-Fijian.
Much of the original savanna was turned into sugarcane plantations during the colonial period. In the nineteenth century, epidemic diseases decimated the indigenous population, and the arrival of South Asian workers beginning in 1879 caused Fijians to become temporarily a minority in the islands from the late 1930s to the late 1980s.
Religion and domestic custom tend to cause greater division than does language.
But political aspiration is perhaps the greatest divisive factor, with indigenous Fijians demanding political paramountcy and Indo-Fijians, political equality.
There are small populations of Europeans, Pacific Islanders, Rotumans, Chinese, and persons of mixed European-Fijian ancestry. Fijian, Hindi, and English became the official languages after independence in 1970, and linguistic autonomy was guaranteed by the constitution of 1997.
English is the language of interethnic communication, administration, government, trade and commerce, and education.
Viti Levu contains the major seaports, airports, roads, schools, and tourist centers, as well as the capital, Suva.Fijian and Hindi often are spoken at home and are used in religious contexts and on radio and television.The indigenous languages belong to the Central Oceanic branch of Eastern Austronesian and are divided into eastern and western branches.The national anthem is based on a Fijian hymn, but the words are in English.Government offices, police and military uniforms still display the British crown, while the currency (the Fijian dollar) continues to bear a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. Indigenous Fijians are descended from the Lapita peoples, a seafaring group from eastern Indonesia or the Philippines who probably arrived in the Fiji Islands during the second millennium and later interbred first with Melanesians from the west and subsequently with Polynesians (also Lapita descendants) from the east.