Fiji, most people have heard of it and though it is a popular long-haul destination from Europe and North America, few people ever head there with a basic idea of its history, culture or even knowing some of its most famous figures. It is a collection of small islands in the South Pacific, considered in the continent of Australasia and it has a rich and interesting heritage.
1. ‘Superfly’ Jimma Snuka
The heyday of the World Wrestling Federation (or World Wrestling Entertainment as it is today) is undoubtedly the 1980s with some big household names known even to those who did not follow it. One of these big names, a much loved entertainer was the high-flying Fijian known as ‘Superfly’. He is considered the first aerial wrestler, that is, the first to introduce aerial manoeuvres such as jumping from the top ropes to attack an opponent. Snuka is semi-retired, sometimes appearing alongside younger wrestlers. He recently appeared on Raw to support his daughter who is now a wrestler.
2. Angie Heffernan
Fiji is not without its problems and so naturally, there are politicians and political activists determined to bring to light human rights issues and other topics of political importance. Angie Heffernan is one of the country’s best-known vocal opponents of the coup that took place in 2006. She has criticised the government for slipping into a dictatorship and called on the leader to resign many times. She was arrested in 2007 for breaching public order. She has been considered a nuisance to the present government for her outspoken views
3. Rajnesh Singh
Though of Indian descent, he is a naturalised Fijian who was born on the islands. Despite still being a relatively young man, he has accomplished much in his working life. He has degrees in engineering and in microelectronics. He is a famous businessman and co-founder of Avonsys, an ICT outsourcing firm based in western North America. He is a regular on the lecture circuit, discussing advances in ICT technology and was the Project Manager for the 2003 South Pacific Games which were held in Fiji.
Though he did actually exist, details about his life have passed into legend making him appear larger than life. The story goes that he was the founder of the Vuanirewa dynasty to the (still) ruling clan of the Lau Islands, a small group of islands along the eastern edge of Fiji. In life he was considered one of the most courageous warriors in Fijian history and he was also noted for being incredibly handsome ‘ something that earned him a negative reputation amongst the higher classes because of the attention he got from nobleman’s wives.
5. Derek Boyer (aka The Island Warrior)
Fijians are a hardy and stocky bunch and it is now wonder they excel so much at rugby. One of the most curious global sport’s events with a small cult following is ‘The World’s Strongest Man’. Derek Boyer has competed in the world events no fewer than seven times. He has won Australasia’s strongest man twelve times and is a famous powerlifter currently in the Guinness World Records for towing the heaviest truck ‘ pulling nearly 52,000kg over 100ft.
6. Craig Parker
Though of New Zealand heritage, the Lord of the Rings actor famous for playing Haldir in the first two films (dying at the Battle of Helm’s Deep) went on to star in the recent adaptation of Spartacus: Blood and Sand. His grandfather was Scottish and relocated to Fiji for military service where both Parker and his father were born. Like any New Zealand actor, he started his career in police drama Shortland Street.
7. Epeli Nailatikau
The current Fijian President is a Fijian chief and a much-respected world statesman. His previous role was Ambassador to the United Kingdom after a military career that ended with the coup. He was acting President for a number of years before being sworn in officially in 2009. His international work as an AIDS campaigner has gained him popularity and respect, but also controversy from religious groups because of his criticism of abstinence programmes as unworkable. At the World AIDS Conference in 2006, he represented the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
8. Nicky Little
Though of New Zealand birth, his ancestry gives him status of a naturalised Fijian which means that he was able to opt to play for Fiji at international level Rugby Union. It was a shrewd move on his part and Little has already gone down in history as their greatest ever player having won 71 caps and scored 670 points before his international retirement in 2011. At club level he spent most of his career in England playing for Sale Sharks and both Bristol and Bath. He presently plays for Canterbury in New Zealand
9. Tony Philp
Staying with Fijian sport, Philp is a former Windsurfing World Champion and Olympic sailer and is considered one of the most famous and best-known sports stars ever to come from the islands. He and Vijay Singh (below) are the only two people ever to come from Fiji to be ranked as World Number One in any sport. In his career, Philp won eleven World Championship titles and competed at five successive Olympic Games between 1984 and 2000. Most notably in 1984 he still holds the record as the youngest Olympian to compete in any sailing event
10. Vijay Singh
Another of Indian descent, he was born on the islands but now lives in Florida. He is a professional golf player nicknamed ‘The Big Fijian’ because of his unusual height of somebody with his heritage. Between 2004 and 2005 he was World Number One in the PGA rankings and in his career he has won The Masters (2000), Runner up at the Open Championship (2003) and won the PGA Championship in 1998 and 2004.
As with any country, there are famous figures around the globe who hail from Fiji despite its reputation as a small island somewhere off the coast of New Zealand. Despite its small status, there are global sports figures, political powerhouses and much-loved entertainers.