A History of Fiji’s Currency
Many of us are aware that there was a time when people did not need money and relied on the land and the sea to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing. As more complex social structures emerged, self-sufficiency was no longer enough. Increasing contact between different tribes and communities brought about the concept of swapping or barter of commodities such as trading a cow for five pigs or a bundle of dalo for a bag of rice.
Europeans were the first to bring money to Fiji. During the early nineteenth century, visiting ships’ captains bartered with Fijians for sandalwood and beche-de-mer. However, once a European settlement was established, hard currency was required by planters and traders to conduct business with the outside world. Attempts at commercial development of these islands were hampered by the lack of any acceptable tender until the establishment of the Pax Britannica in 1874, a period of relative peace in Europe and the world (1815-1914) during which the British Empire controlled most of the key maritime trade routes and enjoyed unchallenged sea power.
Before the founding of a recognized regulator of currency in Fiji, paper money used included bills of exchange, cheques on colonial banks in Australia, New Zealand as well as Tonga, notes in hand, drafts, promissory notes, currency tokens, foreign currency, and certificate of indebtedness.
- In 1914, the Fiji Currency Board was established to manage Fiji’s monetary affairs and to issue and redeem currency which was the focal point of Fiji’s currency system for the next 60 years. English coins were used at first.
- In 1934 the Currency Board introduced Fiji’s first coinage of pennies and shillings, which were manufactured at the Royal Mint in London. The British system of measuring currency in pounds, shillings, and pence remained in circulation until 1969. The pennies and halfpennies, made of copper mixed with nickel, had a distinctive feature -a hole through the centre. In World War II, these became popular souvenirs with American soldiers based in Fiji. The other denominations were sixpences, shillings, and two shillings made from 50 percent silver. At the time of the first coin issue, Fiji got a consignment of notes which became the sole notes to be legal tender, meaning they became the only money to be accepted in Fiji in exchange for goods and services.
- In 1936, Fiji was one of the few Commonwealth countries to mint a one penny coin featuring the name of King Edward VIII, who abdicated in one of the great constitutional dramas of the 20th Century.
- In 1947, 12-sided nickel and brass threepenny bits made their appearance and were minted until 1967. The world wars presented many disruptions and challenges. For a while, coins had to be minted in San Francisco on the West Coast of America instead of the Royal Mint. The San Francisco coin manufacturers produced halfpennies and pennies in brass and sixpence, one shilling and two shilling pieces in 90 percent silver. At one stage during the war, with an acute shortage of metal, the Government Printer printed a supply of notes in one shilling and two shilling denominations, and some Fiji one penny notes were printed in Australia.
- In 1942, when some normal notes became scarce, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand agreed that the New Zealand £1 and £5 notes, being printed by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, be overprinted for local use by the Government Printer.
- In 1969, Fiji changed to a decimal currency. The currency structure was the 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c and 20c coins, and the $0.50, $1, $2, $5, $10, and $20 notes. The 50 cents and the one-dollar note were converted to coins in 1975 and 1995 respectively.
In November 1995, a $50 note denomination was introduced, followed by a new set of notes in 2007 including the new $100 denomination, in varying sizes, to aid the visually impaired.
- In October 2008, the issuance of 1 and 2 cents coins ceased.
- In February 2009, a new set of smaller size and lighter coins were introduced. The larger size coins of 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, as well as the 1 and 2 cents, were demonetized in April 2009. These changes arose from the global rise in metal prices and RBF’s efforts to contain currency production costs.
- In December 2012, Fiji launched a completely new family of notes and coins. This included historic currency design changes –the replacement of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait with local flora and fauna designs on all note and coin denominations, the introduction of Fiji’s first $2 coin, and Fiji’s first polymer note in $5 denomination.
Bank Notes & Coins
The new front design features a Nuqa-roro (Bi-colour Foxface Rabbitfish). Discovered in Fiji waters, this distinctive species was named in 1974 after the University of the South Pacific – uspi. It has since been found from Tonga to New Caledonia but remains relatively uncommon throughout its range. Nuqa-roro is an algal feeder and is sought after by the aquarium trade.
The new front design features a Beka-Mirimiri, (Fiji Flying Fox) which is one of the world’s rarest mammals. It has only ever been recorded for certain on three occasions – most recently in 2009 by a team from NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, [a fully local environment NGO] and on all occasions in the upland cloud forests of Taveuni, at elevations near or higher than 1,000 meters. The Fiji Flying Fox is a very distinctive species with no close relatives. Because of its rarity, nothing is known about its behaviour and ecology.
The new front design features a Kakã (Kadavu Shining Parrot). Fiji’s shining parrots are a strikingly beautiful group of two to six varieties. The most distinct of them is the Kakã or Kadavu variety which is generally accepted as a full species. While the red of the other varieties is a subdued darkish red varying to a deep burgundy, the underparts of Kadavu’s parrots are bright scarlet or crimson. Kadavu parrots also display a bright blue patch on the back at the base of their necks. Formerly, the red feathers of Fiji’s parrots were central to an almost Pacific-wide trade, in fact, they were the currency of trade for many of the Pacific’s earliest inhabitants. Despite this and the advent of modern science we currently know next to nothing about the status, ecology, and behavior of the Kadavu parrot or its relatives in Fiji.
The front design features a Varivoce (Humphead Wrasse), one of the largest reef fishes in the world earning its name from the prominent hump that develops on the forehead of mature individuals. Adults are generally solitary and spend the day foraging on the reef, using their tough teeth to consume hard-shelled species such as mollusks, echino-derms, and crustaceans. Varivoce is extremely long-lived, known to survive for at least 30 years, and takes around five to seven years to reach sexual maturity. Although now protected in Fiji, the flesh of this fish is highly prized and it remains one of the most highly sought species.
1 Dollar Coin
The new front design features a Vokai (Banded Iguana), found on many islands of the Lau group. Banded iguanas are extremely well camouflaged and cryptic in nature and so are very rarely seen. They are at risk of predation by rats and feral cats on most islands and the mongoose causes the extirpation of iguanas wherever it is present. Recent genetic work on Fiji’s three species of iguana shows that each island population differs genetically and so all need to be conserved as distinctive populations.
2 Dollar Coin
The new front design features a Ga ni Vatu (Peregrine Falcon). The Peregrine Falcon is one of the world’s best-known ‘birds of prey. Fiji has a distinctive subspecies – nesiotes – or ‘the islander’. This subspecies is the darkest and according to many, the most handsome of all the Peregrines worldwide. For Fijians, the Ga ni vatu has a powerful mystique that stems perhaps from a now largely forgotten legend of a fabulous Ga ni vatu from the Yasawa Islands. In Fiji, the population of the Ga ni vatu is less than a hundred pairs and is believed to be declining
$5 Polymer Banknote
The front design features Fiji’s endemic Kulawai (Red-throated Lorikeet), our smallest member of the parrot family. Predominantly green, the Kulawai is a very rare inhabitant of the mountain forest canopy which feeds on nectar and pollen. Kulawai has only been recorded from Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Taveuni, and Ovalau. The last confirmed sighting was in 1993 and searches in the last few years have failed to find it.
$10 Polymer Banknote
The front design features Fiji’s endemic Beli (Lever’s Goby). Beli is one of few true freshwater fish, living all its life in fast-running freshwater as it flows over stones to which they often attach. Beli is widespread and found in mid-reaches of clear streams on all the high islands, sometimes over a hundred meters above sea level. They are generally absent from muddy water and are threatened by alterations in either water flow or water quality.
Their presence in any river is an indicator of good habitat quality and minimal catchment disturbance. An image of i Buburau-ni-bete (duck dish) is also featured on the front. The back design features the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva in 1914 and the Joske’s Thumb in the background.
$20 Polymer Banknote
The front design features one of the world’s iconic rare birds, the Kacau ni Gau(Fiji Petrel) which is known to nest only on Gau Island in Fiji. Experts believe that no more than 50 pairs survive. For much of its life, the Kacau ni Gau is a true ocean bird and remains at sea probably well outside Fijian waters for months on end. Adults return to Gau only to breed in a burrow in the upland forests and do so only at night and leave for the ocean before dawn.
The Kacau ni Gau is almost never seen on the island, except when individuals are blinded by the light and become grounded in villages. Research over many years has failed to find the nesting sites but this activity is continuing. The Kacau ni Gau has a very distinctive flight style which helps to make it stand out. An image of a Foa (Rotuman coconut scraper) is also featured on the front. The back design features the fishing, forestry, sugarcane, and mining industries of Fiji. Mount Uluinabukelevu in Kadavu is also featured in the background.
$50 Polymer Banknote
The front design features the Tagimoucia (Medinella Waterhousei) flower which is perhaps Fiji’s best-known flower and has, in the past, been recommended as the national flower. It is the subject of songs, stories, and folklore. Tagimoucia is a liana of the upland forest and where it occurs it often flowers profusely in bunches of vivid scarlet petals contrasting with the pure white centers.
The name Tagimoucia is synonymous with the plant in its home in upland Taveuni around the lake with the same name, but Medinella waterhousei also occurs on Mount Seatura in Bua. An image of a Wasekaseka (Whale’s tooth necklace) is also featured on the front. The back design features a culture and heritage theme with descriptions of a traditional Tabua and Yaqona Vakaturaga ceremony.
$100 Polymer Banknote
The front design features Fiji’s Nanai (Cicada). Fiji has the richest fauna of cicadas in the southwest Pacific with 19 species, all of which are endemic. Cicadas are well known for their loud calls, some of which resound through Fiji’s forests. Larval cicadas live underground and feed on the sap from the roots of forest trees. They then emerge, shed their larval skins, and enjoy a short, noisy adult life in Fiji’s forests.
Maka is the common Fijian name for cicadas in general, but the Nanai is unique due to its striking appearance. Nanai is extremely well known to the inland communities of Viti Levu as it emerges in enormous numbers once every eight years and is not otherwise seen. An image of a Buli kula (Golden Cowrie) is also featured on the front. The back design features the map of Fiji with 180º Meridian Line marking the dawn of a new day, smiling faces representing Fiji’s friendliness, a cruise boat for island hopping, and tourists snorkeling.