Mr. Thurston, the originator of the new system of taxation, had come to Fiji as a common sailor before the mast, but he lived to be Governor of Fiji from 1888 to 1896, and died as Sir John Thurston, universally beloved by the race for whose uplifting he had contended so courageously and well, and thus in Fiji there live to-day the happiest, the most law-abiding and potentially the most nearly civilized natives in the Pacific. It is one of the very few instances wherein a powerful and enlightened race have studied and toiled through many unrequited years to lift to a happier level a poor and barbarous people.
There is no longer in Fiji that painful contrast of which Wilkes complained between the beauty of the island scenery and the character of the inhabitants, for consistently in all respects the archipelago is now one of the fairest spots within the tropic world.
Nowhere in the Pacific did old customs change more slowly under European rule than in Fiji, for it has been the consistent policy of the British government to leave unaltered all that was good in the manners of old days.
The villages are almost as they were before the white man came, only the log stockades and the encircling moats have disappeared during the long years of peace, and the houses are no longer perched upon the summits of ærie cliffs, but now cluster along the river-banks or under the cocoa palms of the seashore. The high-peaked Mbures or temples, once such a picturesque feature, have fallen into decay with the advent of Christianity, although one thinks they might well have been preserved, enlarged and converted into Christian churches, for the tasteful sennit patterns which adorned their beams and rafters would have made the chapel the most attractive house in the village instead of being, as it too often is, a cheerless barn-like structure, ill-proportioned without and barren within.
The better types of native houses are set upon artificial embankments of stones and earth, sometimes twenty feet high, as in the valley of the Rewa River, where floods may be expected. The framework is of tree fern or cocoanut logs, ingeniously lashed together, and the sides and roof are covered with a thick thatch of wild cane, or cocoanut leaves spread over ferns. The roof is quite thin at the peak, but is fully a foot and a half thick at the eaves, where it projects slightly, and is cut off squarely, presenting a very neat appearance. The ground-plan of the house is usually rectangular, not oval at its ends, as in Tahiti, and the peaked roof has a long ridge-pole which projects several feet beyond the eaves and, if the residence be that of a chief, is thickly studded with white Cypræa cowrie shells, and sometimes other cowrie shells are strung upon ropes of cocoanut fiber sennit and hung pendant from the projecting ridge-pole. There are no windows, but several openings serve as doors and may in time of rain be closed with mats.