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In 1996 Fijians comprised some 51 percent of the total population and Indians about 44 percent. Before the 1987 coup the ethnic Indian population, descended from contract workers brought over to operate the sugar estates, was in a majority (49 percent). Since 1987 many have left Fiji. Native Fijians, who were a minority in their own country at independence, are mainly of Melanesian stock.
The former Indian majority (only 46% of the population by 1991) is descended from field workers brought by the British. Although the Indians are forbidden land ownership, they operate most of the sugar plantations. Although English is the official language, Fijians speak their own language and are primarily Christian (85% Methodist). The Indian population, which is 70% Hindu and 25% Muslim, speak a dialect of Hindi. There are also small Chinese and white minorities. Fiji experiences tensions as a result of its diverse ethnic composition.
Epidemics nearly wiped out native Fijians in the 19th century. In 2000, Fijians comprised 49% of the population, Indians 46%, Europeans, other Pacific Islanders and Chinese the rest. Fijians were 52% Christian, 38% Hindu, 8% Islam, and 2% other.