Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A need for Indo-Fijians to reconnect, reclaim and restore their history

                                                                                                                                       A need for Indo-Fijians to reconnect, reclaim and restore their history

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand is creating awareness about indenture and Girmit history with the theme of: Reconnecting, reclaiming and restoring Indo-Fijian history.
The Foundation is commemorating, and hence organising Girmit Remembrance Day at Skipton Hall, Mangere, Auckland on Sunday 18 May, 2014 from 1.30- 5.00pm. FIJI PUNDIT will have a string of articles leading to Girmit Day.

14 May is a significant date for Indo-Fijian Diaspora. On this day in 1879 the first ship load of Girmitiyas- Fiji’s indentured labourers – arrived in Fiji at Levuka in the historic vessel, the Leonidas.  I do not blame Indo Fijian for not knowing the history of their heritage, as our school history fails to recognise and acknowledge this fact, which appears to have been stolen from successive Indo Fijian generations. This article is intended to enlighten and awaken the silent pride of Indo-Fijian Diaspora, and urge them to observe FIJI GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY on 14 May of every year.

Leonidas, the first Indenture (Girmit) sail ship that arrived at Levuka, Fiji on 14 May, 1869. That is why MAY 14 HAS BEEN DECLARED: FIJI GIRMIT REMEMBRANCE DAY

Do you ever realise that we now have a distinct Indo-Fijian culture spread around the world? We are a group of Indian migrants, who not only retained their culture and traditions, but in fact strengthened them to the extent that wherever they are settled, they are a distinct breed of Indians, very different from the mainland Indians. We give credit for this preservation of Indianness to the foresight and vision of our Girmitiya forebears who gave priority to education. However, do Indo-Fijians have respect and pride in their heritage?

On Thanksgiving Day, Americans think of and honour those who sacrificed for America in creating a new homeland. On ANZAC Day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps), respective nationals think of their soldiers who fought for their countries and gave their lives. On Waitangi Day, New Zealanders mark that as a nation-building day. Then why cannot we, Girmitiya descendant Indo-Fijians, set aside at least one day in a year to think and honour those who sacrificed their lives and gave us this better life than they ever dreamed of?

Girmit Gang getting ready for work. They worked tirelessly to make Fiji what it is today, but Girmitiyas seem to have become derelicts of British Empire, and rarely reflected in History. 

It is time we inculcated pride of the new generation in their history. What I suggest is that we need to tell our children and grandchildren about the stories of Girmit so that they know where they have descended from and how full of suffering, sacrifices has been those Girmit journeys.

To realise this dream, a group of Indo-Fijians in Auckland New Zealand, have taken steps to reconnect, reclaim and restore Indo-Fijian history. FIJI GIRMIT FOUNDATION NEW ZEALAND has been formed, among other things, to regularly organize commemoration of Girmit in New Zealand every year, and also become an umbrella organisation representing all Girmitiya descendants.

The Foundation is headed by former Deputy General Manager of Fiji Broadcasting Commission, Pundit Devakar Prasad (Chairperson) and other members, among others, include Thakur Ranjit Singh, (Secretary), Krish Naidu (Treasurer), former parliamentarians Master Shiu Charan,   Sardar Harnam Singh Golian, Rajendra Prasad, author of “Tears in Paradise” , Radha Kanhai Reddy and Pundit Ram Kumar Sewak.
The Foundation is organising Fiji Girmit Remembrance Day on Sunday 18 May, 2014 at Auckland, New Zealand. This event is organized to provide opportunity to every Indo-Fijian family to resurrect the memories and pay our respects to our Girmitiya forebears for the sacrifices that they made and the legacy that they left for successive generations.

The day’s programme will remember sacrifices, progress and vision of our forebears through oratory, poems, music and tales of the past. This will be a journey through memory lane which will provide exposure to a history that has been stolen from us, and remains yet to be told. Fiji’s celebrated academic son and historian of Girmit, Professor Brij Lal is the Chief Guest He is Professor of Pacific and Asian History in the College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University, Canberra. And hence he is a very fitting and appropriate Chief Guest.

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The Chief Guest at Girmit Day in Auckland will be Professor Brij Vilash Lal, who is Professor of Pacific and Asian History in the College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University (ANU). He is a proud son of Fiji who has written numerous books on Girmit history to fill the vacuum in our history that the British failed to record.

It is a fervent hope of the Foundation that such activities would assist in restoration of Indo-Fijian history; not only in New Zealand, but everywhere Indo-Fijians are settled. Hence, the theme for this year’s commemoration is:

Reconnecting, reclaiming and restoring Indo-Fijian history

The Foundation intends to strengthen our unique Indo-Fijian culture, language, customs and traditions to ensure that our children remain connected to the jewels of their inheritance. It is hoped, in a small way, the initiative, foresight and vision of Aucklanders are going to inspire our Indo Fijian Diaspora in Canada (Vancouver, Surrey, Calgary, Toronto etc), USA (San Francisco, Sacramento, Modesto Hayward etc), Australia (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne etc) and even in Fiji to unite and get organised and tell our new generation the tales of Girmit that history has failed to acknowledge.

[Visit Fiji Girmit Foundation Facebook]                                                       

 [About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a journalist, a blogger, a media commentator and former Publisher of Fiji’s Daily Post. He is the Secretary of Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand. He runs his blog site: FIJI PUNDIT, available at www.fijipundit.blogspot.co.nz]