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Saturday, 4 December 2010

Girmit :: Our Origins - shaping our futures, defining our lives.

My last post was a challenge to publish - in recognising White Ribbon Day (25 November) and acknowledging the prevalence of violence in my community I really did not want to dismiss the level of pride that exists within it as well (both a help and a hindrance).  Having grown up in New Zealand largely 'outside' my community for the start of my life, I had to work at acquainting myself with it. Information was not readily available and socialising was limited to my parents' circle of friends rather than a wider community network. This started to change post-1987 the first military coup and then the subsequent political upheaval that seems neverending.

My experience with the emerging community was not a happy one - all of a sudden I felt scrutinised by a group of people whom I had no relationship with who conversely felt it was their right or obligation to provide commentary on my choices - friends, clothes, boyfriends, school, university etc. I railed against the attention and look back now and wonder how my parents coped! They had given us according to some, too much freedom yet there was often extreme discipline in the home.  I think the "discipline" was probably a reaction to the horrible gossipy comments of a few weak-minded individuals.  The sad irony is that many who were quick judge or speak out eventually became parents of teenagers who led lives that were in far contrast to mine even though I was the "lippy, rude, stubbon, spoiled and rebellious brat" who openly did as she pleased!  The commentators fell silent when they realised their journey was just starting and their "little angels" provided many challenges to their way of thinking!

The isolation and the personal experience meant I turned my back on my culture for a long time - stopped speaking the language, attending social events etc. I grew up thankfully and began focussing on where we came from and learned a great deal from the geneaology project underway in my Dad's family. Its a history we could be proud of and one that the next generation is learning to celebrate.  Early Indo-Fijian migration to Fiji began with the Girmitya - those sent as indentured labour to support the sugar cane plantations of the Colonial Sugar Refinery. Between 14 May 1879 and 11 November 1916, 60,969 Indians are recorded as having arrived in Fiji under the indentured system. Next were a number of Indians from mercantile classes following the population and building businesses to support this new community.  A girmit was the period servitude - a "contract" for five years - often renewed, occasionally voluntarily otherwise with little or no choice as returning to India was beyond the reach for many.  Sir Arthur Gordon after success in Trinidad and Mauritius considered Indians an ideal labour source when he was stationed in Fiji as its first Governor. The Indian Diaspora was well underway by this time.

Today in New Zealand in particular where larger family groups have settled, great effort has been invested in teaching the next generation about who we are and what amazingly resiliant, proud and industrious people arrived in Fiji, made it their home and swore their allegiance to this amazing country.  The stories are incredible and the kids are really embracing our history. No longer do we stand behind subcontinental Indians being "kind of Indian" but certainly not considered as such. I am truly envious!  Earlier this year to mark the first arrivals, the Fiji Indian Association as it now regularly does, held  their annual celebrations.  I was overjoyed to receive photos of our youth performing a play based on the lives of the early Indian settlers in Fiji. More so because among them was my nephew.  I know I may have missed out but with this effort I know that our history will live on and be celebrated for years to come! There is also a German university study being carried out that includes interviews with Indo-Fijians based in Wellington (where I'm from) that I can't wait to read about.

 

Posted via email from Radhika's posterous