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Girmitiya Descendants No Longer Vulagi: President

Descendants of Girmitiyas have been told they are no longer vulagi (outsiders) . President Major-General (Ret’d) Jioji Konrote reassured them that they were no longer marginalised but equal citizens with
10 Nov 2016 11:10
Girmitiya Descendants No Longer Vulagi: President

Descendants of Girmitiyas have been told they are no longer vulagi (outsiders) .

President Major-General (Ret’d) Jioji Konrote reassured them that they were no longer marginalised but equal citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as every other Fijian.

He made this statement while launching the Girmit Centennial Celebration at Albert Park in Suva yesterday.

Major-General (Ret’d) Konrote said the event was an important era for Fiji as it marked the arrival of the last indentured labourers from British India precisely 100 years ago on board the SS Sutlej V.

“You are the custodians of the Girmit tradition – a flame that still burns brightly a century on and when we gaze at your faces, we can imagine the faces of your ancestors – the salt of the earth of what was then British India and is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“Ordinary men and women transported from the vast plains and teeming cities of the Subcontinent to the sugarcane plantations, towns and settlements of Fiji,” he said.

He said the story of Girmitiyas was one of immense struggle and suffering but also one of the most inspirational chapters of Fijian history.

Major-General (Ret’d) Konrote said their struggle was borne with dignity and perseverance through sheer determination and hard work.

However, he said despite the struggle they eventually triumphed – triumph of the human spirit in the face of terrible adversity.

“As people transported across the world in a succession of small ships and in the harshest of conditions didn’t succumb to despair, on the contrary, they worked their hearts out to carve out new lives in Fiji and in doing so, made a disproportionate contribution to building our nation.

“They endured hardship and oppression a crushing workload and the constant threat to illness and diseases,” Major-General (Ret’d) Konrote said.

He said on the shoulders of Girmitiyas rested much of the burden of building the then British colony.

“Whether it was clearing land, building roads and most of all toiling in the sugar cane fields that were the mainstay of the Fijian economy then and continue to play an important role in our economy today,” Major-General (Ret’d) Konrote said.

He said they also suffered culture shock and loneliness as a people transplanted around 11,500 kilometers across the world.

He said they were determined to succeed and determined that their descendants would have better lives than they endured.

“For the early Girmitiyas there was no access to education and their children grew up illiterate, but they knew even then that the acquisition of knowledge over the years, the importance of education became paramount.

“And as they set up schools all over the country they became important partners with our communities in gradually laying the foundations of modern Fiji,” Major-General (Ret’d) Konrote said.

He said the nation was determined to follow their example and carved out a better place in the world.

Major-General (Ret’d) Konrote said the Girmit story was not a story confined to one community in Fiji but one that belonged to everyone and an inspirational chapter of the story of the development of our nation as a whole.

He said history recorded that it was often a brutal life and being an indentured labourer was akin to slavery.

Major-General (Ret’d) Konrote said it was a long, painfully slow journey and we must never forget the challenges that the Girmitiyas and their descendants faced.

He said it wasn’t until 2013 that descendants of the Girmitiyas finally became Fijians which took 97 years after the last arrival of the Girmitiyas.

“But Fijian is what we are all today and that is cause for further celebration that we are finally one nation, one people with equal rights and equal opportunities finally guaranteed for every citizen in our 2013 Constitution.

“And that my friends are something really worth celebrating, that 100 years after the last Girmitiyas arrived in Fiji, the struggle to get izzat (respect and dignity combined) has finally arrived,” Major-General (Ret’d) Konrote said.

Edited by Ranoba Baoa

 

Feedback:  rosi.doviverata@fijisun.com.fj



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