10 June 2012

Indian Theme on foreign stamps…

The Arrival of  Indians  in Fiji

 

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Fiji is an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean northeast of New Zealand's North Island. The majority of Fiji's islands were formed through volcanic activity started around 150 million years ago. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch and the British explored Fiji. Fiji was a British colony up until 1970; British occupation lasted almost a century. Because of the abundance of forest, mineral, and fish resources, Fiji is one of the most developed economies in the Pacific island realm. Today, the main sources of foreign exchange are its tourist industry and sugar exports.

The population of Fiji is mostly made up of native Fijians, who are Melanesians (54.3%) and Indo-Fijians (38.1%), descendants of Indian contract labourers brought to the islands by the British colonial powers in the 19th century.Fijian as an official language of Fiji, along with English and Fiji Hindi.

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Indo-Fijians are Fijians whose ancestors came from India.They are mostly descended from indentured labourers, brought to the islands by Fiji's British colonial rulers between 1879 and 1916 to work on Fiji's sugar cane plantations. These were complemented by the later arrival of Gujarati and Punjabi immigrants who arrived as free settlers in contrast to their counterparts who were brought under the indentured labour system.

Indians had been employed for a long time on the European ships trading in India . Many of the early voyages to the Pacific either started or terminated in India, and many of these ships were wrecked in the uncharted waters of the South Pacific. The first recorded presence of an Indian in Fiji was by Peter Dillon, a sandalwood trader in Fiji, who survived a ship wreck and lived amongst the natives of Fiji in 1813. The colonial authorities promoted the sugar cane industry, recognizing the need to establish a stable economic base for the colony, but were unwilling to exploit indigenous labour and threaten the Fijian way of life.  British decided to implement the indentured labour scheme, which had existed since 1837. A recruiting office was set up especially around Calcutta and the South, West and North later, especially a lot in rural village areas in different farming regions, land and areas.

The Leonidas, a labour transport vessel, disembarked at Levuka from Calcutta on 14 May 1879. The 463 indentured workers who disembarked were the first of over 61,000 to arrive from the South Asia and some from East Asia over the following 37 years. The indentured slaves originated mostly from rural village background or were mostly dispossessed peasants. While the women on the other hand were either kidnapped, prostitutes or young widows. Some were even brought as kidnapped child labour.The contracts of the indentured labourers, which they called girmit (agreements), required them to work in Fiji for a period of five years. Living conditions on the sugar cane plantations, on which most of the girmityas (indentured labourers) worked, were often squalid, degrading and brutal.

After a further five years of work as an indentured labourer or as a khula (free labourer), they were given the choice of returning to India at their own expense, or remain in Fiji. The great majority opted to stay because they could not afford to return under the low pay (even in many instances they were denied paid wages) of the British government or were refused to be sent back.

After the expiry of their girmits, many leased small plots of land from Fijians and developed their own sugarcane fields or cattle farmlets. Others went into business in the towns that were beginning to spring up.

The indenture system had two positive effects on subsequent generations. Firstly the need for people of different castes to live work and eat together led to an end of the caste system. Furthermore, shortage of females resulted in many marrying outside their caste. Another positive was the development of a new koiné language, known as Fiji Hindi that was formed from different languages and dialects of India. The speakers of these languages originated from different regions in India that supplied a lot of slave labourers. Music too, was important, with a distinct Fiji Hindi culture that some commentators have described as a forerunner to both bangla and jazz. For the most part, these people came from in certain rural or village areas. The language was further heavily enriched by the inclusion of many Fijian and English words. The language is now the mother tongue of almost all Fiji Indians.

From the early 1900s, Indians started arriving in Fiji as free agents. Many of these paid their own way and had previously served in Fiji or other British colonies or had been born in Fiji. Amongst the early free migrants, there were religious teachers, missionaries and lawyers. The government and other employers brought clerks, policemen, artisans, gardeners, experienced agricultural workers, a doctor and a school teacher. Punjabi farmers and Gujarati craftsmen also paid their own way to Fiji and in later years formed an influential minority amongst the Fiji Indians.

Of the Indo-Fijians, Hindus belong mostly to the Sanatan sect (74.3% of all Hindus). The small Arya Samaj sect claims the membership of some 3.7% of all Hindus in Fiji. Muslims are mostly Sunni (59.7%) and Shia (36.7%), with an Ahmadiyya minority (3.6%). The Sikh religion comprises 0.9% of the Indo-Fijian population.Their ancestors came from the Punjab region of India, but are a much recent wave of immigrants who did not live through the indenture system.

Fiji's culture is a rich mosaic of indigenous, Indian, Chinese and European traditions, the indigenous culture is very much active and living, and is a part of everyday life for the majority of the population. However, it has evolved with the introduction of old cultures like the Indian and Chinese ones, as well as a large influence from Europe.

Fiji Post released 4 stamps in 1979 to mark the Centenary of Indian Arrivals in Fiji.

- Kenneth Sequeira  

email : kenneth.sequeira@hotmail.com 

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

 

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