Editorial comment – An important part of our history

Minister for Local Government, Housing and Environment, Infrastructure and Transport Parveen Kumar Bala with other invited guests during the Girmit Remembrance Day celebrations and the Civic Centre in Nadi yesterday. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

TODAY is an important date for Fiji. As Minister for Local Government Parveen Kumar said yesterday, it is important to know and learn about the history of Girmitiyas. Speaking at the 139th Girmit Day celebration in Nadi yesterday, he said many historians had documented the arrival of the Girmitiyas but little was still known about their sacrifice and suffering.

It is important, he said, that Girmit Day was used to get a better sense of the history, background and context of why and how Girmitiyas came to Fiji.

He said when Fiji was ceded to Great Britain and became a Crown colony on October 10, 1874, one of the great challenges was to find labour to sustain an economy.

This is the truth behind the arrival of the indentured labourers, he said, and we must acknowledge their work and contribution to establishing an economy for our beautiful country.

Sometimes we need a jolt to appreciate the importance of history, and what it means to us as a nation. This day is about reflecting on history. It is about appreciating the role history has in shaping our future.

Without a doubt, today we live in a country that was shaped through hard work, through blood, sweat and tears. Tightly woven in there is the history of our Girmitiya.

It was on May 14, 1879 that the first group of indentured labourers arrived from India.

We have grown as a nation. As a nation, we must be appreciative of the place of the Girmitiya in our history. It is difficult to appreciate the sense of uncertainty, frustration maybe, fear and shock when the first lot of indentured labourers sailed away from their motherland.

They were headed for a new beginning. Life would have been very different from what they were accustomed to back home. There was the weather to contend with, the food, and an environment they weren’t familiar with.

But they survived, and adapted to the new life they were forced to live. On this day we acknowledge their sacrifice, hard work, and contribution to the development of a young nation.

History can reinforce our appreciation of who we are as a people, and as a nation. As we move forward, we must get our bearings through history and take care never to repeat mistakes of the past.

The Girmit era should invoke in us a sense of appreciation of the early years of our economic progress as a nation. We remember also the great sacrifices made by every indentured labourer.

History teaches us values. Former US President George Bush, in a speech on September 17, 2002, said something that probably rings true for us today.

He told Americans, “Our history is not a story of perfection. It’s a story of imperfect people working toward great ideals. “This flawed nation is also a really good nation, and the principles we hold are the hope of all mankind. When children are given the real history of America, they will also learn to love America. “Ignorance of American history and civics weakens our sense of citizenship. To be an American is not just a matter of blood or birth; we are bound by ideals, and our children must know those ideals.”

They were powerful words which stood out then.

Perhaps we may even consider them relevant and a reminder for us to remember our history. Thousands of people had an impact on the birth of our nation. Many of them left an indelible impression on our nation’s history.

We remember the Girmitiya.