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Day that changed Fiji

Avinesh Gopal
Wednesday, May 14, 2014

TODAY is a very important day as far as Fiji's history is concerned — it is the day the first group of indentured labourers set foot here after arriving from India on board the Leonidas in 1879.

And it is also the day when the first coup was carried out in 1987, resulting in many people, especially Fijians of Indian descent, fleeing overseas.

The arrival of the indentured labourers slowly moved the country's economy forward, as intended, but the military coup 108 years after their arrival set it backwards.

In memory of those who arrived on board the Leonidas and afterwards, the Fiji Girmit Council has organised a function in Lautoka tonight to celebrate Girmit Day.

Council secretary Vishwa Nadan said May 14 was a very significant day for the council, for Fijians of Indian descent and the country as a whole.

"It's the day when our forefathers came to Fiji and Girmit Day is to recognise their sacrifice and contribution towards Fiji and its economy," he said.

"We will pay homage to our forefathers and revisit the difficulties they went through then, as there were no means for them to get justice unlike what it is now," he said.

Mr Nadan said items related to the indenture system would be performed during the celebrations at Girmit Centre tonight.

He said the younger generation would be reminded of what their forefathers went through during the indenture system, which was commonly known as girmit.

"We will also highlight the progress made by the descendants of the indentured labourers who were brought to Fiji to toil the sugarcane fields."

On the first coup on the same day in 1987, Mr Nadan said: "It's common knowledge that the consequences of the first coup has not put the country back on par until today.

"The entire country suffered because of the coup and Fijians of Indian descent left the country in numbers. It was the deciding moment for many Fijians of Indian descent.

"The exodus of Fijians of Indian descent started after the events of the 1987 coup and it's still happening today."

Mr Nadan, however, said the council would not want to dwell much on the political events of the past but instead focus on moving the country forward — politically and economically.

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