Memories of Navua

Office of the Opposition media and research officer Biman Chaudhry. Picture: SOPHIE RALULU

ASK him anything about the history of the indentured labourer period in the town of Navua, and Biman Chaudhry will tell you everything he knows.

The 46-year-old is an avid researcher and historian in his spare time. And if he isn’t busy looking up these historical stories, he is up at the office of the Opposition party where he works as the media and research officer.

“Ever since I left high school, I’ve been involved in politics,” he shares.

“I grew up listening to political stories and my great grandfather took part in the 1920 impasse between the sugarcane farmers and a Canadian-based sugar company that was operating in Navua since 1884. He finished his indenture in 1916, completing two sets of five-year contracts at Tamanoa in Navua, so he was a free farmer and he was one of the key men who led the agitation against the Vancouver Sugar Company at the time.”

These stories and many others led Mr Chaudry to join various political factions over two decades which helped mould his outlook of the changing political landscape in Fiji. But it was his upbringing that always inspired him. “Life, growing up was …there were some painful memories,” he said after a brief pause.

“I remember the poverty at the time, it was harsh. People lived in shacks; they had no mats and all they had were piala (cups) and some pots … no furniture in the house. There used to be women who cooked and the food was shared around and if there was no food you didn’t have any to eat. I saw this growing up and it used to make me emotional,” Biman said.

“Then life started to improve when Fiji gained independence and developments started to come in. I remember the first radio we had in the house was a transistor radio which was a gift from the Ministry of Agriculture. People started from scratch — farming and starting a business and they prospered.”

Mr Chaudhry started work as a law clerk straight after leaving high school and worked his way up to be a research officer. He is proud to be Navua resident and had been vocal about the development of his home town.

“Navua is one place where you may have noticed, where despite the political upheavals taking place since 1987 — it has been an incident-free place except for one incident in 2000 when villagers in Nabukavesi closed the road. So we’ve had no other incident in any of the political activities because the race relations there are not dictated by political activities at the national scene. It was more of the personal relationship at the grass root level that people interact. That keeps our race relations at a good rate, and free and away from the dictates of the national politics,” he says with finality.