The origins of the Tikarams

The Tikaram family pictured here in the 1950s. Picture: SUPPLIED/BOBBY TIKARAM

THE majority of indentured labourers who came to Fiji under the promise of a better life did so with their children in mind.

Today, families whose ancestors toiled for meagre earnings are recognised for being the building blocks of the different sectors that contribute to Fiji’s social and economic life.

Many descendants have become highly distinguished members of society. Among them is the Tikaram family — recognised for their contribution to aviation and transport and sports.

According to family records, Thakur Tikaram (born 1877) and his wife Singaribai Tikaram (born 1894) arrived in Fiji on July 10, 1912, as indentured labourers on board the vessel Ganges II on a five-year contract with the Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR) company.

They went on to have 11 children, namely Kissun Lal Tikaram, Madho Singh Tikaram, Radhe Tikaram, Justice Sir Moti Tikaram, Shiu Narayan Tikaram, Jerry Tikaram, Kala Wati Maharaj, Sushila Devi Satyanand, Countess Sumitra Tikaram de Brouchoven de Bergyeck, Sahodra Devi and Bobby Tikaram.

Today, only three children remain — Bobby Tikaram, Countess Sumitra Tikaram de Brouchoven de Bergyeck and Sahodra Devi, who live in London, England and Sydney, Australia, respectively.

Mr Tikaram, 75, says his family was filled with a rich history that dated back to the 1900s when his parents first arrived.

“After health and immigration formalities, they were divided into groups and sent to plantation estates,” he says.

“They were among seven men and women sent to Naduri, also called Naisoqo near Viria, Nausori, to work on banana plantations. “For the first six months, they were provided with free food rations consisting of bare essentials of flour and dhal. Afterwards, they bought their own food and clothing from the daily wages of a shilling for men and nine pence for women.”

At that time, Mr Tikaram said women were also given the daily contract of hoeing, clearing of leaves while menfolk were tasked with collecting matured bananas, clearing, digging and transporting bananas on bullock trailers to the wharf to be packed and shipped abroad.

“For the Tikarams, this went for three years and every time a new recruit came, they taught them how to go about the job and other daily routines. Once, Singaribai and her group received a young Brahmin woman who was given her own daily contract but since she had never worked in a field, she could not complete her task.

“Singaribai and other women completed this task for her. On one occasion, an Indian overseer tried to harass a young woman because she was eating cocoa. When Singaribai asked the overseer why the woman was weeping, she was told not to interfere.

“Instantly Singaribai pulled the umbrella from underneath the overseer’s arm and hit him with it. The matter was reported and she and her husband were moved to Wainadoi.”

By then the family’s time in the indenture system was coming to an end and by 1917, they had made the decision to settle in Lami.

With money they had saved, they bought and began operating a small grocery shop and a fuel station. They entered the transport industry, starting with a horse and cart which was the mode of transportation in those days.

As the transport industry became motorised, the family bought a T Ford to run as a taxi. They operated as Suva Taxi Service and later, Golden Arrow Taxis.

Mr Tikaram says his elder brothers eventually entered the business and gradually moved into storekeeping, cartage, petrol service and hiring of punts to cruise the Lami River.

“Radhe Tikaram was posted to Labasa as a wireless operator and Moti Tikaram moved to New Zealand to pursue a law degree.”

In the 1950s, the bus service permit was rescinded and the family’s Lami store was later demolished to make way for a wider Queen’s Rd.

In a bid to leave something for the people of Lami, Mr Tikaram says his mother handed over a piece of vacant land to the Lami Town Council in 1980, a site where the Tikaram Park stands today.

Each member of the Tikaram family has been successful in carving an identity for themselves.

As the youngest child, Mr Tikaram has also gained recognition in the local sports and aviation industry.

The father of six moved to Nadi in 1964 and joined Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji as an air radio communication cadet and has dedicated his life to sports and played for the St Columbus Soccer Club and founded the Nadi Airport Soccer Club.

He worked as a trainee cadet in communication in 1964, qualified as a communicator in 1965 and later moved to become a senior communicator, air ground officer, communication supervisor before retiring as acting senior communication supervisor in 2001.