137 YEARS ON, WHY ALL FI­JIANS SHOULD HON­OUR GIR­MI­TIYAS

‘The pain they en­dured in those times is what makes us more re­silient to­day’

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Bula vi­naka, Salam Alaykum, Na­maste, Noa’ia e Mauri, and a very good morn­ing to you all. It is in­deed a plea­sure and I deem it an hon­our and priv­i­lege to be with you to­day as we com­mem­o­rate the ar­rival of the first in­den­tured or girmit labour­ers from Mother In­dia some 137 years ago.

To­day is an im­por­tant day for this na­tion, mark­ing the vast con­tri­bu­tion of th­ese pi­o­neer in­den­tured labour­ers to­wards the so­cio-cul­tural and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of our beloved Fiji.

It is in­deed be­fit­ting to see that this oc­ca­sion is cel­e­brated on a na­tional scale, for we have all ben­e­fit­ted from the labour and sac­ri­fice of those first in­den­tured labour­ers who ar­rived into Fiji. In my ca­pac­ity as the Pres­i­dent of Fiji, I con­sider it pru­dent and in­deed fit­ting to ac­knowl­edge and give credit to the in­den­tured or girmit labour­ers for choos­ing to stay back in Fiji and make a liv­ing for them­selves.

Gir­mi­tiyas’ con­tri­bu­tion to Fiji no­table

Ladies and Gentle­men, look­ing back 137 years, I must say that Fiji has pro­gressed sig­nif­i­cantly since the ar­rival of the Gir­mi­tiyas. The hard yards and the strug­gles they en­dured have surely reaped re­ward­ing ben­e­fits as ev­i­denced in the united Fiji we have to­day. The Gir­mi­tiyas made their con­tri­bu­tion to Fiji and it was a no­table one. Their vi­sion and in­sight to make a bet­ter liv­ing, to pur­sue bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties, to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for their chil­dren at that time were some of the sig­nif­i­cant strides they made to make things bet­ter, not only for them­selves, but for the na­tion as a whole.

Their will­ing­ness to per­se­vere and never give up is tes­ti­mony to the very im­pres­sive and com­mend­able achieve­ments of their de­scen­dants to­day in both the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors.

Ladies and gentle­men, the cel­e­bra­tion to­day is an emo­tional one for many as they re­mem­ber the hard times their an­ces­tors went through in those try­ing times.

Let me as­sure us all to­day that the pain they en­dured in those times is what makes us more re­silient to­day.

To­day, we see a Fiji that is free from di­vi­sion, free from dis­crim­i­na­tion and free from stereo­typ­ing and this is the na­tional spirit of amity built over the years. The Con­sti­tu­tion has de­clared that ev­ery­one is a Fi­jian and this af­firms the sol­i­dar­ity we have as a na­tion. Ladies and gentle­men, the venue of our cel­e­bra­tion to­day is Syria Park and is named af­ter the ship Syria which ran aground on the Nasi­lai Reef car­ry­ing 497 pas­sen­gers, only four miles from shore, at 8.30pm on Sun­day May 11, 1884 lead­ing to the loss of 59 lives.

In their bid for bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties, some Gir­mi­tiyas passed away even be­fore reach­ing the desti­na­tion of their dream jour­ney. The Girmit pi­o­neers have writ­ten their his­tory and have writ­ten them well leav­ing be­hind lega­cies and prin­ci­ples that con­tinue to chal­lenge many of us to­day.

Fi­jians must rise above re­li­gious and eth­nic­ity is­sues

I am call­ing on ev­ery Fi­jian ir­re­spec­tive of our back­ground to rise above is­sues of eth­nic­ity, is­sues of re­li­gion and em­brace one an­other for a bet­ter Fiji.

The cel­e­bra­tion to­day has brought all of us to­gether to hon­our the lives of th­ese great in­di­vid­u­als who came in as in­den­tured labour­ers but have over the years con­trib­uted im­mensely to the so­cial, cul­tural and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of our great na­tion.

Their ef­fort is a bea­con of hope for us all to con­tinue to strive for­ward to­gether as One Na­tion and One Peo­ple amidst chal­lenges and ad­ver­si­ties, for there is al­ways light at the end of the tun­nel.

We need to be pos­i­tive through all the chal­lenges and set­backs that we face in this life.

Some of the chal­lenges of the jour­neys in this life will test our pa­tience and en­durance be­yond our lim­its and it is only then, that we re­alise we have the po­ten­tial to push be­yond our nor­mal bound­aries.

Our Gov­ern­ment re­mov­ing all bar­ri­ers of unity

Ladies and Gentle­men, our gov­ern­ment is mak­ing ev­ery ef­fort to re­move all bar­ri­ers to unity amongst our na­tion.

We need to support this ef­fort by em­brac­ing the dif­fer­ent cul­tures that ex­ist around us and work to­gether to­wards a peace­ful and pros­per­ous fu­ture. We should be united and stronger in our di­ver­sity. To the younger gen­er­a­tion here to­day, his­tory is a sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ment in our progress as a na­tion. We need to un­der­stand the his­tory be­hind us to al­low us to pon­der and wisely choose the path­ways we need to fol­low to im­prove our lives as we jour­ney to­gether into the fu­ture.

The orig­i­nal forms of our his­tory needs to be re­vi­talised to en­sure that we safe­guard our com­mon iden­tity and its sig­nif­i­cance. We have here to­day ex­hibitors from the Fiji Mu­seum, the Na­tional Ar­chives, the De­part­ment of Her­itage and Arts and other rel­e­vant in­sti­tu­tions, which have been pur­su­ing all pos­si­ble av­enues to re­vive, ed­u­cate and safe­guard our proud, rich and di­verse her­itage as a young de­vel­op­ing na­tion. The Min­is­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion re­cently launched the vir­tual mu­seum up in the hills of Naitasiri pro­vid­ing easy ac­cess to ev­ery or­di­nary Fi­jian to visit the Fiji Mu­seum from the com­fort of their homes as long as they have in­ter­net ac­cess. The vir­tual mu­seum pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery Fi­jian to ex­plore the ar­ti­facts and in­for­ma­tion that ex­pands the hori­zon of our knowl­edge and per­mits us to un­der­stand our his­tory bet­ter.

Let’s hon­our them well

The Girmit labour­ers have made their con­tri­bu­tions and it was a no­table one but we will hon­our them best to­day if we all re­solve that Fiji will con­tinue to be a friendly, united, peace­ful and pro­gres­sive coun­try. I wish you well to­day in this Girmit Cel­e­bra­tion and may GOD con­tinue to bless and guide our beloved Fiji.

Vi­naka Vakalevu, Dhanyavaad, Faiek’sea and Thank You.

Photo: Li­tia Cava

Stu­dents of Pun­dit Shree­d­har Ma­haraj Col­lege, Waini­bokasi, dur­ing the Girmit Day cel­e­bra­tion at Syria Park in Nau­sori yes­ter­day.

Ma­jor-Gen­eral (Ret’d) Jioji Kon­rote Pres­i­dent of Fiji

The fol­low­ing is the full text of the Pres­i­dent, Ma­jor-Gen­eral (Ret’d) Jioji Kon­rote’s ad­dress, at the Girmit Cel­e­bra­tions at Syria Park in Nau­sori yes­ter­day.

The Honourable Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts Cab­i­net min­is­ters Mem­bers of the Diplo­matic Corp Es­teemed lead­ers of the vanua In­vited guests Teach­ers and stu­dents Ladies and gentle­men

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