137 YEARS ON, WHY ALL FIJIANS SHOULD HONOUR GIRMITIYAS
‘The pain they endured in those times is what makes us more resilient today’
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.
Students of Pundit Shreedhar Maharaj College, Wainibokasi, during the Girmit Day celebration at Syria Park in Nausori yesterday.
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