Some men and women from the Solomons Islands were brought to Fiji by the sugarcane planters in the 1890s.
Jale Marata came to Fiji during the Indentured Labour years. When he retired from working at the Labasa sugar mill in 1950 he built a house in Mali Island and named the house MARATA from the Solomon Island of Malaita. So it wasn't only Indians who came to Fiji to work in the sugar industry.
Some of the descendants of these Solomon Islanders live in the villages of Cawaira and Vanuavou in the Labasa area.
Girmit means an agreement and was an arrangement to work on certain conditions for 5 years and then go back to where they come from. But no-one every went back as far as I know.
Jale told me of his first experiences in the sugar industry. He said he had to walk four miles every morning, rain or shine, from Vanuavou to start a 7 am and finished at 4 30 pm then returned home. His job was in the cane field or fixing the drainage with group of men and a white boss they called a Sirdar. On Friday afternoons they stood outside the paymaster;s office and Jale called out, 'Sam Sir au sata ata saib mai noku silini au lako simete.' CSR workers were given 5 to 10 lb of sugar for a weekly ration and Thursday they distributed this to the workers.
Jale told me this story.
At 15 years of age I came from Solomon Islands with group of men of my Island Marata (Malaita). A trader ship was on the shore. All men were called in the ship to come to get tinned corned beef and biscuits the palagi food. I happened to go with them so as we were inside the ship in the first deck eating and drinking then the top of the deck was closed by the palagi. And they said this was because it was raining. Then the ship turned around and sailed to Sydney and then to Fiji.
Those who fought against this were roped and a sugar bag was put over their heads and many died on the way to Fiji they were thrown aboard the ship. They told us that
you going to Fiji to work for 5 years and then you can come back to your islands.
I got along with the master so I got the job as a garden boy in CSR Company in Labasa and later I became a Provincial Police Officer for my people in Cawaira Community.
There is a song about the Solomon Islanders who were brought to Fiji in those early days.
Laki tei dalo ko tamaqu
Laki qoliqoli ko tinagu
Au gade ki sereka au gade ki sereka
Votu mai na sitima ni meli
Sa qai voce mai na pelopelo
Tauri au na kai palagi
Au sa vesu ena dali
Sa qai bi noqu tagi
Au sa kau dina ga ki viti
Na yacaqu dina ga ko Bili
This song tells the story about a Solomon island boy who goes to the plantation with his father or fishing with his mother when a steamer comes nearby and takes them on board, tricks them. Despite their crying they are taken to Fiji and he is told his name is now Bill.
A Fijian work team from Navosa to Taveuni
Fijians did not at that stage work in the sugar industry, but workgroups went to coconut plantations at times, such as to Waimaqera in Taveuni Island. A group of men from Navosa in the inland hills of Viti Levu were signed up for three years to work in a Coconut Plantation. The group of men lived in the allocated barracks and they started work at 6 am in the morning with a roll call so that nobody missed out.
Samu told me this story and said 'I still not forget what the white man who did to me. That night I was not feeling well. I had I running stomach and I said to our leader that I am sick and want to stay in bed. This white man had four German shepherd dogs and he always took them with him. The roll call time came and when they called my name someone said, "Tamaya, he is sick Sir. " "Where is he?" "In the main quarter Sir. " Then from the distance I saw him coming to fetch me with his big dogs. I jumped through the window and ran for my life. He could not catch me that day. And also it was a good medicine for my running stomach.
I said to the storyteller, 'No wonder you could escape. You came from Navosa you know how to run to catch wild pigs.'
Some of the descendants of Solomon Islanders who were 'blackbirded' to Fiji over a hundred years ago live in a settlement in Wailoku, in a deep valley in the mountains behind Suva. They are severely disadvantaged and neglected (apart from care from the Anglican church)as shown in 'Living on the Fringe: Melanesians in Fiji' by Winston Halapua. They came to Fiji between 1865 and 1911 from the Solomons and Vanuatu as well. Jane Resture writes about the 'kanakas' who went to Australia and Fiji.