Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Canadian Indian poet writes of the girmits of Fiji

from Wendy
I came across a website about a Canadian writer,Kuldip Gill, who researched the lives of elderly Indian women in Fiji and I found one of her poems based on her interviews. Girmit refers to the indenture system, a shameful period of colonial history where labourers were treated like slaves to build up the sugar industry in countries such as Fiji. Many of the people in areas such as Labasa, Ba, Tavua, Lautoka, Nadi are descended from men and women whom were brought to Fiji under the indenture scheme.

Kuldip Gill writes:
A language can change due to migration, or as is the case in Fiji and other island nations, indenture or slavery. In Fiji, the name of the language spoken by North and South Indians has taken on its own flavour as the indentured group, an amalgam of very mixed ethnic, religious and caste groups, learned to speak a dialect formed on the islands based on the diversity of the indentured. These few lines from my sequential set of poems Fiji Ghazals, drawn from the lives of five old Indo-Fijian women, illustrate this point, as well as how I use another language in my poetry. Following convention for this form, it is un-named.
She swings to and fro: identity to icon, and back. Her lies.
She pumps her feet caste to caste blue skying with friends.
Girmitya, a noble mask of oneself, the collective memory.
The other portrait a tracery, the overseer’s whips’ lines: doubts, fears.
I was eleven when I got married and came here. In Nasavu, I stayed
for three or four years. Sometimes I liked it. Sometimes I did not.
I have to stay with my husband even if I have difficulties,
I rati, rati. I had a baby girl, a child—I had them every three years.
Language? the teacher says, “the lingua franca here is Fiji-Hindi
We try for a coherent discourse”. She says that. We call it Fiji-bat.
— Kuldip Gill

The Fiji Ghazals are based on interviews of five old women, children of indentured persons, during Kuldip Gill's doctoral fieldwork in Fiji from 1985-1986. The women had no idea where in India they were from or their caste.

1 comment:

Pandabonium said...

That resonates with me. It is the history of Hawaii in many ways as well. The Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese and Filipinos all brought as "contract" labor to work for the white Eastern-USA missionary's sons who owned the plantations. As the saying goes in Hawaii - the missionaries came to Hawaii to do good, and did well.

I don't know how things could have gone otherwise, but it still saddens me.