Monday, August 12, 2013

Descendants of Solomon Islanders in Fiji

from w
There are a few small settlements in Fiji of the descendants of Solomon Islanders who were brought to Fiji over a hundred years ago in the awful days of 'blackbirding'.  One such settlement is not far out of Labasa town. They now have integated into the Fijian society and speak Fijian and remnants of their own language. There's an article about them in the Fiji Times.

The stolen people of the Pacific

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
IT is something similar to the indentured labour system.
The only difference is the places where people were picked from to work as labourers in Fiji.
For many people, the term "blackbirding" would be just another word like the thousands of words in a dictionary.
However, for those from some Pacific Island countries such as the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to name a few, blackbirding brings alive a pain of the past.
Like the indentured labour system or girmit as it is commonly known, blackbirding also has historical links to certain groups of people living in Fiji.
The present generation of Fijians of Indian descent living either in Fiji or overseas have their historical links to the girmit.
Similarly, a certain percentage of the Fijian population has links to blackbirding.
According to the free encyclopaedia Wikipedia, blackbirding is the recruitment of people through trickery and kidnapping to work as labourers.
From the 1860s, blackbirding ships were engaged in seeking workers to mine the guano deposits on the Chincha Islands in Peru.
In the 1870s, the blackbirding trade focused on supplying labourers to plantations, particularly the sugar cane fields in Queensland, Australia and Fiji.
The first documented practice occurred between 1842 and 1904.
Story has it that people were also sold as slaves in Levuka in the early 1870s for 30 pounds per person, during the cotton trading days.
History books say those "blackbirded" were recruited from the indigenous populations of nearby Pacific islands or northern Queensland.
According to Wikipedia, the blackbirding era began in Fiji in 1865 when labourers from New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and Solomon Islands arrived in Fiji to work on cotton plantations.
Cotton had become scarce and potentially an extremely profitable business when the American civil war blocked most cotton exports from the southern United States.
"Since Fijians were not interested in regular sustained labour, the thousands of European planters who flocked to Fiji sought labour from the Melanesian islands," according to the Wikipedia.
On July 5, 1865, one Ben Pease received the first licence to provide 40 labourers from the New Hebrides to Fiji.
Furthermore, the free encyclopaedia says attempts were made by the British and Queensland governments to regulate this transportation of labour.
Melanesian labourers were to be recruited for three years, paid three pounds per year, issued with basic clothing and given access to the company store for supplies.
"Despite this, most Melanesians were recruited by deceit, usually being enticed aboard ships with gifts and then locked up," says the Wikipedia.
"The living and working conditions in Fiji were even worse than those suffered by the later Indian indentured labourers.
"In 1875, the chief medical officer in Fiji, Sir William MacGregor, listed a mortality rate of 540 out of every 1000 labourers."
The Wikipedia says that after the expiry of the three-year contract, the labourers were required to be transported back to their villages but most ship captains dropped them off at the first island they sighted off the Fiji waters.
It says the British sent warships to enforce the then law — Pacific Islanders Protection Act of 1872 — but only a small proportion of the culprits were prosecuted.
A notorious incident of the blackbirding trade was the 1871 voyage of the brig Carl that was organised by Dr James Patrick Murray to recruit labourers to work in the plantations of Fiji.
Dr Murray had his men reverse their collars and carry black books, so to appear to be missionaries, the Wikipedia says.
When islanders were enticed to congregate, Murray and his men would produce guns and force the islanders onto boats. During the voyage, Murray shot about 60 islanders.
The Wikipedia says Murray was never brought to trial for his actions as he was allowed to escape trial by giving evidence against crew members. The captain of the Carl, Joseph Armstrong, was later sentenced to death.
"With the arrival of Indian indentured labourers in Fiji from 1879, the number of Melanesian labourers decreased but they were still being recruited and employed, off the plantations in sugar mills and ports, until the start of the First World War.
"Most of the Melanesians recruited were males. After the recruitment ended, those who chose to stay in Fiji took Fijian wives and settled in areas around Suva.
"Their descendants still remain a distinct community but their language and culture cannot be distinguished from native Fijians," says the Wikipedia.
According to reports, indentured labourers from India and labourers from Melanesia continued to be recruited until the end of the labour trade in 1914.
Some of the Melanesian labourers, mostly from the Solomon Islands, made Fiji their home after the end of their three-year contract, and at the end of the labour trade in 1914.
Their descendants are living in various places in and around Suva while some are residing in two settlements outside Lautoka City.
Most of them have blended in well with the local iTaukei population, with some even speaking the language and enjoying the same lifestyle.
Some descendants of the Melanesians brought to Fiji have gone to great lengths to trace their roots, some as far as the other corners of the world.
On the other hand, the third or fourth generation of those brought to Fiji as slaves from Melanesian countries and India may not have the slightest idea of their historical links — their roots


online dramas said...

so nice blogger

Anonymous said...

What the Indo-Fijian author did not say is Solomon Islanders mingled freely with Fijians or First Nation people not the Indians that were brought in to Fiji under Indentured labourers. The two did not mix freely on several levels. To these Indians in Fiji, to marry a Fijian was a lowly thing to do. Now the writer wishes to push that label Fijians in order to right the forced assimilation process for both Fijians and Indians in Fiji...its dream on mate!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Wendy
My great great grandmother was taken to Fiji and never returned. Do you know if there are any records that could help us find out what happened to her? While in Fiji, she had two young daughters and she arranged to have them returned with the help of a man returning to her home. But we never found out what became of her.

Thanks & regards,

Anonymous said...

You could start with the Fiji Archives in Suva. Or perhaps the Anglican Church in Fiji as they established missions with the Solomon Islanders.