Monday, May 16, 2016

Remembering girmit days

From a feature article in the Fiji Times about remembering girmit days.

Poems of indenture period

Jogindar Singh Kanwal
Monday, May 16, 2016
During the indenture period (1879-1920), both men and women, worked long hours in the cane fields. The white overseer and his sardar would move around with whips in their hands to see that the Indian labourers completed their allotted tasks before the end of the day.
Out of this experience came the story of Jhinki in verse form. She lived in Kavanagasau in Sigatoka area. Her beauty attracted the attention of her masters who took pleasure in rebuking her and occasionally beating her. One evening, in a complaining tone, she began to tell her experience to other women:
Bipat Jhiniki ki suunay ko dayia
Sahiba hai bara pittaya
Hai apna sadar chuggal khore
Vayrun hai Ramdayia
There is nobody to hear the troubles of Jhinki
The boss is a great beater
Ram dayia is my enemy
And sardar is a backbiter
Many women from India were lured by the recruiting agents, called arkatees, to come to Fiji with false promises of a rosy future. After their bitter experience in the plantations, they would remember the way they were misled by the arkatees who would scold them almost daily. While working in the cane fields, a woman in Rakiraki began to curse the man who recruited and sent her to Fiji.
Bhagg aai mein des se
Peechhay chhoota sambria
Mar ja bharti wale
Meri sooni kar di sajeria
Leaving behind my lover
I ran away from my country
O' recruiter! May death befall you
You have deprived me of my marriage bed
Human beings have unlimited capacity to endure suffering but a stage does come when the cup of patience is full to the brim. It was what happened in Ba. A gang of women workers was harassed and frequently whipped by a kolumber, white overseer.
One day when he insulted a woman, all of them got together and turned on him to beat him. The more aggressive ones who saw the incident started a chant.
Toot marain ham kaam mein, O' Rama!
Fir bhi jhirki lagaye rey bidesia
Khoon paseenay se seechay hum bagia
Baitha baitha hukam chalaye rey bidesia
Tired and half-dead we do the task
Even then we are rebuked and insulted
We irrigate the fields with our sweat and blood
But sitting comfortably, the overseer bosses us around
Sometimes there was nobody to listen to their tales of sufferings. The only witnesses were the sugarcane plants. While working, and hoes in their hands, they would sing:
Chhuri kudaari ke sung
Ab beetay din ratian
Gannay ki hari hari patian
Janey hamri sab batian
Our days and nights are spent with knives and hoes
Green leaves of the sugarcane are aware of our woes
Many Fijians of Indian descent, both men and women in Fiji, have been singing birha, phaguwa, sohar, kajri, bhajans, wedding songs, and hymns from the Ramayana with great enthusiasm but the new generation is taking more interest now in film songs. Bidesia was quite popular among the women a few years ago.
Even some groups sang complete lyrics of baitha baitha hukmam chalay rey bidesia and gannay ki hari hari patiyan over Radio Fiji in the '60s and '70s of the last century. Another woman also expresses her grief through the medium of green leaves of the sugarcane:
Ambua ki daal pe kooke kolia ho
Manua mein aggia laagai rey bidesia
Hari hari patinan pe likh likh haari mein
Dil kaa fulwaa murjhai rey bidesia
On the branch of a mango tree the cuckoo is singing
She is setting fire to my mind
I am tired of writing love messages on green leaves
The flower of my heart is fading out
Bidesia came from Bhojpuri-speaking districts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Its burning themes — love, restlessness and deep pains of separation touched the hearts of ordinary people.
Actually conditions of women were more miserable and pathetic than the men.
The colonial government of India of those days thought that at least 40 per cent of labourers had to be women so that the foundation of family life could be laid in Fiji but this ratio could not be maintained in spite of the efforts made by the recruiting agents in India, who on so many occasions used trickery and abduction to send women to Fiji. In the midst of oppression and uncertainties, the women would remember their past experiences.
Dipua ma laaye pakrao kagadua ho
Anguthua lagaye dena haar rey bidesia
Paal ke jahajua ma roy dhoye baithae ho
Kaise hoee kala pani paar rey bidesia
In the depot I was handed a paper
Knowing not the consequences
I put my thumb impression on it.
In the ship of sails, weeping and grumbling
I sat and wondered how kala pani would be crossed over
In India a popular national leader, Saojni Naidu, who was called the Nightingale of India because of her popularity as a poetess, expressed agony in poetry on the subject of degradation of women, and she even addressed public meetings to make people of India aware of the conditions of indentured women in Fiji.
And in Fiji, Hannah Dudley of the Methodist Mission who did remarkable work for the welfare of the Indian women once remarked: "They arrived in the country, timid, fearful, not knowing where they are to be sent. They are allotted to the plantations like so many dumb animals. If they do not perform satisfactorily the work given to them, they are struck or fined or even sent to jail. The life of the plantations alters their demeanour and even their very faces. Some looked crushed and broken-hearted, others sullen, others hard and evil.
"I shall never forget the first time I saw indentured women when they were returning from their day's work. The look on those women's faces haunts me."
And these unfortunate women continued their Bidesia to sing out the pain from their "crushed and broken" hearts.
Kali kothria ma beeti nahi ratia ho
Kis ke batai ham peer rey bidsia
Din raat beeti hamri dukh mein umaria ho
Sookha sab nainnua ke neer rey bidesia
Nights would hardly go by in the dark room
Whom should I disclose my agony?.
Day and night I went through hardships
Even the tears of my eyes have dried up
One of the problems that preoccupied the labourers was the shabby living conditions in the coolie lines. They could do nothing about it except to express resentment which once took the following satirical mode.
Sab sukh khaan CSR ki kothria
Chhe foot chori aath foot lambi
Usi mein dhari hai kamaane ki kudria
Usi mein sil usi mei choolha
Six by eight feet room of CSR
is a source of "all comforts"
In it are kept tools and hoes
In it is our hearth and home
In it is placed the firewood
In it is our sleeping place
Following Fijian traditions, Fijians of Indian descent had developed a taste for yaqona. Sometimes they gathered around a large bowl and continued talanoa — storytelling, and gossiping until midnight. On many occasions, they did it against the wishes of their wives.
In Navua, the following lines were composed by an anonymous songwriter. Addressing his wife, he said he could not leave his habit of drinking yaqona. The song became so popular that people began to sing it whenever they got together in their sangeet manadalees (musical gatherings)
Des chhoota, jaat chhooti
Chhootay baap mahtaari
Nagona hum se chhootay na pyari
Iss tapoo ka bhang nagona
Pee ke raat gujaari
O' my darling
I cannot leave yaqona
I left my country and my caste
I left behind my parents
But now I cannot leave yaqona
The thrilling drug of this island
Drinking it, I spend the whole night
Folk songs are passed by word of mouth from one generation to another. The indentured men and women might have heard these songs when they were still in India.
During their stay in Fiji, they might have changed the words and tunes to suit the environment and situation. Since their modified forms began to be sung and recited in Fiji's cane fields, this kind of poetry drew aside for us the veil that covered different faces of the indenture system.
* Jogindar Singh Kanwal is a former principal of Khalsa College, Ba and author of many Hindi and English books. His email address is

Monday, May 09, 2016

Boodgerie - by John Lay

John Lay wrote an excellent book about the Mid-Murray region of Australia and contact between new settlers and the indigenous Aborigines.  For more details go to

The book Boodgery is a narrative on the impact of the first 40 years of European occupation upon the Aboriginal people in the Swan Hill area.  It is a detailed account of early contact and paints a picture of the colonial mindset of 'terra nullis',. misunderstandings, some hopeful meetings, some disasters. A very good read for anyone concerned about the damage that can occur with 'white' settlement.

This book can be purchased  for $25 at

John Lay who is my brother, spent many years researching the topic of settlement and the Aboriginal tribes in the Swan Hill region and this year has published this excellent book which contributes to the narratives about early 'white' settlement in Australia, relations between tribes and newcomers. The writer has a compassionate viewpoint, uses many details and examples. This book is relevant to discussions in Australia today. When our family lived in Swan Hill, we as children, were never told much about the Aboriginal tribes who once lived along the Murray, not in school, not by hearsay. We only knew that a few families camped on the riverside behind the hotel across the river. I only know of one Aboriginal woman who schooled with me at the local Primary School. My father employed some Aboriginal men at the shearing sheds and my mother admired the strong grandmothers who shopped at the Op-Shop water tower in Swan Hill. That was the limit of our iknowledge then.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

About Babasiga Ashram

So what's wrong with the current name?  Babasiga signifies the place - the hot dry land, and 'ashram' is a place of refuge - well, that's what it is for some elderly people in Labasa.  So what do they want to call it> Story from the Fiji Times. Picture from Fiji Sun.

Change of names for homes

Luke Rawalai
Monday, May 09, 2016
THE three state homes in the country will soon undergo a name change says Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Rosy Akbar.
Ms Akbar said the move was in the top of the ministry's priority list.
She added this is part of the changes the ministry would soon implement in moving the three homes under the ministry.
"We intend to change the name of the Babasiga Ashram which is not a proper name for such a home," she said.
"Ashram means a refuge or a last resort for people in times of emergencies which should never be because this home should never be a last resort for anybody.
"The elderly people in the homes should never have been there in the first place and they are there because of the love and care that they have denied."
Ms Akbar said as part of the change they were also looking at changing the administration of the homes to give equal treatment and focus to the occupants of the three facilities.
"In the past more attention were given to the children homes while the elderly were forgotten," she said.
"However, we are going to change this and ensure that all homes are given equal attention."

------------------And, also....

Don’t Put Elderly In Age Care Homes: Minister Akbar

Don’t Put Elderly In Age Care Homes: Minister Akbar
Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Rosy Akbar (right), with 68-year-old Ram Rati at the Golden Age Home in Lautoka. Photo: Charles Chambers.
May 11
The Ministry Of Women will begin clamping down on the increase of elderly people being left and forgotten in state care homes.
Line Minister Rosy Akbar said: “Please take care of your elderly, especially the mothers who brought you into this world.”
Her plea came during her visit to the Golden Age Home in Natabua, Lautoka on Sunday night as part of her Mother’s Day visits.
Ms Akbar began her Mother’s Day visits with breakfast with mothers at the state care home in Labasa, lunch in Suva with the elderly at the Samabula Old People’s Home, afternoon tea with mothers at  Saint Meena’s Home and dinner at the Golden Age Home in Lautoka.
“The problem of families leaving their parents in care homes has been a long time issue and this will not continue,” Ms Akbar said.
“Of course the Government is here to care but we cannot let families push their elderly out and leave them in state care homes.”
Ms Akbar said her ministry was appealing to the families of the elderly citizens.
“We tried reasoning with them but it’s not working,” she said.
She said her ministry was in the final stages of completing the Standards Operational Manual which would set the way forward towards curbing the increase of elderly being left at care homes.
Edited by Rusiate Mataika

Current minimum wage is $2.32

There's talk of putting up Fiji's minimum wage to $4, but I reckon that is just not enough.  In Australian dollars that is probably about $3 so with the high cost of living in Fiji, how can a worker look after his or her family? Some of my relatives work in the tourist industry and get little more than the minimum wage which is $2.32F. And they are expected to smile a lot !  Hotel accommodation may be from $40 to $1000 a night so where does that money go to?  Story from the Fiji Sun.

Minimum Pay Aim $4/Hr: Unions

Minimum Pay Aim $4/Hr: Unions
FTUC National President, Daniel Urai, general secretary Felix Anthony and Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations, Semi Koroilavesau during the Fiji Trades Union Congress 46 th Biennial Delegates Congress 2016 at the Tanoa International Hotel in Nadi yesterday. Photo: WAISEA NASOKIA
May 08
A campaign for a $4 minimum wage was launched during the Fiji Trades Union Congress 46th Biennial Delegates Congress 2016 at the Tanoa International Hotel in Nadi yesterday.
FTUC general secretary Felix Anthony said: “The launch of the campaign on the minimum wage is where we demand that the minimum wage should be raised at least to $4 an hour for all workers.
Mr Anthony said: “Of course this is not a sufficient or does not take us to the poverty line. But we believe that is the decent level where we can progressively work to ensure that we raise the minimum wage above the poverty line so that workers earn a decent living and off course can live in dignity,”
He said the campaign would be followed by a number of events to call on Government to relook into the minimum wage.
“The first strategy will be to build public awareness around the campaign and that’s just begun today with public awareness,” Mr Anthony said.
“We are going to take this matter into Employment Relations Advisory Board (ERAB) ourselves and to persuade other social partners that this is the right thing to do for Fiji to move forward as this must happen.
“We did demonstrate why $4 was a decent number at this stage and we’ve also clearly demonstrate current minimum wage of $2.32 by no means is sufficient to sustain a family in any way at all.”
Mr Anthony said he would be seeking a meeting with the employment minister on a more formal and official space where they would discuss the way forward.
Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations, Semi Koroilavesau, was present since the Fiji’s Employers Federation and Government were invited to attend the FTUC Congress.
Mr Koroilavesau said: “We were part of the tripartite team that signed the tripartite agreement which was given to ILO (International Labour Organisation).
“It was proper for me to attend and continue to have that unity and make sure that we carry forward the processes and the achievements that we’ve done.
“That’s a tripartite issue that will be dealt with the ERAB mechanism and they know it.
“It will become one of the subjects of discussion in the ERAB which then it will be reported to me as the Minister. But the tripartite have to discuss the matter.”
The congress was also witnessed by officials from the Japanese Trade Union Confederation – RENGO, International Union Trade Confederation, and Asia Pacific from ILO.
Meanwhile, FTUC office bearers were re-elected unopposed yesterday.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Credit cards for rebuilding will surely hit a snag

The promise of credit cards to those whose houses were damaged - perhaps 30,000 of them - to buy tin etc at designated shops is a lure that surely will hit a snag.  Too tempting. One man has already decided to give back the roofing iron, put up plastic, and then ask for a credit card.  Story from Fiji Village. And other  stories below.

Don’t abuse Help for Homes Initiative - PM
By Vijay Narayan
Friday 06/05/2016

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has called on people not to abuse the Help for Homes initiative after he received information that some people are trying to get the housing assistance for houses that did not exist during Cyclone Winston.
Bainimarama says he has received reports from the ground that some people are claiming their houses were damaged during Cyclone Winston but these houses were not in their village for the last 30 years.
Reports are also coming in that some people are querying why their names are not on the list after their houses were damaged after Cyclone Winston.
Bainimarama says he wants to ensure that all these issues are checked.

The False Information Act states that a person must not knowingly make a false representation to any officer, agent or representative of the government or an entity.
Any person who contravenes this section is liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or upto 5 years imprisonment or to both.
Any person that uses the benefit for the purpose other than what it was intended for is liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $20,000 or upto 10 years imprisonment or to both.
Ten hardware companies have been selected to provide building materials under the government's “Help for Homes” initiative.
Minister for Poverty Alleviation, Rosy Akbar says all selected retailers have signed agreements where they have agreed to the prices to be provided and the terms and conditions of this initiative.
She says should these companies fail to adhere to the terms and contracts of the agreement, their contracts will be terminated.
Akbar says they expect all the cards to be redeemed by June 30th.
She adds all recipients will be able to use their cards from next Monday from the 10 hardware outlets.
More than 30,000 families across the affected areas will be reached.
Homes with partial roofing damage will receive $1,500, homes with complete roofing damage will receive $3,000 and homes that have been destroyed will receive $7,000.
Informal Settlements will also be assisted with $1,500 for partial or complete damage.
This initiative is for those whose household annual income falls below $50,000.

Government has allocated $70 million for this initiative.


Dan Urai,Lautoka | Sunday, May 1, 2016
A friend's neighbour had six pieces of corrugated roofing iron blown away by Severe Tropical Cycone Winston. He borrowed from the neighbour and fixed his roof two days later.
The inspection team told him he couldn't get assistance because he had replaced the roof.
He returned the six pieces of corrugated iron and covered his roof with tarpaulin. The tarpaulin remains to date.
Ten hardware companies to provide building materials for "Help for Homes" initiative
By Dhanjay Deo
Friday 06/05/2016

Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Rosy Akbar.
Ten hardware companies have been selected to provide building materials under government's "Help for Homes" initiative.
Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Rosy Akbar says these companies are Dayals Sawmillers Limited, Carpenters Hardware, CBS Power Solutions Fiji Limited, Vinod Patel and Company Limited, R.C Manubhai and Company Limited, Rakiraki Hardware, Local Woods and Hardware Limited, Kasabias Limited, Refrigeration Electrical Services Limited and Haroons Hardware.
Akbar says all selected retailers have signed agreements where they have agreed to the prices to be provided and the terms and conditions of this initiative.
She says should these companies fail to adhere to the terms and contracts of the agreement, their contracts will be terminated and discontinued as the supplier or retailer for the "Help for Home" initiative.

Akbar has also announced that the first e‑card for the "Help for Homes" initiative will be launched at Balata High School in Tavua by Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama today.
Akbar says they expect all the cards to be redeemed by June 30th.
She adds all recipients will be able to use their cards from next Monday from the 10 hardware outlets.
Meanwhile, 12 priority areas that were most affected by the cyclone have been identified for the initiative which include Tailevu, Rakiraki, Tavua, Ba, Lautoka, Nadi, Yasawa, Vanuabalavu, Taveuni, Qamea, Yacata, Cakaudrove, Bua, Naitasiri and the Lomaiviti Group.
More than 30,000 families across the affected areas will be reached.
Homes with partial roofing damage will receive $1,500, homes with complete roofing damage will receive $3,000 and homes that have been destroyed will receive $7,000.
Informal Settlements will also be assisted with $1,500 for partial or complete damage.
This initiative is for those whose household annual income falls below $50,000.

Government has allocated $70 million for this initiative.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Catholic community celebrate in Labasa

Naleba Church Marks 110 Years

Naleba Church Marks 110 Years
Naleba Red Cross Catholic church in Labasa. PHOTO:PENI DRAUNA
May 02

The Naleba Holy Cross Catholic church in Labasa celebrated its 110-year anniversary with a special mass.
The first mass at the church was conducted by a French priest, Father Favier, at Naleba back in 1906.
Celebration co-ordinator Vincent Sahayam said the event was to look back on the struggles of the Catholic congregation in Naleba.
Mr Sahayam said they had put in a lot of hard work for the church and thanked all those involved in the Sector 11 branch of the Labasa Parish. He also thanked visitors from Suva and those living overseas for their involvement in the celebration.
“The first magazine for Naleba Holy Cross Church was launched with a new hymn book. The congregation praised all pioneers of the church and those who have passed as well,” Mr Sahayam said.
The church was built in 1906.
He was also pleased with the good turnout.
Edited by Naisa Koroi

Sunday, May 01, 2016

A permanent evacuation centre planned for Labasa

So they expect more floods and cyclones... The Rotary Club in Labasa plan to build a permanent place for every time there's a flood, fire or cyclone. Good luck to them. I hope it is high up on the other side of the river or in the hills behind Tuatua because the current town area is very low - was once a swamp so it was pot-luck to develop where it is now located.  Need to build it on stilts!  Over the other side of the Labasa River is much better.

Evac centre for town

Serafina Silaitoga
Monday, May 02, 2016
A $0.5 million evacuation centre is being planned for Labasa Town.
Initiated by the Rotary Club of Labasa, president Ami Kohli said they had identified an area in town for the construction of the centre.
And it will not only serve victims of cyclones but also victims of flooding and fire.
"Hopefully we will work with Red Cross and should they wish to have a space to store their equipment, we will be happy to offer them space," Mr Kohli said.
"The funding for the project will come partially from Rotary and partly from fundraising."
Mr Kohli said they would also seek assistance from the Festival of the Friendly North as the committee had done tremendous work for the people.
Last week, the Rotarians met Rotary District Governor Jennie Herring from Auckland, New Zealand.
They discussed ways of setting up this evacuation centre, which Mr Kohli described as a successful meeting.
"She wanted to see how our fellow Rotarians in NZ and around the world could assist us if need be," he said.