On 14th May 1879, Fiji saw the arrival of the Leonidas, a ship that had travelled many thousands of kilometres from British India.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama while sharing the stories of Girmitiyas- says that we must never forget the sacrifices that so many ordinary people made.
“The vast majority of these men, women and children had never heard of Fiji before, many had never even been aboard a ship. Most left their loved ones behind based on the lie that they would only spend a few months working overseas before returning home.
None of them truly knew what they were in for: A journey of thousands of kilometres, in slave-like, inhumane conditions and –– all too often –– no way to return back to the communities they left, hoping for a better life. And though they toiled under the crack of the whip and they were often beaten and sexually abused, they never gave up that hope.”
Bainimarama says each year, on this day, it is important for us to pause and think about the gruelling trials the Girmitiyas endured, and also to recognize the sense of hope that got them through their suffering.
They were able to find refuge in that sense of a better future. By chasing that light –– and realizing that they could find refuge even in the most trying of times –– they helped pave the way for the Fiji we know today.
“Girmitiyas supplied much of the hard labor it took to build Fiji’s early colonial economy –– toiling in cane fields, building roads and laying the foundations of many of the towns and cities we live in today.
But one of their greatest legacies was borne from the value they placed in education as the ultimate tool for change”.
Girmitiyas were known for the value they place on education and their wise investment choices.
“Right now, because of our fight against COVID-19, Fijian schoolchildren are at home, waiting for school to resume once it is safe to do so.
But girls and boys of today can still draw inspiration in the resilience and the dedication of the Girmitiyas –– and know that you too can take the path of education to shape your own future”.
Prime Minister says that there was no doubt the Girmitiyas would be proud of the Fiji we have today, knowing that they helped lay a foundation for every Fijian girl and boy to receive a free education.