Chalo Jahaji

Chalo Jahaji: On a journey through indenture in Fiji

Brij V Lal
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: ANU Press
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    Chalo Jahaji
    Book Description:

    “It is a milestone in subaltern studies, a biographical journey penned by a living relic of the indentured experience and a scholar whose thoroughly interdisciplinary approach is a good example for the anthropologist, the sociologist or the economist who wish to see the proper integration of their disciplines in a major historical work.” Brinsley Samaroo, University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, Trinidad “Professor Lal has made a most distinguished contribution to scholarship on Indian indentured labour in Fiji. His research is characterised by the use of new methodological approaches to the study of history, and by a comprehensive consideration of both quantitative and literary sources. In beautifully written articles, he has arrived at fresh and novel findings.” Ralph Shlomowitz, Flinders University of South Australia “Professor Lal has produced a body of work which makes him the premier scholar of the Indian diaspora. His meticulous research, the depth of scholarship, the empathy, and the elegance have earned him great respect among Indian diaspora scholars. The themes covered in this book are relevant to other overseas Indian communities; and they are handled with such mastery that his reputation is secured.” Clem Seecharan, University of North London “Brij Lal's Chalo Jahaji is an intensely personal journey through his life and that of the 60,000 Indians who became girmitiyas in Fiji. The intricate history is measured, but Lal reveals himself and his family in a way historians seldom do. This proud grandson of a girmitiya is equally a proud son of Fiji. Chalo Jahaji is Pacific history at its best: rigorous and critical, informative and involved.” Clive Moore, University of Queensland

    eISBN: 978-1-922144-61-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Part One
    • Girmit Connections
      (pp. vii-vii)
      Brinsley Samaroo
    • preface Beginnings and Endings
      (pp. ix-xvii)
      Brij V. Lal
    • chapter 1 Of Journeys and Transformations: Brij V. Lal and the Study of Girmit
      (pp. 1-23)
      Doug Munro

      Brij Lal is best known among Pacific historians for his writings on the contemporary history of Fiji and as a member of the three-man Fiji Constitution Review Commission, whose report forms the basis of that country’s recently promulgated constitution. His books on the subject include an analysis of the Fiji coups, a political history of twentieth century Fiji, a biography of the great Fiji Indian leader A.D. Patel and an account of constitutionalism in post-coup Fiji.¹ The other major strand in Lal’s repertoire, for which he is perhaps less well known in the Pacific but for which he enjoys a...

    • chapter 2 Return to Bahraich
      (pp. 25-39)

      My grandfather was a girmitiya. I have vivid memories of him. He was a tall, handsomely built man, with a massive handlebar moustache and a perpetual week’s growth of white beard, a thinning close-cropped head of hair, deep-set (almost) blind eyes fixed perpetually on something in the distance, clad in white flowing cotton kurta and dhoti, with a well rolled homemade suluka in one hand and a walking stick in the other. Over eighty, although he reckoned he was nearly a hundred before he died on 8 May 1962, he was a creature of habit. He would be up at...

    • chapter 3 The Odyssey of Indenture
      (pp. 41-66)

      ‘Indians are ubiquitous’, wrote the Calcutta newspaper The Statesman on 5 August 1980. According to it, there were then only five countries in the world where Indians ‘have not yet chosen to stay’: Cape Verde Islands, Guinea Bissau, North Korea, Mauritania and Romania. Today, according to one recent estimate, 8.6 million people of South Asian origin live outside the subcontinent, in the United Kingdom and Europe (1.48 million), Africa (1.39 million), Southeast Asia (1.86 million), the Middle East (1.32 million), Caribbean and Latin America (958,000), North America (729,000), and the Pacific (954,000).²

      The creation of this diaspora is a remarkable...

  4. Part Two
    • chapter 4 A Journey Begins
      (pp. 67-98)

      The need for dependable outside sources of labour supply arose soon after Fiji became a British colony in 1874. Five years later, Sir Arthur Gordon, the first substantive governor (1875-80), introduced Indian indentured labourers into Fiji. But even before annexation others had considered India as a source of labour. In 1861, Commodore Seymour, sent to Fiji to assist British Consul W.T. Pritchard to establish peace between warring Tongans and Fijians, had mentioned the possibility of using Indian labour,¹ while in 1867 the Henning brothers made further enquiries, followed three years later by the planter Nathaniel Chalmers who approached India directly.²...

    • chapter 5 Origins of the Girmitiyas
      (pp. 99-119)

      On 9 September 1834 36 impoverished and lost looking Dhangars (tribal people) were accosted by some recruiters in Calcutta and asked if they would be willing to emigrate to Mauritius as indentured labourers. Since the sojourn was for a limited period, the remuneration promised extremely attractive—‘expecting to have only to stoop down to pick up money, to scratch the surface of Mauritius and find gold’¹—and Miritch dvip thought to be just off the coast of Bengal, they readily agreed; for after all, they had come to Calcutta for employment in the first place. Thereupon they were taken to...

    • chapter 6 A Time to Move
      (pp. 121-136)

      Was migration an alien phenomenon in nineteenth century Indian society? Evidence provided in this chapter suggests that it was not, at least not to the degree usually believed; that, in fact, constant circulation¹ was an integral part of rural Indian life, especially in those areas where the migrants originated. I argue that a large proportion of the indentured labourers came from an already uprooted and mobile peasantry, for whom, migration to the colonies was an extension of internal circulation. They knew they were going to some place far away and unheard of, but would return to their homes one day....

    • chapter 7 Bound for the Colonies in 1905
      (pp. 137-142)

      In 1905, there were around twenty thousand Indians in Fiji, all descendants of indentured immigrants introduced into the colony since 1879. By the time indentured emigration ceased in 1916, over sixty thousand had arrived to work on the colonial sugarcane plantations. They were a part of more than one million men, women and children who had left the Indo-Gangetic plains of Northern India and crossed the kala pani, dark waters, for colonies in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Indian indenture has been the subject of many studies.¹ Archival sources are rich,² but contemporary account of the system by non-officials...

    • chapter 8 The Voyage of the Leonidas
      (pp. 143-151)

      The Leonidas was the first of 87 ships that transported over 60,000 Indian indentured migrants to Fiji between 1879 and 1916. The 1,600 ton vessel, which belonged to James Nourse, one of the two shipping contractors to the Fiji government, had been operating to the West Indies for some years, and was specially fitted for the labour trade.

      On 28 January 1879, Leonidas cleared the port of Calcutta, carrying around 500 migrants, bound for Fiji.

      Only three days after leaving the Hoogly, cholera and smallpox broke out on the vessel. Cholera struck a European sailor first, and soon spread...

    • chapter 9 The Wreck of the Syria, 1884
      (pp. 153-165)

      At 8.30 pm on Sunday, 11 May 1884, the Indian immigrant ship Syria was wrecked on the Nasilai reef. By the time the shipwrecked passengers were brought to safety, fifty six immigrants and three lascars (Indian seamen) had drowned; many more would have lost their lives but for the prompt and efficient rescue operation mounted by Dr William MacGregor, then the chief medical officer and acting colonial secretary of Fiji. Later Dr MacGregor wrote emotional and vivid accounts of the tragedy, chiefly about the rescue operation, and these were well publicized in Fiji and elsewhere; some of them are reproduced...

  5. Part Three
    • chapter 10 Murmurs of Dissent
      (pp. 167-193)

      The history of the Indian indenture experience in Fiji presents us with an apparent paradox. On the one hand, Fiji was widely reputed to be one of the worst employers of indentured labour in the world.¹ Yet, on the other hand, throughout the entire period of indenture, between 1879 and 1920, the Indian indentured labourers mounted few organized protests against the oppressive conditions under which they lived and worked. It is impossible to know precisely why the Indian labourers acted the way they did since they have left behind few records of their own thoughts, perceptions, and experiences of indenture....

    • chapter 11 Kunti’s Cry
      (pp. 195-214)

      On 10 April 1913, Kunti, a female Indian indentured labourer, was sent alone to weed an isolated banana patch at Nadewa in Rewa, Fiji.¹ Enforced isolation was a common and very effective technique to deal with recalcitrant workers. Kunti was being punished for her allegedly quarrelsome behaviour and for giving the plantation management ‘a great deal of trouble’. Later that afternoon, Overseer Cobcroft came on his usual round of inspection, caught hold of Kunti and made ‘improper suggestions to her’. Kunti screamed, struggled herself free from Cobcroft, ran towards the Wainibokasi river a little distance away, and threw herself into...

    • chapter 12 Veil of Dishonour
      (pp. 215-238)

      Between 1884 and 1925 over 300 Indian immigrants in Fiji committed suicide.¹ Most were indentured labourers brought to the islands between 1879 and 1916.² Suicide, as Table 1 shows,³ was a relatively minor cause of death among the Fiji Indians. From the turn of the century to the end of indenture in 1920, it accounted, on the average, for only 5% of all deaths of indentured Indians; even at its peak, suicides never claimed more than 0.2% of the total adult Indian population in any one given year. Yet the suicides attracted wide attention within Fiji as well as in...

    • chapter 13 Hinduism Under Indenture
      (pp. 239-260)

      What follows is extracts from a remarkable text by a remarkable individual, providing a rare contemporary description of and commentary on the first attempts to resuscitate religious and cultural life in Fiji’s early Indian community. The site of the investigation is Fiji at the turn of this century, but the story that Totaram Sanadhya tells here will resonate in the early histories of Indian indentured communities elsewhere as well. Cast adrift from their familiar cultural moorings, trapped in indenture, illiterate and poor, they struggled against great odds to preserve fragments of their ancestral culture in alien surroundings for reassurance, comfort,...

    • chapter 14 The Story of the Haunted Line
      (pp. 261-272)

      Totaram Sanadhya served his indenture in Fiji in the 1890s. After completing his five year term, he married the daughter of a wealthy Indian settler and lived in Wainibokasi on the Rewa for another 16 years before returning to India for good in May 1914. His experience of his Fiji years was published in Fiji Men Mere Ikkis Varsh (My twenty one years in Fiji) in Kanpur in 1914 or 1915. This book was translated into several Indian languages and had a great impact on Indian public opinion. Totaram was an orthodox Brahmin from Firozabad in Agra, which was also...

  6. Part Four
    • chapter 15 ‘A Want of Care’ Death and Disease on Fiji Plantations, 1890-1900
      (pp. 273-290)
      Glenn Fowler

      This paper examines deaths caused by disease on the Fiji plantations between 1890 and 1900. Although only 16.59 per cent of the total number of Indian deaths between 1879 and 1920 occurred during this eleven-year period², its use as a sample is justified by the fact that it produced the highest death-rates.³ I ask the following questions. What were the yearly death-rates among indentured Indians in Fiji between 1890 and 1900? How do these compare with those of unindentured Indians and other groups during the same period? What conclusions can be drawn from these death-rates? How soon after arrival (or...

    • chapter 16 Death On Fiji Plantations, 1900-1909
      (pp. 291-323)
      Nicole Duncan

      From 1900 to 1909, 1180 Indian indentured labourers in Fiji perished.¹ This number was extracted directly from the microfilm of the original unpublished record, Register of Deaths of Indian Immigrants, 1879-1927. The Register was used to catalogue the deaths of all Indians in Fiji, not just those serving under indenture. As this analysis covers the death of indentured labourers only, each entry was inspected to determine if the subject was firstly, an adult, which meant that he or she was over the age of twelve, and secondly, was working under indenture². To facilitate the discovery of relevant trends and causal...

    • chapter 17 Accidental Deaths on Fiji Plantations, 1879-1916
      (pp. 324-336)
      Anthony Cole

      Disease caused the majority of the deaths among Indian indentured workers in Fiji, especially diarrhoea and dysentery (see Fowler and Duncan, this volume). In this paper, I look at deaths caused by accidents. In so doing, I seek to add to the existing literature dealing with death on Fiji plantations. An analysis of accidental death is absent from that literature. It will be shown here that accidental deaths were themselves an important aspect of the indenture experience and that an understanding of accidental deaths also leads to a more complete understanding of the totality of the indenture experience.

      The bulk...

    • chapter 18 Naraini’s Story
      (pp. 337-348)
      Jane Harvey

      In July 1910 Naraini, a twenty-four year old Indian indentured woman, was allotted to the Nasavusavu Estate in Nadroga, run by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR).¹ While her background and the circumstances that led her to Fiji are not known, it does seem that she was married and perhaps had indentured herself to follow her husband. She was pregnant on arrival and was told by the overseer that she was not to work but would receive rations for the duration of the pregnancy. On Tuesday, August 16 she gave birth, prematurely, to a child which died four days later....

    • chapter 19 The Labasa Strike, 1907
      (pp. 349-365)
      Matthew Ryan

      Indenture in Fiji was a system of oppression through which the labour of Indian migrants was extracted largely by coercive control and the denial of legal justice.² Such systems of power, however, are not self-maintaining. They are created, reproduced and interpreted by human actors in the face of challenges by those they attempt to control. Whatever else it might be, a sugar plantation is structured around the exercise of power designed to control and discipline labour. The purpose was to maintain output and production (i.e. to produce a crop) in circumstances where workers had no stake in the enterprise, where...

  7. Part Five
    • chapter 20 Mr Tulsi’s Store
      (pp. 367-376)

      It is gone now. The place looks deserted and forlorn. All that remains of Mr Tulsi’s store, at the side of the Seaqaqa Highway facing a small, overgrown creek, are gray planks of burnt wood and twisted corrugated iron scattered about. Once, the store was the heart of Tabia’s village life. Tulsi Ram and Sons: General Merchants, the dust-caked ‘Craven A’ billboard proclaimed proudly. The only wooden and iron structure in the settlement of thatched houses, the shop was the village’s symbol of progress. People were very proud of the building.

      The store also kept the past alive. Girmitiyas used...

    • chapter 21 Ben’s Funeral
      (pp. 377-388)

      The phone rang around dinner time on a cold Canberra day. Kamla, my younger brother, spoke from Adelaide. He appeared cool and collected as usual. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, he said he had some sad news to convey. I waited expectantly. Ben, our older brother, has had a brain haemorrhage, he said. I was stunned, and wanted more information. We all knew that Ben wasn’t well, but none of us quite knew what the problem was; certainly we had no idea of its seriousness. Kamla was as puzzled and anguished as I was. One of Kamla’s doctor friends had...

    • chapter 22 Sunrise on the Ganga
      (pp. 389-398)

      Sunrise on the Ganga. The romance of the idea, to see Hinduism’s holiest river, to bathe in it, at the crack of a mist-shrouded dawn. I last saw Ganga twenty years ago when I first visited India. I had then bathed in the river and done puja for my girmitiya, indentured, grandfather. That had been my father’s wish. I had brought back a bottle of Ganga water for him, which became one of his most precious possessions. He put it carefully alongside the green tin trunk which contained important family papers: lease for the family’s land, birth certificates, a few...

  8. Part Six
  9. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. 410-412)
  10. List of Photographs
    (pp. 412-412)
  11. sources of the articles reproduced in the book
    (pp. 413-413)
  12. books authored or edited by brij v lal
    (pp. 414-414)
  13. index
    (pp. 415-420)