Memories of a hard life during Girmit
by Torika Tora (published in "Fiji
Times", 12 May 1979)
girmit woman who came to Fiji when she was only 12 years old has
recalled of her past experiences with the indentured labourers in
Fiji and in South Africa.
Rangamma, who claims to be more than
100 years old, said life during this period was very tough.
We were whipped and left to starve if
we were not able to complete a day's work,' she recalled.
She said at her age now she was
beginning to feel the pain of the beating she used to get during the
Rangamma left her hometown of Madras
with her parents when she was only two years old. They went to work
as indentured labourers in South Africa.
Her parents worked on a fruit farm
near Capetown for nine years. When she turned eight she worked as a
babysitter for a European couple who also had a fruit farm.
She said the couple looked after her
well during her three years babysitting.
said she still remembers African words for "where are, you
going, come here" and other simple English words.
Her parents spent another year in
Madras before they came to Fiji on the boat "Ganges" in
She said when they arrived in Fiji
they were taken by boat again to Rakiraki where they worked on a
vegetable farm belonging to Mr Freddy.
"In those days there were no
roads and the islands were mainly thick forests, she said.
She said Mr Freddy had 100 workers
working on his farm in Daboni, Rakiraki.
She said he was very cruel to his
workers and whipped and beat them whenever their day's work was not
She said they were living. on two
shillings and six¬pence per week and given a six months ration.
After the six months their wages were
increased to ten shillings without a supply of ration.
She said she recalled the day when
the workers wrote a petition to an administrator in Suva against Mr
She said because of this she was
sentenced to seven days imprisonment at the Rakiraki prison by the
local magistrates court, because she initiated the move.
She said in those days they were very
scared of the Fijian people.
They were huge, with big hair holding
clubs and spears. They were also not well-covered.
We were very frightened of them
because we learnt that they would eat human beings, Rangamma said.
She said she met and married her husband Sari Gounder who was also a
labourer on the farm.
She said after their five years
contract with Mr Freddy, they came to Nausori with their three
Her husband worked at the Colonial
Sugar Refining in Nausori for six months before they were
transferred to work on a rubber plantation in Wainadoi, Lami for
another six months.
She said a Mr Warren of the Soqulu
Plantation in Taveuni offered the family a job as copra cutters on
his estate where they worked for 30 years. Rangamma has a Fiji-born
brother Kuswani who how lives in Taveuni.
Rangamma and Sari Gounder have eight
children who now live in Taveuni and Suva.
She said her husband died in Taveuni
a decade ago.
"I have so many
great-grandchildren. I know their faces but I don't remember their
names, she said. Asked whether she would like to return to India,
Rangamma replied: "Fiji is my place, there's nobody in India
for me." She said she could not recall India