In Search of Roots - A journey to find oneself
By Thakur Ranjit
Singh, Auckland, New Zealand
The date was 14 May, but the year was not
1987, but some seven decades
before then, in 1915, when a strong young man of barely 19 years
just over 5ft 5 inches was picked up by British agents looking
to recruit and hoodwink Indians to ship to Fiji as an indentured
labourers. He was picked from
Rajasthani town of Karauli, from village of Phuta Kot.
He, together with hundreds like him was packed
like sardines on S. S. Ganges and they
sailed to Fiji. For months they were tossed in open seas until
they reached the fateful quarantine
center that is now the paradise jailhouse for the bankrupt
treasonous nationalist George Speight. After quarantine on
Nukulau, he was dispatched to Sigave, in Ba to do his indenture
time or girmit, as had been called.
After the finish of his five years indenture
time, he chose to settle in Rarawai, Golflinks in Ba, in the
shadows of the sugar mill. After the backbreaking indenture when
the indigenous community was confined to villages to preserve
their way of life, he became a small holder independent
cane farmer that has been the backbone of sugar cane supplies to
all the sugar mills. He was a visionary hardworking man who did
his best to provide
for his offsprings who have made their names in Fiji.
Ba's veteran lawyer, Mr. G.P. Shankar is his
grandson through his eldest daughter, while the current Member
of Parliament for Ba East, Honourable Satendra Singh, who was
named as Minister for Environment in PM Qarase's
multi Party lineup, is his grandson through his son who now
resides in Canada.
I know this old Rajpoot Thakur, descending
from the roots of Prithvi Raj
Chauhan, very well. This is because I spent my childhood playing
around him, annoying him and loving him. But most of it, he is
very much missed now when he is no more, and his grandchildren
are in search of themselves. He passed away in 1975 at the age
of 80 when I was still at University of the South Pacific (USP).
Yes, I am talking about my grandfather, girmitiya Bansi.
When he had gone, it was then that I started
wondering who I was and where I had descended from. From a
brother who used to work for Government libraries, we were able
to get his immigration pass from the National Archives. But that
was it. This was some 10 years ago.
There was nobody who could help. Then came
(firstname.lastname@example.org) from Sydney,
as part of Milaap (the reunion) in the recent India Week. He
had visited India three times and made a documentary of
one of the visits.He surfed the internet and traced my
grandfather's district and village.
I had a great desire to discover myself. I was
further inspired by Alex Hailey's "Roots" and the TV mini series
of the same name that I saw in New
Zealand in 1980s. After seeing the series, I read the book. I
thought that if Alex Hailey could trace his roots from USA to
Gambia after seven generations, it
should be easy for me with only 3 generations afar. You have
to give it to the British for keeping such old records and we
are grateful to National Archives for preserving the Immigration
Passes of the girmitiyas.
The Milaap has brought a renewed interest in
this subject. Together with this and nationalism floating from
PM Qarase's government, this has also become a matter of envy
and surprise for some.
I note that some Nationalists have jumped the
bandwagon to suggest that this is a good way of sending Fiji
Indians back to their roots. What they fail to
realise is that they are as much descendants of migrants
as we Indians are.
The only difference
is that their ancestors hit Fiji first. Fiji is as much home to
Fijians of Indian origin as it is to the indigenous Fijians. As
they had no choice as to who is born a
chief or a commoner, certainly I had no choice of where I was to
be born. Nobody can choose their forefathers or ancestors, so I
cannot understand where these nationalists are coming from.
The irony is that in Fiji we are not Fijians,
in India we are not Indians. So who or what are we? Are we lost
people? Fiji's official history that is
taught in schools does not acknowledge the sweat and
blood of our forefathers, and how our
people were surrogates for suffering that normally befalls on
the natives of the countries that British used to colonise.
With benefit of hindsight, if Australia and
New Zealand had the buffer and protection that Fiji's indigenous
population had with a migrant race, Aborigines and Maoris
respectively would have had greater population, culture and
control of their destiny. The unfortunate part of us descendants
from India is that such fact is not acknowledged in Fiji by
history or by its indigenous community who were the
beneficiaries of suffering of girmitiyas. Instead of being
grateful to us for preserving their race and
way of life, sections of indigenous community have always
accused us of stealing from Fijians, or living off their land
which they themselves have not been
We are also accused of taking over Fiji's
economy. What economy and what
take-over? You only take over what is already in existence.
There was no economy in Fiji when Indians came to Fiji. If any
thing, they did not take over the economy - they in fact CREATED
It may be because of uncertainty and absence
of birthright in their birthplace that there is renewed interest
in migration, as well as search of
roots by the descendants of Fiji girmitiyas.
It is for this reason among others that I have
left for India in search of my roots and it would be a very
satisfying for me to find out where I
originated. I hope to celebrate this Diwali with my long parted
cousins in India.
As Alex Haley remained American despite
searching for his roots in Gambia, I
will still remain a loyal Fiji Islander despite searching for my
roots in Karauli, Rajasthan. The only difference is that while
Alex Haley of America was classed as
an American, Thakur Ranjit Singh of Fiji is still classed as an
Indian, while I wish to call myself Indo Fijian. Can you really
blame me for having affinity to a country that gave me an
identity? This is the dilemma for
Fiji-born Indians like me who are still classed as vulagis or
visitors after some 126 years and three generations in the
country of their birth.
Welcome to Fiji.
(The author of this article, Thakur Ranjit
Singh is a former publisher of Fiji's Daily Post and has held
senior management positions in Fiji in bank
and last at Suva City Council as its Director
Administration and Operations. He is a
third generation FBI, or Fiji born Indian who went on a
pilgrimage to India, in search of his
roots in October/November, 2003. This article was written in
September 2003. Currently he resides with his family in