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Welcome Address by Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi 

LAUNCHING OF "GIRMITYA" MAGAZINE OF NATIONAL FARMERS' UNION TO MARK 125TH ANNIVERSARY

SATURDAY 8TH MAY, 2004 AT SYRIA PARK, NAUSORI


Hon Mr Mahendra Chaudhry, Mrs Chaudhry, Your Worship the Mayor of Nausori, Councillor Moti Lal, Hon Members of Parliament, Hon Senators, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am honoured to be here this morning because this is a significant occasion for the Indo-Fijian community. It is a reminder of the early struggles your forebears had to endure and overcome. In the process it brought out in them the indomitable spirit that has contributed so much to building modern Fiji. The site for this launching was chosen because it commemorates the rescue of Girmitiya from one of the early indenture ships the "Syria" by indigenous Fijians.

In one hundred and twenty-five years here, you have known triumph and despair, feast and famine, adversity and peace. We your hosts have not always treated you as well as we might. Mutual suspicion and distrust continue to temper our engagement with each other. But we continue to learn the difficult lessons of living together. It is a miracle that we have built a nation, in spite of all its imperfections, at arms length as it were.

You belong to an ancient civilization and you have been here but a blink of an eye. Yet in that time, you have had a profound effect on this country. The economic wellbeing of Fiji, first as colony than as independent State, was built largely on your backs. Your presence has contributed to the political development of our nation. It encouraged the evolution of a Fijian identity apart from vanua or provincial considerations among the i Taukei.

Practicing the virtues of disciple, thrift, industry and restraint, you have obliged the rest of us to raise our standards in order to match yours. This exercise has been fraught with difficulties. Only time will tell whether the latest of State initiatives taken since independence will be any more successful than the others.

When this magazine was first mooted, I hoped that it would be more than merely a collection of goodwill messages from civic leaders. For this is an appropriate moment for reflection. To take stock and see where you and I are going. It was also my wish that this publication would be diverse in both contributors and articles. It would include poems, essays, reflections and interviews.

People from all walks of life, but particularly descendants of Girmitiya, would participate. It was important that the work belong to the community. This would do justice to the subject and honour the memory of your forebears. All that has come to pass. We celebrate the extraordinary tale of ordinary men, women and children from a faraway land who came in search of a better life. In doing so, they also bettered ours.

We do not know what is in store for us in the next one hundred and twenty-five years. On past experience, there will be twists and turns and adventures, good and bad, on the way. But I for one am willing to give you my hand if you will take it and forward we may journey together.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have much pleasure in launching the magazine "Girmitiya". Thank you and have a good day.

Joni Madraiwiwi
8 May, 2004