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The Shiu Phul Ramayan Mandir group of Lakena on their float at the girmit festival in Nausori.

It has been 130 years since the arrival of the Indian girmitiyas, the indentured labourers brought in to develop Fiji’s sugar industry.

In a fitting tribute, descendants of these girmitiyas are working to put up a museum and library which can showcase artifacts and pictures throwing light on their ancestral past.

The Nausori Girmit Committee organised a week-long Digicel sponsored Girmit Carnival last week in the hope of raising funds for this museum while at the same time commemorating the contributions of the girmitiyas to our present day.

One day before the closing ceremony of the carnival, there was a lot of excitement when people over the age of 70 were honoured with medals.

The museum and the library will be built at the Syria Monument at Syria Park in Nausori and will house items that the Indian girmitiyas used upon their arrival in Fiji.

Ironically, the impetus for this project has, to a large extent, come from the descendants of indigenous Fijian villagers who were involved in saving one of the early batches of arriving girmitiyas when the ship they were on, the Syria, sank after hitting the Nasilai reef off the coast of Nausori in 1884.

These ancient artifacts are currently with the villagers of Nasilai, Wainivilaca, Kiuva, Vadrou and Muana I Ra whose ancestors were part of that rescue effort.

These villages decided to hand over these historic artifacts only when such a museum is built so that the items can be properly cared for.

Girmit festival committee secretary Anay Sumeshwar Yadav said other descendants of the girmitiyas are also in possession of antique artifacts dating back to girmit days but are not aware of the relevant authorities which can look after them.

Some of these artifacts include brass and copper pots, a long wooden spoon, used for cooking, a stone mortar and pestle used for grinding, brass kettle, a chakkee – a stone mill used for grinding wheat into flour and a moosar - used as a pounder or rammer.

“We have been receiving some things from individuals and look forward to more donations as such, once the museum is open for everyone,” said Yadav.

Not too many answers are available for the more recent generations of Fiji’s Indians about their ancestry. It is hoped that with the help of this museum, this will change for many.

The theme of the Nausori carnival, “Remembering ancestors, moving forward’, was selected carefully keeping in mind the idea of creating awareness on how the girmitiyas came to Fiji and how they struggled to make life better for future generations.

Yadav said there was a need for...

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