Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Girmityas had provided a “striking demonstration”

The Girmitiya descendants had provided a “striking demonstration” of what individual effort in agriculture could achieve in the face of many obstacles in Fiji during the days of the late Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna.

While highlighting this during Ratu Sukuna Day celebrations in Suva today, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said the visionary leader of Fiji saw with clarity that the arrival and settlement of the Girmitiya from India had transformed Fiji into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country.

Rabuka said Ratu Sukuna knew that the ethos and functions of Government should be adapted to meet the livelihood needs of the Girmitiya descendants, many of whom were farmers and their ability to thrive for the long term would depend on their continued access to land.

“The high chief had to balance these realities with the Fijian right of ownership over land that, to them, was “absolute and indestructible”.”

“In the Legislative Council in October 1933, Ratu Sukuna highlighted that the Indian agricultural community was Fiji’s greatest producer of sugar, central to the country’s biggest and most stable industry.”

“The Indian community, he said, was undoubtedly a great economic asset to the colony and their aspirations and interests were of vast importance to all.”

Rabuka said Ratu Sukuna while speaking as a member of the Council of Chiefs, pronounced, “…we regard the Indian desire for more permanent tenancy as a natural and legitimate consequence of an agricultural community settling in any country”.”

“He added that the Council of Chiefs and the “new Fijian liberal element” would favourably consider setting aside tracts of land for the settlement of those Indians dispossessed through the also legitimate desire of the landowners to take up economic cultivation.”

“In a 1936 speech to the Council of Chiefs, Ratu Sukuna emphasized that the foremost consideration of any Fijian is land; it was also the basis of happiness.”

“He went on to praise the Indians who were continuously striving to better themselves. They shouldered many burdens that helped Fiji…much money had been derived from them from rent.”

“A large proportion of Fiji’s prosperity came from their labour. Ratu Sukuna drew on the Biblical story of the talents- “Whosoever utilizes what is given him will be given more. He who fails to use what he has will lose all that he hath.”

“He asserted it was the bounden duty of landowners to utilize what they possessed for the benefit of all. He argued that should a landowner’s holding be more than he could utilize, he should lease the surplus to those who could make use of it.”

Reginald Chandar
Reginald Chandar
Head of News & Sports | news@fijilive.com

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