From 1879 to 1916, over 60,000 Indians migrated to Fiji under the Indentured Labourer Scheme. The British Government introduced the system to recruit labourers from India to work on plantations in Fiji.
The Indian Indentured Labourer collection held at the National Library of Australia includes immigration passes, general registers, plantation registers, repatriation registers and death registers. These records are used by many descendants to trace their ancestral roots from Fiji back to India and are inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register for their global significance. The National Library of Australia has worked with the National Archives of Fiji (custodians of this collection) to digitise and make records freely available via Trove.
The National Library of Australia interviewed me as part of the above project and referred Girmit.org as a website that offers a wealth of resources for family historians researching their Fiji Indian ancestry.
I copy the interview below, which is available at The National Library of Australia website
Interview by Leisa Fox – 30 August 2020
Your website ‘Girmit.org’ focuses on indentured labourers transported from India to Fiji to work on plantations. Why did you call your website ‘Girmit’?
The term ‘Girmit’ coined from the (English) word ‘Agreement’ refers to the ‘The Indenture Agreement’ between the British Government and the Indians who apparently agreed to work in Fiji and other colonies for a service period of five years from the date of arrival in the Colony. The nature of labour was work in connection with the cultivation of the soil or the manufacture of the produce on any plantation. Furthermore, the ‘Agreement’ stated all the other conditions such as the number of days of work, the monthly or daily wages and the rates of pay and living conditions was part of the contract. This word is widely known amongst the Fiji Indians and also the Caribbean Indians whose ancestors travelled from India to the colonies.
What inspired you to set up this site?
In 2006, my daughter who was 3 at that time asked me ‘where did I come from’ because I wasn’t born in Australia. So, I started doing a bit of research and during this time my uncles from my dad’s side of the family were talking about doing a family reunion and that’s when I discovered my great-grandfather’s immigration pass and photos. I realised that the contents of the immigration pass were such a valuable piece of our history and then I started researching more. I finally published this information onto a website in 2008. So, the inspiration was my daughter, and the need to provide her with well researched data and complete information led me to establish this site.
The Indian immigration passes, 1879-1916 have been one of the most highly requested family history items at the National Library of Australia. Why do you think it is so popular?
Since the establishment of Girmit.org and up until 2010 when I finally had a lot of content on the website, I have been providing this information utilising every online platform to share the link of the site and also posted blogs and articles with the aim to educate, and share the history that I thought was slowly being forgotten. I actively posted information and sent regular emails to people in my contact and also to my friends and family asking everyone to forward the link to others. Then I involved some prominent Fiji Indians in different countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA, who were all on board and helped share the information with a lot of people. This generated more and more interest and enabled people to contact NLA for the immigration passes, since NLA had a copy of the microfilms. I suppose there comes a time when people realise that our past has shaped our lives and many of us want to know more about it to appreciate it.
What impact will the digitisation of these records have for the descendants of immigrants researching their family history?
Firstly, I am so thankful and grateful that NLA has taken up this project. I don’t have words to express my gratitude. Once the records are available in a searchable database, people will be able to so easily access their ancestral data. This is very emotional for many Fiji Indian descendants and will enable people to find their origins back in India. The digitisation of the records will encourage more people to know and appreciate their past.
August is Family History Month. Do you have any advice or research tips to share with the novices beginning their Fiji Indian family history or for the more experienced researcher?
Some tips that I would share, is to talk to as many people within the family as you can. Make a Facebook family group and document every bit of your conversation. The most important part of research is that whatever information you get from anywhere about your family, write it down, keep on taking notes and then join the dots later. The time to start your research is now. Girmit.org is a good starting point. I read somewhere that, one thread alone is weak, but woven into something larger, surrounded by other threads of different colours is not only beautiful, but also stronger if we are part of a tapestry.
Hello I am a descendant of Fiji’s Indentured labourers
My grandfather Girdhari father’s name Sarju came from India
His girmit pss number is 53186
Please can I have a copy of this document so that I can do research of my ancestors and families in India
Hi Rishikesh, I have emailed you the immigration pass number 53186 (in a pdf and jpeg version) Good luck with your research.
Hi we used to be able to access the list before this new website came into being. What happened to the easy to use and always available ,Girmit.org.fj site ?
Now the list is no longer accessible with asking someone for it.
Hi Peter, what list are you referring to? I am not sure what list are you looking for? Please feel free to send me a message either here or via the contact us page. FYI – the list of the Indian Immigration Passes are now digitalized and available via the Australian National Library. The passes were previously available in 42 reels of microfiche films.
I own this domain name which is girmit.org and it never had the domain extension .fj attached to it. If there is a site with the .fj extension then, I am sorry I am not aware of it and cannot assist you. The domain name girmit.org now diverts to girmitiya.girmit.org which I have re-designed to include a new and dynamic interface. Please feel free to post any further questions or queries via the comments section or the contact form at the end of this page. Thank you.
I want find family in Fiji
Their name Kalpu s/o Gokul
His Pass Number – 45775
Boat – Ganges
Date of goto in fiji – 1911
Hi Virendra, I hope you have received the Immigration pass that I emailed you. Thanks
Are you able to send me a copy of pass number 37492.
It belongs to my Aja.
Appreciate your assistance
Hello Arvind, I have emailed you your Aja’s immigration pass. Thank you.
Found more information came in June of 1914
Could you please sent me the copy of immigration pass no 55657
Hi Abdul, I have emailed you the immigration pass that you requested.
Hi Vinita Kumar please if I can get my grandfather’s information to his name was Sahtu some Places Satu , my name is Mahendra Kumar’ f/n Arjun , his brothers where , Krishna, Rama , Chongoni,Appu, Kuttapu, Narayan , my father’s sisters name, Chinnama, Kalyani, and Nagamma the fourth one I don’t know her name . Please if you can trace the name and let me know. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Dear Vanita, thank you so much for this website and the info herein. I have had success in locating three of my six ancestors through the emigration passes. However, am currently stuck as the remaining ancestors names start with initials M and onwards, and I noticed that the emigration passes lists go up to M+a only. Could you please point me in the right direction on how to go about searching for these? I am aware of the Trove database available through the National Library of Australia and have utilised it to look up plantation registers, general registers and death registers, etc. However, without emigration pass numbers for the remaining three ancestors, I feel like I am looking for a needle (or 3 for that matter) in a haystack. Would appreciate your guidance. Thank you so much again.
I understand your dilemma and my frustration is that the records are illegible and it is a very time-consuming and tedious task to complete I have shelved it for now. I will pick this body of work when I have some time at hand. Will keep everyone posted via this website. In the meantime, the register is available at the NLA/Trove site to search – so sorry I wish I could assist you with this.
Hi Vanita, noting your reply from 2022, have you recommenced uploading emigration passes for Individuals with names N onwards? Thanks.
Hi Babita, sorry for the late response. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to index the remainder of the list. I am hoping National Archives of Fiji will continue with this task.
Any Idea What year and his age was when he came to Fiji?
Hi, my name is Salesh Chand and my fathers name was Deo Chand and my grandfathers name was Ram Prasad and great grandfathers name was Saheb Din.
I would like to trace my ancestral history.
Could you please help to trace my ancestral history.
Hi Salesh, you can search the index (A-M) for the Girmitiya name, which will lead you to the Trove database, where you can obtain the immigration pass.
Hi Vanita. I am a descendant of an indentured laborer in Fiji. I do not now his immigration pass number. However, I wish to have this immigration pass. Can you please assist me with how I can obtain that?
Hi Avinesh, you will need the Girmitiya’s name and his father’s name or any other information such as the ship’s name to start your research.
Good morning. I am descendent of girmityas. Want to research my root back to India.
Indentured labourer was Mr Patan Raj. He has 3 sons namely Ram Raj, Brij Raj and Suruj Raj all born in Fiji.
Please need your assistance. Thanks
Hi Nalish I can do a search with the name, however, you will need a bit more information than just the name. Will let you know how I go.
Hi Vanita, can you please send me a copy of emigration pass 27481, 31469, and 38085.
Many thanks, Ron
Hey Ron, I have emailed you the passes – sorry for the delay. Thanks and regards, Vanita
My grandfather came to Fiji in 1901 in the ship Fazilka number 3.
Is it possible to send me the detail and emigration pass.
Hi Rajendra, Do you know your granfather’s name? It would be easier to search if we had a name. Otherwise you could go through the entire list of Girmitiyas who arrived in 1901 in Fazilka Number 3.
Initially, I found the NLA archive link through a number of other websites when this should have been my very start. Let me state how grateful I am to have found my paraaja/ajee and parnana/nani [great grandparents here with only a few details (ie. names that can have alt. spellings if others are searching)] .Over a number of days, I found their passes and pulled on that familial thread to find our origins in India!
To those of you who may be renascent to fall into caste hierarchy and hesitate to share this info or seek it in the first place- DO NOT BEGET MORE LIES over PRIDE!
If you are unfortunate to find any info, then try DNA based genealogy tech. It does ever-evolve, but India has a strong mtDNA lines due to it’s haplogroups so it’s a research focus. Alternately, visit the Archive Office in SUVA Fiji and request the Colonial records on microfilm well in advance of your trip.
Last and most importantly, Thank you to Mrs. KUMAR because I did try this search over a decade ago and it was non-existent. It is an incredible resource to the half million of us.
Can I get a copy of 43191 and 40240 please
The ones on the scans are very hard to read
Hi Kris, apologies for the delay in response. I have emailed you the passes that you requested.
My grandfather name is dwarka prasad Maharaj,
Father’s name is Bhagirati Maharaj.
Pass number is 45655.
Can I have the documents for research please.
I would like to trace our roots going on both my parents side but only have grandparent’s names : Sarju or Sarjoo
His wife was Sarupia
Also Goga Das or Goga Dass
No details of ships or emigration passes.
They were located in the Suva/ Nausori area
Hi Dinesh, I have emailed you with some questions regarding your request.
I viewed all 400+ passes for the Syria ship and am certain I have seen passes in the name Sarju.
I notice some photo’s above with pass numbers attached to them, did every pass have a corresponding photo?…if so where can I obtain them?
The immigration passes of Girmitiyas to Fiji were not associated with photos. The photos that you see in the website are screengrabs from the “Coolies” Documentary.