Bhujawan's Story

My original home was Gonda in India. I was lured by recruiters when I was about twenty-five years of age. I could read a little in those days and had a copy of Gita with me.

I left India because I was enticed by stories of earning more money. I did not know where Fiji was but was told about the money available and that the work involved cane cultivation.

I enjoyed my work when I got there. The first two weeks I cut cane and was quite happy because I took the view that if I worked hard I would get plenty of money.  After a fortnight I was made a sardar in charge of the cane carrying trucks. Indenture was not for those who were lazy. After being a truck sardar for six months I became a field sardar. I had a lot of trouble with Europeans.

If European overseers used to growl at men I used to tell them to go away.      I thought it was my job and not theirs to deal with the labourers. I told them that if they had any objections then they should tell them to me and not abuse the men. While sardar I helped send three or four labourers back to India because they wanted to return since they could not cope with the work.

While some sardars were bad the overseers were pretty bad as well. Sardars lived in the same lines but they had better accommodation, instead of one room they sometimes had two or three. There used to be a lot of strife and sometimes overseers were assaulted. Both men and women hit overseers.

Sardars did not side with Europeans but with their fellow Indians. Sometimes there was bloodshed amongst Indians, usually over women.

There was a physically weak man working with me, so I gave him very easy work to do. One day he asked me to let him go to the hospital. I got a letter from the overseer for him and sent him away. He was away for four weeks and I found that he was not in the hospital. Then I had to mark him absent from work. One day we found him hanging from a tree. The man was a Kohar by caste. Apparently he did not like Fiji.

In those days we got on well with Fijians. There was no question of conflict. They were frightened of us as well.

During indenture days people used to take part in festivals likeHoli and tazia, in the reading of Ramayana and in singing and dancing. Everyone whether Hindu or Muslim took part in the tazia. Every estate used to build a tazia and then they all used to converge towards one place. The tazia was a decorated-paper edifice. In the procession people used to play music.

There was wrestling for sport. But one year there was a great deal of fighting and several people went to jail as a result. It was over who should lead his tazia first. There was a Muslim lawyer, after the girmit era in Labasa, he opposed tazia, describing it as irreligious.

During girmit people used to follow their religious books. Muslims fasted but there was not all that much of it. For their prayers they used to call people to their homes; some said their prayers in the field.

When I first came to Labasa there was no school or religious house of any kind there. Indians in the time-expired settlements used to help indentured labourers. There was social contact between the two groups. In the evenings individuals congregated to read the Ramayana or other books or to tell stories. These were stories from India, not of girmit our immediate experience. Girmit was the reality of working hard or cutting cane or doing something strenuous.

I used to read the Ramayana in the evenings. We also visited other estates. We walked, and were not frightened of Fijians.