Indentured Indian Labour in Fiji

Some 60,000 Indians travelled to Fiji to work as indentured labourers usually on the sugarcane plantations. They were generally employed for periods of five years. As the workers were generally illiterate, the system came to be known as ‘Girmit’ (derived from the word ‘agreement’), and later the labourers came to be called ‘Girmitiyas’. Many of the labourers had little idea how distant Fiji was from India nor the conditions that they would have to work within. The journey alone could take anywhere from one to three months. Invariably there were few women which created societal issues. Housing and working conditions were very poor indeed. Theoretically passage there and back was provided, but many workers chose to take payment in lieu of a return fare. The system of indentured labour war formally outlawed in 1917 but many Indians never returned home and made Fiji their new home.


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by Stephen Luscombe