Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Stately Victoria Parade...



And we go on exploring the Fijian capital, Suva, by foot. A short walk from the Thurston Gardens brought us to Albert Park...
And it's from the Albert Park that you can get a great view of the art deco Government Buildings...


And the locals say that this sight resembles that of the Buckingham Palace in London, a legacy of the British Raj in this outpost in the South Pacific...



The Albert Park reminds me of the Oval Maidan, across from the Bombay High Court, back home in Mumbai...



The foundation stone of the the Government Buildings was laid in 1937. The buildings were designed by the Chief Colonial Architect, Walter Frederick Hedges, who had previously served from 1928 to 1931 as the chief architect in the Federated Malay States, where he designed the Kuala Lumpur Hospital and Istana Iskandariah, the palace of the Sultan of Perak. Hedges had previously served as Chief Architect in the Gold Coast Colony (modern day Ghana), where he designed the Prince of Wales College, Achimota...
The Government Buildings were formally opened in May 1939 by Governor Sir Harry Luke, to serve as the seat of the colonial administration and the Legislative Council of Fiji. Since 1970 and until the coups of 1987, the buildings housed the Parliament of Fiji. And following the 2014 general election, Parliament returned to its historic seat within the Government Buildings...


The Grand Pacific Hotel - fondly known as the "Grand Old Lady of the Pacific" has had quite a journey over the years. The very idea of the hotel came about in 1908 when the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand recognised the need for superior accommodation in Suva to cater for their passengers on their South Pacific route. Their Managing Director, Sir James Milles, commissioned the project with the hotel to be set on two acres that had been reclaimed from Suva Harbour in 1910. The architectural plans were based on contemporary colonial architecture and featured high ceilings and big double, louvered doors opening onto a broad veranda designed to provide cool comfort and style in a tropical climate. After a relatively short construction phase, the hotel opened its doors to guests on May 23, 1914...
In those days, the hotel had 35 rooms, the Roof Garden bar, a drawing room, billiard room with two tables, the smoking room and writing room. The room tariff was a princely 15 shillings...
Since its opening, the hotel has played host to royalty, the rich and the famous. And then there is the legend of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, the pioneering Australian aviator after whom Sydney's international airport is named, who in 1928, landed the “Southern Cross” opposite in Albert Park on his flight across the Pacific from the United States to Australia...
The 1980s saw a reversal of fortunes and was shuttered in 1992, after being converted into military barracks. In 2014, the hotel was reopened after investments by the Fijian government and investors from Papua New Guinea. And the Grand Old Lady of the Pacific lives on to tell its stories to curious travelers like us...


The Fijian flag atop the Grand Old Lady of the Pacific...



Another view of the Government Buildings...


A statue of Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, a Fijian statesman...



And the not so stately Holiday Inn next door...


And I just can't take my eyes off the Fijian flag...



Some more Fijian flags as we walk down the Victoria Parade...


And now we have a gargantuan Fijian appetite...

Tales Of The Girmitiyas...



In our quest to explore the Indo-Fijian heritage, we entered the Indo Fijian Gallery of the Fiji Museum...


And it was interesting to note that the gallery had contributions from a Indo-Fijian company and the LIC of India, which incidentally has its outpost in the Pacific located here...


The Indian presence in this remote corner of the Pacific was the result of exploitation and machinations by the colonial British. Between 1879 and 1916, Indians were brought in on tenured agreements (giving the migrant labour, the name of girmitiyas), lured by a promise of abundance of wealth and prosperity. Nearly 60,000 people were brought in onboard 42 ships that made 87 voyages, between India and Fiji. Living conditions onboard were atrocious and many did not make it through alive. On reaching Fiji, the recruits were kept in quarantine on Nukulau Island before being allocated to the plantations. On the day of allocation, the recruits were formed into groups for plantation owners to transport them by boat to their destinations. The largest number of girmitiyas were allocated to the CSR Company, an Australian sugar company...


Besides sugarcane plantations, girmitiyas were made to work in tea plantations. Quite a few Sikhs came in, willingly, to serve in the police force, and they enjoyed slightly better conditions than the girmitiyas who spent long wretched hours working in plantations, in abject poverty and misery...


Houseboats of Indian traders...


A girmitiya hurricane lamp...


A hookah...


Seals of Brahmins from Madras...


Girmitiya women resting in the fields...


The quarantine station at Nukulau...


Indians playing checkers...


The accommodations for the girmitiyas were derogatorily called "coolie lines"...


A recreation of a Hindu prayer room...


Sikhs in Fiji...


Girmitiya women had a sense of style, wearing jewelry even while working!


Hindus in Fiji have proudly kept their heritage alive till this day...


Lord Krishna and the gopis...


Islam came to Fiji with Muslim girmitiyas...


A Hindu tapestry...


Gramophone records popularised Hindi film songs in Fiji in the 1900s...


Musical instruments of the girmitiyas...


A recreation of a girmtiya living quarter, with a charpoy or an Indian rope cot...


The prayer corner...


The kitchen area...


Girmitiya artifacts...


Implements and tools used by the girmitiyas...




Hard work defined the success of the girmitiyas who have emerged as the economically dominant community in Fiji...


One of the ships carrying girmitiyas from India, The Syria, was wrecked on Nasilai Reef on May 11, 1884 at around 8.30 pm. Of the 497 indentured men, women and children and crew of 43 onboard, 56 indentured Indian immigrants and three lascar (South Asian) crewmen lost their lives. The shipwreck was blamed on navigational mistakes and poor decision making by an inexperienced captain and crew led to the Syria running aground, further poor decisions being made by the Captain immediately afterwards adding to the disaster. When the news of the wreck had reached Suva, a rescue operation was immediately launched by Dr William MacGregor, the Chief Medical Officer and Acting Secretary for the colony. Nine boats set sail at around midnight and reached the site of the wreck shortly after midday on Tuesday. At this time the majority of the Indians were in the water on the reef, although many woman and children were still trapped on the ship...
With most of the passengers unable to swim, they were completely dependent upon their rescuers. Despite worsening weather and rough seas the rescue went fairly smoothly and the last rescue boat reached Nasilai village at about 8 pm, where they were received by the chief with warm food, water and shelter for the night before being transported to Nukulau quarantine station the next day. As there weren’t enough boats to transport everyone, the strongest 100 Indian men marched to Rewa, receiving food and fruit from Fijian men and women along the way...
In addition to the 59 people who died at Nasilai, another eleven died in the following fortnight. The loss of life would have been much higher except for the courage of the rescue crew, especially its leader Dr MacGregor who was awarded for his role, although writing that he felt hurt and ashamed that so many people had died while he had suffered nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises...
The Syrian tragedy quite really was a defining moment for the girmitiya community...


A cloth painting of an Indian farmer...


The bust of Dr. Timoci Bavadra, the Fijian prime minister who got deposed in a coup in 1987 was overwhelmingly pro-Indian. At that time, Fiji was a Commonwealth Realm, with the Queen as its head of state, represented in Suva, by the Governor General. Dr. Bavadra sought the Queen's intervention in resolving the crisis, but she refused to even give him an audience. That led to Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth and led to a political mess. Years later, the perpetrator of the coup, Sitiveni Rabuka regretted his role...  


Besides Indians, Chinese too came to Fiji in the 1800s, as traders in the search for commodities like sandalwood. Even though their numbers were far lesser than Indians, they too did make their mark in this remote Pacific outpost!

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