By Arieta Vakasukawaqa in Suva
History unfolded live at the Vodafone Arena at Laucala Bay in Suva yesterday when the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma and descendants of the Girmitya exchanged apologies and forgiveness in a solemn church service marking the fourth day of the inaugural Girmit Day celebrations.
An emotional Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, fought back tears as he sought forgiveness for the hurt and pain inflicted on Fijians of Indian origin during the colonial era and the political upheavals of 1987 and 2000.
“I am not making this confession as Prime Minister of Fiji, as I do not hold the government accountable for my actions of 1987,” he said.
“I do not claim to be making this confession on behalf of the vanua of Navatu, I am not Tui Navatu and I am just a member of the Yavusa Navatu of Cakaudrove.
“But I make this confession on behalf of all those that took part with me in the military coup of May 14, 1987.
“We confess our wrongdoings, we confess that we have hurt so many of our people in Fiji, particularly those of our Indo-Fijian communities at that time and among them were sons and daughters of those that were indentured as labourer from India between 1879 and 1960.”
Rabuka said they had every right to be angry about what was done to them.
‘I ask for your forgiveness’
“I stand here to confess and ask for your forgiveness. I have made our confession to some who were affected by our deeds in 1987.
“To those I did not reach, I hope [this is] coming through for us here, please forgive us.
“As you forgive, you release us and you are released. You are released from hatred and from your anger and we begin to feel the peace of God coming to our beings and our lives.”
In an emotional response, former prime minister and Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry said it was a great day for the nation and worth celebrating.
It would go down well in history and everyone must build on it.
“I am deeply honoured by this gesture. Prime Minister Rabuka, I also accept your apology. In your personal capacity you apologised,” he said.
“I accept the apologies of the Turaga na Vunivalu na Tui Kaba, Marama Roko Tui Dreketi and the Tui Cakau. Thank you very much for your magnanimity.
“I think the spirit is there now, that we can all work together, may God bless Fiji.”
‘One nation of different beliefs’
Fiji Times journalist Navnesh Reddy reports that on Saturday Prime Minister Rabuka spoke at the Western Girmit Day Remembrance Celebration held at Churchill Park in Lautoka.
“Today I am wearing the Hindu salusalu and have accepted the ‘tika’ on my forehead because we are now one nation of different beliefs.
“We are now one nation of different cultures and rather than offend the young student who put that on me, I accept it because my custom now is acceptance and to co-exist harmoniously.”
Rabuka said that as the nation moved forward, there was a need to create more awareness on how Fijians could overcome their differences.
“The underlying theme of the new Girmit Day holiday is about unity and I believe we all — the descendants of the Girmitya, the indigenous people and the chiefs — [must] live in harmony and we have to lay that foundation now.
“Our children need to know that we cannot build a new future by relying on our vision and beliefs from the past.”
He also acknowledged the organisers for putting together a programme that envisaged what the Coalition government believed in.
“This morning we came together and worshipped in three different religions and heard prayers from the Pundit, Reverend, and also the Imam.
“This is a very special time for Fiji because we are now coming together as a nation to observe the first public holiday to acknowledge and honour the Girmitya of India, who came to Fiji between 1879 to 1916.”
Arieta Vakasukawaqa is a Fiji Times journalist. Republished with permission.