EDITORIAL: By The Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley
Sunday — May 14 — was an important date for Fiji.
It is recorded in history as a day set aside to commemorate the Girmitiya.
Sometimes we need a reminder to appreciate the importance of history, and what it means to us as a nation.
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We need to be reminded about events that contributed to making Fiji the nation that it is today.
So Sunday was about reflecting on history.
It was about appreciating the role history has in shaping our future.
We live in a country that was shaped through hard work, through blood, sweat and tears and tightly woven in there is the history of our Girmitiya.
It was on 14 May 1879 that the first group of indentured labourers arrived from India, into our waters.
We have grown as a nation and we should be appreciative of the place of the Girmitiya in how our nation has turned out.
It may be difficult to understand what transpired then.
It may be difficult to appreciate the sense of uncertainty, frustration, fear and shock when the first lot of indentured labourers sailed away from their motherland.
They were headed for a new beginning.
Life was very different from what they were accustomed to back home.
There was the weather to contend with, the food, and an environment they weren’t familiar with.
But they survived, and they adapted to a new way of life.
Yesterday was about acknowledging their sacrifice, hard work, and contribution to the development of a young nation.
We remind ourselves of the importance of history because it can help us appreciate what we have now.
History can reinforce our appreciation of who we are as a people, and as a nation.
To move forward, let’s get our bearings through history and take care never to repeat mistakes of the past.
The Girmit era should invoke in us a sense of appreciation of the early years of our economic progress as a nation.
It should also acknowledge the great sacrifices made by every indentured labourer.
History teaches us values.
Today let’s be reminded about something former US President George Bush said in a speech on 17 September 2002 which has deep meaning.
He told Americans: “Our history is not a story of perfection. It’s a story of imperfect people working toward great ideals.
“This flawed nation is also a really good nation, and the principles we hold are the hope of all mankind. When children are given the real history of America, they will also learn to love America.
“Ignorance of American history and civics weakens our sense of citizenship. To be an American is not just a matter of blood or birth; we are bound by ideals, and our children must know those ideals.”
They were powerful words which stood out then as they should today.
They are relevant and should serve as a reminder for us to remember our history.
On Sunday, emotions were on over-drive.
Tears flowed and we captured that on the front page today and inside.
There was a great feeling.
There was acceptance of the need for reconciliation.
There was forgiveness!
We remember thousands of people had an impact on the birth of our nation.
We remember the Girmitiya.
This Fiji Times editorial was published on 15 May 2023 under the original title “Girmit Day – We remember” and is republished here with permission.