Chapter Seven: Fiji Hindi

January 2, 2021

When I was younger I would listen to my parents speak to our family and then speak to Indians from India. I heard the switch from what they called “broken-Hindi” to “proper-Hindi.” I never took time to think about why our Hindi was different, or why we called it “broken.” I was just amazed that they could speak one language in different ways.

With Girmit (Indentured Slavery) came communication barriers, not just among the British and the Indians but within the Indian community themselves. Girmitiyas came from all over India, and spoke several different dialects from the Hindi Belt. Of course the need to communicate with one another was crucial as Girmitiyas had to work together, live together and raise their families together.

As children were born during the Girmit era, they began to learn what is called Fiji Hindi. A mix of Hindi, Fijian and English. As the Indian population grew in Fiji, so did the language. It was spoken by Indo-Fijians and even native Fijians. Fiji has three official languages: English,  iTaukei (native Fijian) and Hindi.

Fiji Hindi is influenced by Bhojpuri, an Indo-Aryan language spoken in north eastern India. One of the things I found most interesting when it comes to grammatical details, is that Fiji Hindi does not have plurals within the language.

For example, one house is ek (one) gharr (house) and two houses is dui gharr. In this example, the number is used to denote plurality. Plurals can also be stated with the use of log. For example, ee means “this person” (singular) and ee log means “these people” (plural). Sabb (all) and dHerr (many) are also used to denote plural. There are some exceptions, however. For example, a boy is larrka (single) but boys are larrkan (plural). Older generations still use a similar form of plural, for example, admian, for more than one man (singular: admi). Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiji_Hindi

Surprisingly there is a lot of research that has gone into the Fiji Hindi language. I say surprisingly because let me tell you researching anything on Indo-Fijian culture via the web from around the world in Rhode Island, is difficult. But, we are getting there, slowly but surely.

From a book written on Fiji Hindi in 1977 by Rodney F. Moag to biblical translations in 2002 and the first Fiji Hindi movie in 2007, Fiji Hindi has recently been recognized as its own language in the Indian diaspora. As Indo-Fijians migrate out of the Fiji Islands the language has also traveled with them to countries such as Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada, the US and many more countries.

So where do I stand with Fiji Hindi? Well, I can understand the language, but I don’t speak it much, could I try? Sure. However, when my parents came to America, they spoke English. English was taught in grade schools in Fiji. So as part of assimilating in America, our family spoke both English and Fiji Hindi in our homes. My parents would speak to me in Fiji Hindi but I would respond in English, and it ended there. 

When I was in elementary school, I was enrolled in “Hindi” school where I started to learn to read and write Hindi, but I don’t think I was enrolled for more than a year or so. I can listen to, watch and understand Bollywood songs and movies. I do wish my parents put more of an emphasis on learning Fiji Hindi, but I understand why it wasn’t a priority in our home at the time. 

Raising two bi-racial daughters, I understand the difficulties in teaching not one but almost three languages to our girls. I watch as my daughters choose what language they speak to whom. They have Colombian nannies, who speak 95% Spanish all day with them. My three year old, Mila, is fluent in English and Spanish primarily because of them and my in-laws. 

Mila is very aware of who she speaks Spanish to and when. She also knows when my own father comes over to speak English to him. We teach her Fiji Hindi words but it’s hard because there is not an on-going Fiji Hindi dialogue going on in my home or really anywhere else around us. 

I did find this site that has over 2,000 Fiji Hindi words and phrases to learn online for free which I thought was pretty cool to find, and plan to work through with Mila. Here is the site:  https://app.memrise.com/course/1166938/fiji-hindi-2000-words-and-common-phrases/

Another book that I plan to purchase and share with my girls is Fiji Baat. I am looking forward to reading this with them. https://myfijistore.com/en/gifts/fiji-baat-childrens-book 

I know that some in my family have passed the language down to several generations and I am happy to see it still alive here in the US. The question remains, for a language that has been alive for well over 100 years, will it last another 100 years? 

Fiji Hindi English Dictionary  https://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http://www.geocities.com/fijihindi/FijiHindiEnglishDict.htm&date=2009-10-25+22:09:42




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