In our last post we discussed the challenges of marriage during Girmit. Just like marriage, many more cultural traditions were repressed during the era of girmit. Hindus also lost the right to cremate their dead. In the Hindu religion the ritual of cremation symbolizes the release of one’s soul in order to be reincarnated (reborn into a different form after death).
During girmit, Hindus were restrained from performing funeral rites. There were a few reasons; 1. The white community did not believe in the idea of cremation and were against it. 2. If Hindus were allowed traditional funeral rites, this would take time away from work that needed to be completed.
In the profit-driven philosophy of the CSR Company, human consideration for the girmitiyas was absent. – Tears of Paradise
Without a cremation, Girmitiyas were forced to bury their dead knowing their souls wouldn’t be peacefully released for reincarnation. There were no cemeteries for them, they were buried wherever the kulambars demanded. It’s not like cemeteries didn’t exist back then. They did, in fact the cemeteries for the white communities were in pristine conditions, so much so that non-whites were rarely allowed to enter.
Indo-Fijians revisited their cremation rituals in time (after their indenture). However the number of Hindus, buried against their religion, haunt Fiji to this day. It’s written that many Indo-Fijians believe that the unrested spirits of the girmitiyas are buried among the fields, waters and mountains in which they were buried tormented.
All the way up until the indenture was abolished, the souls of our ancestors were forbidden release.
In 1918, two short years before indentured slavery was abolished, the Spanish Flu/ Influenza killed about 5% of the population (9,000 people) in Fiji. Over 50 million people died worldwide in the two year span of the influenza pandemic. It’s important to note this, as death was something that the Girmitiyas suffered through constantly from the boat journeys to Fiji, death and suicide during girmit, all the way to the very end of girmit with a pandemic that killed many waiting for their freedom on the other side.
Because our history is so hard to find and research (from here in America), I can’t find statistics on the number of Indians that died in Fiji during the pandemic, and if they were still in their indenture or not.
While writing this post, it’s hard not to think that we are currently suffering through another world-wide pandemic. So how is Fiji doing during Covid19?