Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama celebrated the 141st anniversary of the arrival of Girmitiyas yesterday by surprising a family in Nokomoco settlement in Wainibokasi.

The home belongs to Sundar Lal and his wife Saraswati Lal who are both 76-years-old and they could not contain their excitement when Bainimarama took time out to visit them and to hear their ancestral stories and life experiences of some seven decades ago.

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The couple, who have two daughters and a son, were among the majority of the Fijians of Indian descent who are direct descendants of the Girmitiyas in Fiji.

Sundar Lal’s grandfather came to Fiji when he was 9-years-old and was accompanied by his uncle to work as a cane labourer.

Some years ago, Lal had the opportunity to visit his grandfather’s birthplace in Gonda District and spent five weeks to learn more about his family roots and culture.

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Saraswati Lal’s, father arrived in Fiji when he was only 2-years-old, where he came with his mother who found a safe haven in Girmit due to domestic violence she faced in the family.

Her grandmother was from Pachaiya, India.

The couple told the Prime Minister that in remembering their ancestors, some treasured ornaments and household items brought by the Girmitiyas are still safely kept by them.

They said that only a few of the second and third-generation Girmitiyas are still alive today and being among the few was a blessing for them.

They thanked the Prime Minister for taking time out from his busy schedules to visit them.

Bainimarama says each year, on this day, it is important for us to pause to think about the grueling trials the Girmitiyas endured, and also recognise the sense of hope that got them through their suffering.

He says they were able to find refuge, and a sense of a better future by chasing that light and realising that they could find refuge even in the most trying of times and they helped pave the way for the Fiji we know today.

The Prime Minister adds that Girmitiyas supplied much of the hard labour it took to build Fiji’s early colonial economy, toiling in cane fields, building roads and laying the foundation of many of the towns and cities we live in today.

Bainimarama says one of the greatest legacies of Girmitiyas was borne from the value they placed in education as the ultimate tool for change and he is urging all Fijians to honour their legacy by remembering their struggles.