For the Fiji-Indian community in this part of the world, or beyond, the very mention of the word bidesia, invokes myriad of emotions, largely of pain and lament, but something that instantly binds them together with their Girmitiya heritage.

This is exactly what folk traditions do; they bind collective human emotions and experiences into a common cultural tradition, which in turn acts as a repository of one’s cultural identity.

It is this collective repository of cultural traditions where human societies turn to, repeatedly, when exploring their roots.

The societies that have experienced a major disruption in the past have inherent desire to explore their roots and connect with them and strengthen their common cultural heritage.

The Fiji-Indian community is one such community which had faced traumatic disruption in the past, when their ancestors were uprooted from their original homes in India, in most cases against their will, to be packed and sent into the remote South Pacific Ocean.

Bidesia, as understood in Fiji, is an oral folk tradition through which Girmitiyas expressed their intolerable pain – the pain of separation from loved ones in their homeland, and the despondency of being caught in the deceitful trap of Girmit.

However, it is also important to be mindful of the broader perspective of the bidesia folk culture, which emanated in the Bhojpur region of India - a cultural entity that transcends political borders, but largely comprises of the Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar state of the present day India.

Bidesia was the affectionate form of address given to the migrants by loved ones who were left behind in the homeland and extends its name to the folk culture that originated from the pains of migration.

An entire oral folk tradition had emerged and thrived from the mid-nineteenth century in this part of India, which largely depicted pain emanating from consequences of migration.

The migration in those times in that part of India was largely of three categories depending upon the connectivity, even if minimal, and the possibility of a reunion with the families back home.

And so was the oral folk tradition that developed around these patterns of migrations, depicting different levels of pain and trauma associated with the kind of migration.

In the first type, the bidesia comes back as a traveller to his native place and resumes normal communication ties.

In the second type, the migrant is forced to leave his native place in order to earn a living, but still maintains communication ties with his family, even if intermittently.

In the third type, the chances of return of migrants were slim, and the migrants were forced to break all ties with their loved ones.

The pain associated with the third form of bidesia was the most excruciating one and corresponds to those who were uprooted permanently from their homelands.

In mid-nineteenth century forced migration took people to distant places like Mauritius, Fiji, Suriname, British Guyana, and Uganda, who took along with them the oral folk tradition of bidesia, thereby becoming part of the wider Bhojpuri cultural tradition.

There is emergent support for the idea that the people of Indian descent in various regions across the world, including Fiji, can thus claim a common cultural heritage based on the historical reality of the forced migration from India.

Regardless of this overarching narrative that seems to bind the large mass of humanity of Girmitiyas, spread around distant regions of the world, there is no denying in the fact that bidesia had plaid an important role near our shores in Fiji, and continues to do so even today in preserving, and resurrecting their common cultural heritage.

As the 139th anniversary of Fiji Girmit Day fast approaches on May 14, it is fitting to pay a tribute to the pain and miseries experienced by the Girmitiyas, through spreading awareness about bidesia

It might also give some solace to the descendants of Fiji Girmitiyas that despite their perceived aloofness in the pain that their ancestors have experienced, yet they were never alone and when seen in a broader context, were always part of large humanity who went through a similar fate.