South Indians of Fiji bound in their cultural shackles


Although the data shows the first ship from Madras to Fiji namely the Elbe III reached Fiji on May 22, 1903, South Indians came to Fiji before 1903 as part of an indenture system, who are famously known for their spicy and delicious delicacies in their wedding ceremonies.

In Fiji, the Sangam has contributed to the Fijian society to a great extent, especially in the education sector. Speaking at the 2013 Annual Sangam Convention Jai Ram Reddy said: “Today Sangam runs 21 primary schools, five secondary schools and one tertiary institution, namely the nursing school in Labasa. Some 10,000 children attend Sangam schools which are open to students of all races without any discrimination whatsoever. Today you will find people educated in Sangam schools in all walks of life, in all profession and occupations.”

“Many have made a useful and significant contribution to our national life.”

This is the 90th year since the onset of the Then India Sanmarga Ikya Sangam (TISI) which was formed on May 24, 1926, in Nadi. The Vision of TISI is: “To be a dynamic socio-economic, cultural and educational organisation developing its members to achieve Sangam aspirations through constant interactions and education”

Sadly, little interaction has been made with its members on language promotion of Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam and its culture to some extent. Due to the Sangam School’s location among other factors like personal choices, not every South Indian in Fiji attends its schools. Thus, the promotion of culture and language is not to be restricted to Sangam schools only.

Due to the school’s lack of recognition among individuals as well families, the phrase of its mission which states: “To educate and inspire Sangam members to recognise their identity and contribute to the development of a dynamic society in its cultural heritage,” is rather arguable.

Often humoured about the culture and their accent, South Indians in Fiji are unable to handle the mockery. Lack of understanding their own culture also adds to it. This could be the fault of parents not forwarding the knowledge imparted from their ancestors or of Sangam for their lack of awareness generation.

There are evidence of people wanting to explore their culture but are unable to due to various obstacles involving mockery and under confidence. Young people desirous of maintaining the culture exist in this society who need the appropriate guidance to instill confidence in them.

Notably, in Fiji, writings in the newspapers are inclined towards one particular faith more than any other. Upon analyzing, no significant articles have been published on Hinduism continually, in the last three years. However, there is a certain faith writer seeming to have the blessings of the media since his articles find its way in the mainstream media for publication each week.

A few key things could be implied by this. Firstly, is it that we do not have capable writers to discuss on Hinduism or South Indian culture? Secondly, is it that the local media places emphasis on one religious denomination even though Fiji is a secular state?

The TISI needs to show its media presence and has constant interaction with its members in order to maintain its vision and mission. Acquiring media presence is also a significant way of promoting multiculturalism in a pluralistic Fiji.

Language and cultural preservation were one of the key reasons for the establishment of TISI. South Indian languages are apparently dying a slow death. The 2005 Annual Report (Clause 6.5) of TISI states, “Considerable difficulty is being experienced in this area (Language Development). Whilst our schools, especially primary schools, provide teaching of Tamil and Telegu in their school curriculum, however, there has been a general apathy from our members towards the teaching of these languages”.

The report further talks about the parent’s lack of interest: “This lack of interest from parents and children alike has led some school management to downgrade the importance of teaching these languages in schools managed by them. There are very few qualified teachers employed to teach Tamil and Telegu. Those teachers employed are paid very low salary”.

In 2005, it was revealed that in the 20 primary schools managed by TISI, out of the 4940 students, 1765 took Tamil classes and there were only 489 learning Telegu. The TISI, by updating its website, needs to show improvements or downfalls in language maintenance in order to analyse figures.

The South Indian community’s famous folk dance called “Ti-ri-ku-tu” which means stories from the religious books told through dance and song holds considerable significance during various ceremonies in Sangam temples.

However, its essence of imparting knowledge from epics such as Mahabharata, Ramayana is now restricted for entertainment purposes only. This can be the result of the present performers lacking clear pronunciation, speech delivery and their inclination towards Bollywood songs and satirical humour. Due to the migration of veterans who mastered in such art, the folk dance is presently dying a slow death. (The Fiji National University)

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