Sikhism in Fiji
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Unlike the majority of Fiji's Indian population, who are descendants of Indian indentured labourers brought to Fiji between 1879 and 1916, most of the Sikhs came to Fiji as free immigrants. Most Sikhs established themselves as farmers. Sikhs also came to Fiji as policemen, teachers and preachers. In recent years large numbers of Sikhs have emigrated from Fiji, especially to the United States. Sikhs in Fiji are generally referred to as Punjabis.
Arrival in Fiji
Under indenture system
Recruitment of indentured labour for Fiji did not take place in the Punjab (the home of the Sikh and Punjabi Hindu people) but some people who stated their home province as being Punjab were recruited from other parts of India and boarded ships to Fiji from Calcutta. Between 1879 and 1900, out of the 21,368 emigrants from Calcutta, only 369 were from Punjab. Although no religious breakdown of these Punjabi migrants is available, because of the enterprising nature of the Sikh people a large proportion of these would have been Sikhs.
As free migrants
The first Sikh free migrants came to Fiji as part of the group of seventy Punjabis who were lured into coming to New Caledonia, in 1904, on the understanding that high wages were paid there. After finding working conditions unacceptable in the French colony, the seventy came to Fiji where some found temporary employment but most soon left for India dissatisfied at the low wages paid in Fiji. From 1905, when the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand began a regular service from Calcutta to Fiji, there was a regular flow of Sikhs and people from Punjab also known as the Ravidass community to Fiji. Some came to Fiji to make it easier for them to enter North America, Australia, New Zealand and even Argentina.
The early Sikh and the Ravidass community migrants were mainly from the Jullundur and Hoshiapur districts, although some also came from Ludhiana, Amritsar, Ferozepore, Lahore, Ambala and Rohtak districts of Punjab. They were all young and mostly younger sons. They came with few women and those who stayed in Fiji married Hindu women and became prosperous farmers and some of them went back to Punjab to get married within their caste and culture and brought their wives to Fiji and started their family. Majority of the people maintained close ties with their families in the Punjab and remitted money back to their families.
From 1900 Sikh policemen were brought to Fiji from Hong Kong and Shanghai. C. F. Andrews and W. W. Pearson, in their report on Indian indentured labour in Fiji, in February 1916, expressed high regard for the Indian Police Force in Suva made up of Sikhs. They noted that unlike India these policemen did not take bribe. They wrote that:
We found an extremely well-conducted Indian Police Force in Suva. These Indians, who were Sikhs, were paid a good monthly wage, and expressed themselves, on the whole, contented with their position. They had come out under an agreement, but there was nothing about it that was servile. Their passage was quite different from that of the ordinary coolies.... They were treated well by their senior officers, who spoke highly of their men.
Walter Gill, who served as an overseer for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in Lautoka during the final years of indenture has also written about significant numbers of Sikhs employed in the Western Division of Fiji to police the Indian population.
Sikh Gurdwaras in Fiji
Sikh Gurdwaras have been established in areas of Fiji where there is a concentration Sikhs. These temples do not only serve as places of worship but as a place where the food and shelter were provided for the needy. The first Sikh temple in Fiji was built in Samabula (near Suva) in 1922 to provide for the needs of new Sikh migrants. Once Tamavua and Nasinu areas (near Suva) had a large concentration of Sikhs and in 1943 First Shree Guru Ravidass Gurudwara was established in Nasinu 6 miles.The founding fathers of this Guru Ravidass Gurudwara (a.k.a.) AD-Punjab Association came from Punjab India in early 1900s. Registered trustee's are Mr. Lachhu Ram a.k.a. Lachhu Sheemar (f/n) Khema Ram, Mr. Rakha Ram (f/n)Phila Ram, Mr. Bakshi Ram (f/n) Melu Ram, Mr. Khushi Ram (f/n) Atchu Ram, Mr. Mehnga Ram (f/n) Nathu Ram. Most Sikhs from the settlements around Suva have emigrated to the United States and Canada and some have moved to the Western Division to undertake cane farming. There is a concentration of Sikh cane farmers in Mataniqara and Tagitagi which lie between Ba and Tavua and to cater for their needs, a temple was built in Tagitagi. There is another temple in Lautoka City, built to cater for the needs of the Sikhs in the Sabeto Valley, but many of these have either left for overseas or moved into the naighbouring settlement of Vutualevu. There is only one temple outside the main island of Viti Levu and it is located in the town of Labasa in the second largest island of Vanua Levu. All the temples in Fiji, except the one in Nasinu, are controlled by temple committees and funded by donations from the local Sikh community. The Ravidass Gurudwara also known as Nasinu Gurudwara is funded by the followers of the Ravidass community in Fiji.
Sikh schools in Fiji
The first schools built by Sikhs in Fiji was the Khalsa High School in Ba District, Fiji in 1958 to provide instruction in the Gurmukhi Language to Sikh pupils. It is at present a multi-racial and co-educational institution open to students of all communities. In 1972, out of a total roll of 491 students, only 124 were Sikhs. The Guru Nanak Khalsa Parimary School was also built at the same site in Ba. A small school, the Naduri Bay Khalsa Primary School, was built near Sigatoka to provide for the needs of the small Sikh community in the area. The Guru Nanak Khalsa Primary School opened in Labasa in 1970 with a roll of 47 students.
- Bhai Gyan Singh Sangha was the first Sikh priest in Fiji. He was known for his work in religion. Singing the sacred hymns of Guru Granth Shabib and Sewa (helping people in need) He shared his knowledge and spread the words of Sikhism and Sikh Guru's philosophy to others. He and his wife Pritam Kaur Sangha were very devoted in the Sikh community. Many Sikhs left India, but many Sikhs forgot their culture and religion behind. Thanks to this unique man and his devoted wife, Sikhs in Fiji still remember their faith and culture. Was known to play the Irish pipes.
- Mehar Singh (a.k.a. Padri Mehar Singh) was the first president of the first effective cane farmers union in Fiji, the Kisan Sangh. He was the President from 1937 to 1944 when, due to disagreement with the Secretary of the union, Ayodhya Prasad, he left the union and formed a rival union known as the Vishal Sangh. His new union had a small support base (mainly Sikh) and had to align itself with the more powerful union, Maha Sangh, formed by A. D. Patel in 1941, for survival.
- Ujagar Singh was elected to the Legislative Council of Fiji in the 1968 by-election from the Nasinu Indian Communal Constituency, representing the National Federation Party (NFP). He was also a member of independent Fiji's House of Representatives. His strong support for the then leader of the NFP, Sidiq Koya, led to his political demise when the NFP split into two factions in 1977.
- Sarvan Singh was member of the House of Representatives of Fiji, representing Labasa for the National Federation Party from 1972 to 1982. He was a supporter of Jai Ram Reddy for the leadership of the NFP.
- Kuar Battan Singh was member of the Senate of Fiji from 1970 to 1977. He was a businessman based in Nausori. During his younger days he was a soccer player and was a member of the 1955 Interdistrict soccer tournament winning Rewa team. He died in an air crash in July 1999.
- Pardeep Singh Rakkar was a Medical, Acupuncturist and a Herbalist practitioner in Ba, Fiji during mid-1990s. He was a brilliant student from Khalsa College, Wailailai, Ba (1977 to 1981). Pardeep was born in Korovou, Tailevu, Fiji but lived at Mataniqara, Ba, Fiji. Pardeep has a pleasant personality and served generousily to many poor farmers of Ba district. He also provided free service to many of his former patients who were in need. In the late 1980s, Pardeep also taught at a high school in Lautoka. Pardeep now resides happily in Brisbane, Australia with his Khalsa College class mate and wife Sanita Devi Singh.
- Jogindar Singh Kanwal has been a long serving Principal of Khalsa College in Ba, Fiji. He is proficient in English, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi. He has written a number of books in Hindi which include, Mera Desh Mere Log, Savera, Dharti Meri Mata and Karvatbut his best known book is a survey of the development of Hindi in Fiji, called A Hundred Years of Hindi in Fiji. He believed in the separation of the teaching of language from religion and with like minded people formed the Hindi Association of Fiji.
- Gurmit Singh was an educationist in Fiji who served as a high school principal, an Education Officer, a curriculum development officer, principal of a teachers college and a lecturer at the University of the South Pacific.
- Phuman Singh - Served in WW1 and survived. Wound up in Suva, Fiji and was appointed Justice of the Peace and prominent member of the Suva Gurdwara.
- According to the 1921 census, 449 of the 61,000 Indians were born in the Punjab.
- According to Fiji Labour Department statistics, between 1927 and 1930, 1,508 male but only 18 female Punjabi immigrants came to Fiji.
- According to the 1956 census, 468 out of a total of 25,848 Fiji Indian households stated Punjabi as the main language spoken
- According to the 1966 census, only 3,002 of the 240,960 Fiji Indians were of the Sikh faith and there were 175 households where Gurmukhi was spoken.
- According to the 1996 census, 3,076 individuals listed their religion as being Sikh. This represents 0.9% of the Fiji Indian population.
- According to the 2007 census, 2,577 individuals listed their religion as being Sikh. This represents 0.86% of the Fiji Indian population.
- Gillion, Kenneth (1973). Fiji's Indian Migrants: A history to the end of indenture in 1920. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. p. 208. ISBN 0-19-550452-6.
- Gillion, Kenneth (1973). Fiji's Indian Migrants: A history to the end of indenture in 1920. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. pp. 131–3. ISBN 0-19-550452-6.
- Andrews, C. F.; W. W. Pearson (1918). Indian indentured labour in Fiji. Perth, Australia.
- Gill, Walter (1970). Turn North-East at the Tombstone. Melbourne, Australia: Rigby Limited. ISBN 0-85179-047-X.
- Singh, Gajraj (1972). The Sikhs of Fiji. Suva, Fiji: South Pacific Social Sciences Association. pp. 42–51.
- Singh, Gajraj (1972). The Sikhs of Fiji. Suva, Fiji: South Pacific Social Sciences Association. pp. 52–55.
- "Inter-District Competition (IDC) Tournament Record (1951 - 1960)". Retrieved 2007-08-02.[dead link]
- "DISASTERS: ANGRY FAMILIES BLAME POLICE". Retrieved 2007-08-02.
- Kanwal, J. S. (1980). A Hundred years of Hindi in Fiji. Suva, Fiji: Fiji Teachers Union.
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