GROWING UP IN FIJI IN 1920’S – LIFE WASN’T AS EASY

Having lived in the western countries since last 31 years, I thought it necessary to narrate my past experiences of childhood to compare and contrast the resemblances and differences. It may be very valuable to broadminded people of today, who value lives of others

After abolishment of Indentured labor system in 1920, many Indians vacated CSR Co. land, in which they planted sugar cane for the Company. My father too vacated and leased native land at Vaivai, Viseisei, Lautoka, where natives first landed in Fiji. Cane farming was not viable as CSR CO. defrauded Indian farmers, who were left with no money on payment day, telling them their cane was of poor quality with no sugar in it.

In early 40’s I was born at viseisei, as a 9th child amongst 14 brothers and sisters. My parent turn the land in to vegetable farm in which they grew chillies, egg plant, maize, tomatoes, root crops such as cassava, sweet potato, yam and many more. On Friday’s we pick vegetables, pack them in sack/bags. Early on Saturday morning at 4 am on horse back, took produce to bazaar at CSR Co. land at MorristaarLautoka, to sell in open. There was no provision to protect ourselves in rain and sun.

Whatever money we got, bought groceries and back home after midday. It took 3 hours each way to travel by horse, due to no road then. A difficult life to every villagers who did vegetable farming. We lived the life of extreme poverty where ends never met. Almost every family lived below the poverty line, some had to skip meals to make ends meet. Some families substituted their meals from fruits in season or root crops that grew in the bush, such as, Guavas, mangoes, pawpaw, breadfruits, jack fruits etc.

By the time I reached 8, I went to Gurukul Primary School, which was almost 8 kilos from home, as there was no school my village. In those days the frequency and the persistence rain flooded the creeks and rivers within hours. The tropical rain would sometimes drench us completely. The tracks narrow, soggy and swampy; sometimes bush soaked in rain would cave in over the tracks and we would have to crawl under it to avoid getting our uniforms wet. When got wet, returned home. There was no road to school and the children made their own by going through forest, bushes, ups and down through hills and valleys crossing rivers and drains. It took one and half hours to reach school. Every day village child had to walk 3 hours and spend 6 hours in class.

As our parents could not buy toys for us, we used our own ingenuity to invent them from whatever material came into our hands. We collected round stone at the river to play as marble, and made tops of guava stems,wooden toys, kites, swings, pushcarts were fastened from discarded champion tobacco tins.

Many times we didn’t have food for lunch and go hungry. Only water from school well gave some relief. After school, come running home and drank water from drain and river like cattle do to quench thirst. Everybody in village used river water. River was the village spring which sustained both human and animal life. The animals swam urinated and defecated in the water, yet everyone drank. Everyone washed their clothes in the river while their children swam. For domestic use water was taken in 44 gallon drum on sledge pulled by our bullock. Stencils, pots , plates etc were carried on head in buckets by our women and washed in river. During drought, women from Viseisei village came to river carrying clothes on head to wash and bath. In rainy season when river got flooded, dead animals got stranded at the bank, we pulled the animal into current to float away.

We made our dwelling house thatched with grass stems grew wild on hills called JHARAKUSH, and with stems of vaivai tree as rafters. There use to be only one door without a window. The house was cosy, gave warm in winter and cool in summer. We slept on soil floor spread with grass and cover it with cardboard as mattress. We hung our clothes on nail driven on rafters. As there was no suitcase, table or chair, I put my books on paddy sack/ bag filled with rice, and made it table. Sitting cross leg close to bag with hurricane lamp, did my home work. Our day started at 5 am when birds and roosters start to croak. My father ensured we woke up before sun rise and be in farm to help parent. We all became proficient in farm work, growing farm produce for consumption and sale.

In my village , like most villages, life was struggle yet it was not seen in that light . It was considered a challenge. Men, women and children combined their energies to fight poverty instead of waiting for handouts or worrying about the mountain of despair that has fallen on us. The will to strive, struggle and survive retained it’s influence in full display. Our survival was largely supported by substance farming, the natural resources available from the forest and rivers. We Indians has no idea of a government in the country to ask for help. Help was only provided by British Government to the native Fijians whom they exported Christianity.

During 40’s there was no clock/ watch and we woke by the crowing of our roosters at dawn. Mother leaves her bed first with her hurricane lamp into the kitchen away from main dwelling. She ignites her prodded earthen stove with firewood. During wet weather stalked wood got wet and it took time to fire up, she poured kerosene from lamp to ignite. Periodically, she blew with fukni (pipe) to maintain the intensity of flame. The old and heavy metal kettle filled with water, placed on stove for boiling tea, whilst she knead sharp/ flour for roti, then curry from our farm veges. This was the routine for mother. Whilst food was being cooked we sibling followed dad in farm and engaged as working bees. When food got ready, mother called us and served rationally. Not wasting much time, back on farm.
Farm work ended when it started to get dark.

Those days, there weren’t private Doctor or chemist. We bought our medication from ordinary grocery shop. Only medicine then was- Vincent APC powder for fever, aspro, vicks for headache, tonking coughs mixture for cough, Epsom salt for hookworm, kerosene for head lies and spirit for cuts . We rarely became sick or got any injection to maintain health except at school where nurses came and gave injection to all the children once a year. Neither our family nor children at school had shoe. It was beyond our reach, except some teachers. Whenever any sharp object penetrated feet, burning ghee dropped on the wound to kill bacteria and bandaged with rag.

No village had toilet facilities. For women, we made pit toilet and men went in bush and used leaves as toilet paper. When pit toilet starts to stink, kerosene poured in pit and sprayed around to lessen the smell. We had no Colgate or brush, instead used guava twig chewed brush end. Occasionally, charcoal and salt replaced Colgate.

We all were vulnerable to mosquito and insect bite, but no one suffered serious injury. Always used kerosene when felt bitten. Our body, more or less became accustomed to such bites. At night burnt coconut husk to keep mosquitoes away, but they kept coming and disturb our sleep.

Purpose of writing this article is to let the children of today know, of our sufferings and how we survived and prevailed. ( to be continue)

In memory of all our ancestors and the hardworking Girmitiyas, AIFAV and Fijian Seniors association is organising the 140thGirmit Divas.