A memorable visit to Fiji Islands

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Syed Anwarul Haque
Fijians are hospitable and friendly people.. My first visit to Fiji Islands was in 1981 for a week, which was followed by another visit to Fiji in 1982 for of two years. In 1982, I went to Fiji to work as an expatriate officer under the Ministry of Primary Industries as an Agricultural Chemist. Iwent to Fiji with my family—-wife, son and a daughter. It was my rare opportunity to be in Fiji, which is considered as the Paradise on Earth, a beautiful Island country in the South Pacific. My first visit to Fiji in 1981 occasioned with my participation in the CASAS (Commonwealth Association of Scientific Agricultural Societies) Workshop held in Lautoka, the second largest city of Fiji.
Lautoka is a commercial city in Fiji famous for its Sugarcane production also known as the Sugar City because of its big sugar production belt areas. It is also port of entry in Fiji after Suva, the capital city. I was one of the Founding Members of CASAS and also the Regional Director of CASAS for South Asia for a period of five years. CASAS was formed in the year 1978 in Regina (Saskatchewan), Canada. Formation of CASAS coincided with the Annual Conference of the Agriculture Institute of Canada (AIC) in 1978. I was an invitee of the AIC to attend the Conference and to participate in the Convention preparatory to formation of CASAS there in Regina.
Early history of cannibalism in Fiji Islands
Fiji Islands has a long history of Cannibalism, which were previously known as cannibal isles. According to Fiji Museum, there is Archaeological evidence which suggests that the practice of consuming human flesh dates back to over 2,500 years in the islands. The initial reasons for cannibalism in Fiji are still sketchy, but it was continued for a number of tribal and spiritual reasons. It was believed that Fijian chiefs ate flesh of their enemies as a means of power control, revenge and as the ultimate expression of insult of the enemy. Christian missionaries started arriving in the Pacific from 1830s.
Many were horrified to witness the act of cannibalism. Fijians began to turn away from this act of cannibalism to worship the Christian God. The most prolific cannibal from Fiji and the world was known is Udre Udre, a chief who lived near Rakiraki in northern Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji. He holds the Guinness World Record of most prolific Cannibal, believed to have eaten between 872 and 999 people in his life time. He kept a stone for every person he consumed still decorating his grave site today.
Arrival of Indians in Fiji Islands
While I went to Fiji in 1981, I came to know about the story of Indians arrival in Fiji. At that time the Indians had a sizable population of Fiji, some 50 per cent of total Fijian population. Centenary of Indians arrival in Fiji was officially celebrated by the Government of Fiji in 1979. Indians were brought to Fiji as indentured labourers for sugarcane cultivation during British colonial time, which they also did for other colonial countries such as South Africa, former Rhodesia and West Indies in the Caribbean Islands for cultivation of sugarcane. Some 60,500 Indian labourers were transported to Fiji between 1879 and 1916, when finally the transportation of Indian labourers was stopped. Initially, Calcutta was used to be the port of departure for Indian labourers to Fiji and at later stages; Bombay and Madras were used for the transportation of Indian labourers. Sugarcane used to be the number one foreign exchange earner in Fiji, which was followed by tourism. Fiji had Indian majority in population even up to 1987. In 1982, when I was in Fiji, the Fiji-Indian population was 50 per cent, 43 per cent local Fijian and the rest 7 per cent part Chinese and part Europeans. Higher Government jobs in Administration, Army and Police were mostly restricted to people of Fijian origin and in some cases part Europeans. On 19 May 1999 Mr. Mohendra Chaudhry, an Indo-Fijian Labour Party leader became the first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister of Fiji defeating long ruling former trade union leader Sitiveni Rabuka. The Government of Mr. Chaudhry was short-lived just for one year.
Exactly on the same date the following year on 19 May 2000, an Army coup by George Speight toppled the cabinet of Mr. Mahendra Choudhry. The Army coup was a blow to the Indians living in Fiji. People of Indian origin started leaving Fiji for Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada anticipating gloomy and uncertain economic environments. Currently, Indian population in Fiji went down to 32 per cent.
Second time I came to Fiji for two years (1982-1984). The opportunity to serve in the Ministry of Primary Industries in Fiji for a period of two years was occasioned with my participation in the CASAS Workshop at Lautoka, Fiji in the year 1981. While attending the Workshop at Lautoka, I met the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Primary Industries of Fiji at the breakfast table on the very first morning at the hotel, where we were staying. During conversation, Mr. Secretary asked me whether I would like to join as the Head of Agricultural Chemistry Department at the Koronivia Research Station (KRS), a vacancy was there for the position. I agreed to his proposal subject to my getting permission at home from the University and the Government of Bangladesh. After the CASAS Workshop was over in Lautoka, I left for home, Dhaka.
I decided to come back to Fiji. On return home, I applied for the position of Agricultural Chemist at Koronivia Research Station (KRS) in Fiji through our University as required. The Application was sent to Fiji after being processed through the University. On time, I got the Appointment Letter and the Air Ticket from Fiji for me and my family to fly to Fiji and join to the position of the Agricultural Chemist at the KRS. The Appointment letter from Fiji reached me in the month of February 1982. I was supposed to join the Fiji Research Institute as soon as possible. But problem arose in getting necessary permission at home known as Government Order (“GO”). After lengthy processes in the Ministry of Education and also in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (normally not required for us as University teachers), I finally got Government Order to join to the job in Fiji on lien from the University. It took a long time to get Government Order. I got the GO Letter in August. Fortunately the Air Ticket sent from Fiji was still lying with the same Singapore Airlines Office in Dhaka. I left for Fiji on the same month of August with my small family, wife and two kids, a son (Shumit) and a daughter (Shagota).
A memorable stay in Fiji
Fiji Island is a beautiful country, situated in the South Pacific towards the east of Australia. We had the opportunity to live in Fiji for two years 1982-1984. Fiji enjoys pleasant tropical climate with slight variation on seasonal temperature. The temperature hardly gets up to 300C. Sea shores are cool and comfortable. It has an estimated population of about 918,757 (2019) with density of population around 46 per square kilometer. Almost three-quarters of the population live in Viti Levu, where the capital of the country, Suva is located. Spoken languages are English (Official), Fijian and Fiji Hindi. After nearly a century as British colony, Fiji became independent in 1970. Today Fiji has one of the most developed economies of the Pacific islands. The majority of Fiji islands were formed through volcanic activities starting around 150 million years ago. Fiji has been inhabited, since second million BC. British established Fiji as its colony in 1874. It was Crown Colony until 1970, when it gained independence as a member of the Commonwealth. Fiji was declared a Republic in 1987.
Scenic beauty
I arrived in Fiji on 8th August 1982. On way to Fiji, first we alighted at Nadi (pronounced as Nandi) International Airport of Fiji, where from we were taken to Nausori Airport in a different Aircraft. Fiji
Central Agricultural Research Station was located at Nausori, not far off from the Airport. I still remember, when we came out of the Aircraft with necessary luggage clearance, we found a vehicle with a driver standing to take us to KRS and then to the City Centre of Fiji, where we were supposed to stay in a Hotel before a residential accommodation was selected for us in the Campus of the Research Station. Mr. Vitel Bhai, Head in-charge of the Chemistry Lab came to see me in the Hotel in the following morning. He took me to the Research Station and showed me round the Institute. He also introduced me with the Assistant Director and Head of the Research Station, Mr. Param Shivan. Within a week time, we got settled down in the residential Quarter at Koronivia Research Station. It was a nice place on the hilltop, where our accommodation was arranged. Our bungalow was the last one (which was vacant) in the series of quarters with a good space for stroll and also to do some gardening. I liked the bungalow, which was spacious, good and close to my working place.
I started my new job at Koronivia Research Station in the same month of August 1982. We had a small Agricultural Chemistry lab. Lab technicians were very good in their analytical work and highly cooperative with me. Mr. Sattain an Indian and also a senior person was Lab in-charge. The lab work mainly related to soil and plant analyses for plant nutrients. My work was mostly related to preparing Reports of the soil and plant samples sent by the farmers and recommendation thereof for crops to be grown in the following season. I had also to develop research projects on related soil-plant problems. Soils of Fiji are mostly unproductive degraded, latosolic and developed by volcanic ashes, naturally poor in plant nutritional status. I used to visit different Research Stations both in Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, two major islands of Fiji, where crop trials for plant nutrition studies used to be carried out. I also conducted a number of training programs for the Research Staffs of different Agricultural Research Stations in Fiji. I had often to visit Labasa (pronounced as lambasa), north-eastern part of Vanua Levu.
The town itself is located on a delta formed by three rivers. It was a rice growing area apart from sugarcane. I had to supervise field trials of rice there. I had to go to the Labasa by small 12-seater Aircrafts. Often, I used to fear that it might fall down. The Aircraft was small and visibly trembling while flying. The problem with small Aircrafts is that its movements are very much shaky, and perceivable. I had the occasion to join a team of three expert scientists (belonging to Soil Science, Entomology and Soil Taxonomy) from Koronivia Res station to solve turf problem of Fiji Golf Club. We recommended for improvement of soil with addition of organic matter and other necessary pest control measures.
When I used to be away from home on visits to different islands to see field trials, my family used to be alone with kids at KRS bungalow. Later they became used to it. We developed friendship with a few Indian families at the Koronivia Research Station. Notable of them were Mr. Narayan Reddy and his family members. Mr. Narayan was Head of Agronomy Department at the Research Station. Mr. Narayan’s family was very close to us. His wife and daughter also visited us at Mymensingh in Bangladesh in the year 2000. They lived with us for a couple of days both in Dhaka and at Mymensingh University campus. It was a good reunion for us. Those were good days for us remembering old days of Fiji.
Rarayan’s family later migrated to Australia and was living in Melbourne.
Currently they settled down in Brisbane, Queensland, where recently my son with his family also moved on immigration to Australia.
During our stay in Fiji, we went to Mana Island in Fiji on a half a day ocean cruise boat. It was an interesting visit to the holiday resort at the bank of the Pacific Ocean. We had our lunch at the hotel outside sitting place covered by the shade uniquely built. In the Cruise boat, there were tourists from mostly Australia and New Zealand apart from Fijians. It was a wonderful experience for us.
My family life in Fiji
My daughter was one year old, while son was hardly five years when we went to Fiji. My son started his Schooling there. He used to go to Fiji Grammar School located in the city centre by public bus, which had a stoppage near our house at the KRS in Nausori. Our son liked his schooling in Fiji very much. He could manage himself regularly going and coming back from his school by bus.
Only once he had a problem, he could not recognize the bus stop near our house due to rain and darkness and the bus windows were also covered by curtains to prevent rain coming in to the bus. He finally went up to the last stop, the Nausori Airport. The bus conductor on way back helped him to get down at our bus stop near our house at the KRS. Finally he could come back home and relived us of lot of mental pressure. His school at the City Centre was roughly 4-5 kilometer away from our house at Koronivia. Movement of our daughter was restricted to the periphery of our house compound, since she was a little girl of hardly one year only. She could walk and sometimes did scrolling to higher land to cross our boundary to neigbour’s house where her friend Kartike of comparable age and son of the Head Chemistry lab used to live.
Our family closeness was confined to a few Indian families at Koronivia and one family from the City Centre. During my tenure as Head of Agri-Chemistry Lab at Koronovia, I had a girl student from New Zealand working under my supervision as an apprentice at our Agri-Chemistry Lab during her summer holidays in 1983. She used to have her regular lunch with us at Koronivia. A nice girl coming from a Muslim family living at the City Centre, whose mother was working as the Secretary to Mr. Patel, Director, Ministry of Agriculture in Fiji and her father Mr. Maqbul was a Police Officer in Suva.
At week-ends, we often use to go to Fiji City-Centre for shopping. Sometimes we went to Pacific Harbour, a place of scenic beauty at the Pacific beach. Pacific Harbour was a unique place to spend leisurely time at the sandy beach. There was cinema hall in the city, where we used to watch movies, notable one was that of “Gandhi” an English film portraying life of Mahatma Gandhi, father of India. I liked the movie, which had historical perspective of Indian Movement for independence. Even with our limited options of movements, we lived happily and enjoyed our stay in Fiji.
Our stay in Fiji came to an end on 8th August 1984. On way back home from Fiji, we visited Brisbane in Australia and Auckland and Rotorua in New Zealand. Brisbane is a beautiful city quite tropical in climatic condition. We visited the sea-side, where we saw Koala, small animal found in trees moving quickly from one to another.
Thereafter, we flew to Auckland in New Zealand with my family for a week-long visit. We also visited Rotorua located in the north island of New Zealand. Rotorua is renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. We also visited unique lamb skin removal show in Rotorua. We had the opportunity to see bubbling mud pools very interesting natural attraction in Roturua. Rotorua is also the home of a living Maori village, the aboriginals of New Zealand. We had been to Singapore in the row of our visits on way back from Fiji to Dhaka.
[Dr. Syed Anwarul Haque is a retired Professor of Bangladesh Agricultural University, Mymensingh]

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