Between 1870 and 1920 many Indians were transported thousands of miles from their home to Fiji as part of a legitimate but enforced mass migration headed up by the British and other European powers.
Over 2 million people signed an agreement (or ‘girmit’) for a five-year contract. They were told that after the five years were up they would be able to return home to help their family and community. Sadly this was rarely the case. Separated from their families, friends and everything they knew, this new project aims to highlight these unknown stories and preserve the history of the indentured labour system, and those who lived through it.
The Girmit project was originally created by Nutkhut as part of its ‘Defining Moments’ arts and heritage series to tell the untold story of the “Girmitiyas” (indentured labourers), but during the process of telling this story, Girmit became an altogether new type of project for the team at Nukhut.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant a new approach was needed to shape and tell the story so to do this we partnered with a multidisciplinary team of digital artists from all over the world who could really help tell the human story of Girmit, and as importantly, aid us in creating a sense of the experience that was felt by the Girmitiyas.
To tell this complex story through different lenses, we created a variety of different tools and experiences. We used multi-dimensional motion arts to create a 360° immersive experience that can be discovered on any smartphone, or ‘stepped into’ using a headset. We worked with sound artists to create unique audio tracks and to tell add a new level of immersion, recorded the sounds of sugarcane, one of the commodities that the Girmityas were working to produce, which can be heard and felt within the experience itself. We also created multi-dimensional heritage objects that can be placed in a 3D world.
We worked with a Fijian graphic artist to create a graphic novel, developed an interactive story to view on this site, made an educational toolkit for teachers to utilise in the classroom and to underpin the entire project, we recorded oral histories from the descendants of Girmityas. Please explore our site to discover all these resources and step inside of Girmit.
By creating Girmit, we hope to educate, inspire and facilitate open conversations about the British-Fijian indentured labour diaspora.
“The Fijian Community, despite its contribution to UK society through the NHS, the British Army and other sectors, remains invisible. Similar to the Windrush Generation, Fijians have deep associations with the UK.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture the memories and stories of this diverse British community at an important moment of the anniversaries of the Independence of Fiji and the abolition of indentured labour.” – Ajay Chhabra, Artistic Director, Nutkhut
The project deals with subjects including migration, isolation, humanity, pain, loss of identity, re-creation, culture, survival and hope, something every person can, in one way or another, recognise and identify with.
We’d like to thank the following partners for enabling the Girmit story to be told, PlayLa.bZ, the National Archives, the Heritage Fund, Kew Gardens and the Mela Partnership.