by Angena Bhagwandeen
My identity is very much from Fiji, in the sense that, yes, I was born in England, I am British, but raised by Fiji-Indian parents. They brought with them as much of the culture as they could, including food, the way we speak. They spoke to me in Fiji-Hindi, which is a dialect that was created in Fiji, an amalgamation of all Indians, and they created their own language, fundamentally based on Hindi. But if you speak it in India, they don’t really fully understand! They spoke to me in Hindi, I replied in English, so my Fiji-Hindi is with a British accent.
Growing up, we had some hard times. Parents had to make their way in a society where foreigners weren’t always welcome, and it was very foreign to them, raising three children through the education system here. But through all of that, we did have some fun times. We had a lot of humour peculiar to the Fiji-Indian community. Growing up, my parents’ main friends were Fiji-Indians, and when we did get together, all the parents, all the aunties and uncles, as they all were – even though we’re not biologically related, everybody was either an aunt or an uncle – always sat together in one room, and the children sat in another room, and we were often asked to do various chores, like bring them drinks, bring them food, wash up, do all sorts of things. When we were addressed, it was often with peculiar Fiji-Indian swear words which we were referred to on a regular basis!
Even today, I mean, I’ve been to Fiji four times, lots of relatives still there, and there’s a close bond. I can get off the plane in Fiji, at the international airport, and I know for sure that aunts, uncles, cousins, would be there to greet me. And even my children, who were born in the UK, they would be greeted with open arms as well. So, that bond, that unity is there. No matter where Fijians are, Fiji-Indians, whether they’re in Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada, America, there’s always a warmth and a connection, and I think that’s very strong. And whether it’s down through history, through culture, through sport, rugby in particular, the food, it’s still very strong and very prominent.
I identify very strongly with being Fiji-Indian. And interestingly enough, growing up in the UK, people often would say, “Well, where are you from?” Because Indians in England identify as being either Gujarati, Tamil, Punjabi, South Indian and so on, and if you say you’re from Fiji, you’re a Fijian-Indian, they want to know more. “Well, which part? Which part are you from?” And I think it’s interesting and it’s important to know exactly where our forefathers were from, and I am myself trying to do some research on this.
I’ve traced my grandfather to the ship that he was taken from India to Fiji on, and as I understand it, he left behind quite a lot of family in India, who he never got to see again. And he was taken to Fiji as an indentured labourer on the basis that he would be re-joined with his family, but that didn’t happen. So, we’ve never been able to trace that family back in India, which is a pity. I understand that it could be done, but we don’t have substantial records. We don’t have enough information to take it that far. But yeah, I love the fact that my children have some identity with Fiji and are interested enough to want to go and visit, and have met relatives from Fiji who’ve come over to visit us or we’ve visited them. So, the connection continues.