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May 14, 2015

May 14, 1879: indentured Indians arrive on Fiji

Today, Indians make up more than 40% of Fiji’s population, and count among them some notable names, like golfer Vijay Singh.

On this day in 1879, the Leonidas, a ship carrying the first group of indentured servants from Calcutta, dropped anchor near Fiji.

After the British Empire annexed Fiji in 1874, the new governor banned the exploitation of native workers, particularly on sugar plantations. He instead decided to import workers from India, which had initiated the system of indentured servitude after slavery ended in 1833.

From 1879 to 1916, 63,000 Indians were transferred to Fiji. (Fiji’s population today is around 850,000.) They were given free passage in exchange for an agreement to work for five years.

Coups in 1987, 2000, and 2006 all related to conflicts – both religious and economic – between native Fijians and Indians.

Here’s an academic paper looking at the family history of the writer, who had Indo-Fijian roots.

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