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Replica ship leads parade

Fiji Times, Saturday, May 15, 2004

A replica of the Leonidas, the ship in which the first Indian indentured labourers arrived in May 14, 1879, was paraded through the streets of Suva yesterday to commemorate the 125th girmit anniversary.

A march followed the procession while one of the Indian traditional drums (dapla) and the Fiji Police Band played away to entertain and further attract the crowd that gathered to watch.

Owner of Reddy's Enterprise Limited and the Fiji Girmit Council chairman Yanktesh Permal Reddy said the girmityas were of distinct background who had enriched Fiji with a cultural diversity and prosperity from which everyone benefitted.

"Although the era was of pain and suffering, they taught us how to live side by side with each other, they left us a legacy of multiculturalism which we all have a lot to learn from," he said.

Mr Reddy said it was the spirit and their legacy, which the people should not allow to diminish.

Suva City Council Girmit celebrations committee chairman and Deputy Mayor Councillor Sashi Singh said it was a day to remember in the history of Fiji and for the people.

"The arrival of the Indians, who first came to Fiji contributed to Fiji's economy and the sugar industry and this is the way in which we acknowledge them," he said.

Mr Singh said the first coup, which occurred on the same day in 1987, was just a coincidence.

The council spent $7000 to make the replica ship, Leonidas and it took them about three weeks to prepare.

Suva Branch Girmit celebrations Committee Chairman Joel Sahai said the significance of the first coup for Fiji was just a coincidence, which they did want to link with the girmit celebrations.

"The arrival of the indentured labourers is part of Fiji's history and we should not forget that, especially since we are now benefiting from the sugar industry which flourished earlier and changed our economy," he said.