100 Years of Cultural Solitude
Patterns of Cultural Retention Among Indo-Fijians and Indo-Fijian Americans

Notes on the Text


Deen Bandhu had been a fisherman for most of his life.  Every morning he would take his small fishing boat off the port city of Navua and return in the evening; if he was lucky, his boat would have a belly full of fish to help feed large family.  Years of training off the tropical waters of the South Pacific Island nation of Fiji, however, could not prepare him for the experience that came when he stepped off a much larger boat into a nation where his family’s position and caste-saturated genealogy meant little.  In fact, when Mr. Bandhu first came ashore in the United States in 1958 the only symbol of his family’s wealth was the $800 in his pocket.  What Mr. Bandhu lacked, however, in material wealth was mitigated by the vast cultural wealth that he and those like him had accumulated in the nearly 100 years of cultural solitude they had experienced in Fiji.(1)

Mr. Bandhu looked South Asian.  His language, his manner, and his appearance all implied that this newcomer could have come from no other place than India or her recently created neighbors to the west and east.  Nevertheless, this new immigrant, nor even his father, had ever set foot anywhere near the Asian continent.  For all his life Mr. Bandhu had lived among the rain forests and coral reefs of the South Pacific.  The resolution to this apparent contradiction between ethnicity and nationality lies in the unique historical development of an Indian population in Fiji.

What makes the process of Indian emigration to Fiji unique and interesting is not so much the presence of an indentured labor system, but what happened to Indo-Fijian culture during and after the indenture period.(2)  Fiji was one of the last colonies to import Indian indenture labor so the procedure by which forced labor was to come to the South Pacific had already been tested and firmly laid out in previous experiments among the West Indian islands of Trinidad, Natal, Mauritius, and Guiana.(3)  Upon arrival in Fiji, though, the Indian population, unlike its colonial counterparts in the West Indies, never came to mix extensively with pre-existent populations and European colonial masters,(4) making Fiji, in fact, unique among migrant destinations across the globe, and particularly North America, where immigrants face a cultural assimilation that threatens to delete all but the tiniest bits of traditional culture.  This, of course, is exactly what happens to Indo-Fijians who themselves migrate to North America--traditional Indian culture shifts towards more mainstream and normative social values.  This is not the case in Fiji, however, because social, economic, legal, and structural pressures that accompanied the colonial experience have molded an Indo-Fijian culture that, while almost entirely separate from native Fijian society, is nonetheless remarkably similar to traditional India

Understanding this process of emigration from India and cultural retention among those emigrants in Fiji is impossible without first acknowledging the presence of the British Empire not only in India, but also in the South Pacific.  In 1874, the traditional chiefs of Fiji entered into an agreement with the imperial authorities whereby political and juridical control over the island passed into the hands of Queen Victoria and her agents while the crown pledged to protect the interests of the native Fijian population.  As such, the first colonial governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, sponsored legislation which prohibited further land alienation from the native tribes and banned further industrial employment of the Fijians.

This legislation, aimed at preventing the perceived degradation of native society, had important consequences for the Fijian economy because it prevented the indigenous population from engaging in the economic activity that Gordon and the colonial administration felt appropriate to the Fijian landscape: large scale plantation agriculture.  Thus, after attempting to legislate the end of Fijian social degradation, the government moved to create a self-supporting economic regime that utilized the tropical weather and ample rain fall.  To this end, the colonial authorities were able to persuade the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR) to set up sugar cane plantations across the two main islands of the chain, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.  Before they could do so, however, a cheap, reliable, and plentiful labor source had to be found.  Until 1874 the small coconut and cotton plantations scattered throughout the South Pacific had relied on labor from nearby islands in the Polynesian chain.  By the middle of the 1870s, however, increased demand and new regulations designed to protect the Polynesians from exploitation had combined to make recruitment among the South Pacific islands extremely difficult.  The native Fijian population itself was considered inappropriate for the work of sugar cane production because of the effects on native Fijian society, particularly the tribal economy and social order.  Therefore, the only other solution to the labor problem was the importation of field hands from an outside source.(5)

In the wake of the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833, other colonies had experimented with foreign labor supplies.  Several of them had discovered a plentiful labor source within the boundaries of the crown’s possessions: India.  Mauritius and Trinidad, for example, had both successfully implemented policies whereby the colonial administration imported indentured labor from India to work the plantations instead of slave labor.  As a former colonial administrator in both Mauritius and Trinidad, Gordon advocated just such a system of labor importation for Fiji, and he convinced the Indian colonial government to extend the emigration process to the South Pacific.  Under the terms of the agreement between the Fijian and Indian colonial governments, indentures were to serve a five year term under the CSR before being released from compulsory labor.  The emigrants could then return to India, if they wished, at their own expense.  At the end of another five years of labor, however, the Fijian government would pay the return fare.  Among the conditions promised to potential emigrants was a nine-hour work day during the week with a five-hour work day on Saturday and no work on Sunday; a daily pay rate of one shilling for men and nine pennies for women; and the provision of free medical care and housing.(6)

The emigrants themselves were predominately Hindi-speaking and Hindu due to the geographical pattern of recruitment employed by the colonial agents.   The anthropologist Adrian C. Mayer shows that “the first areas [of recruitment] were in the lower Gangetic plain (Bengal and Bihar), activity slowly shifting to the northwest, and centring in Uttar Pradesh.”(7)  Recruitment along the Gangetic plain was accomplished through a depot in Calcutta which sent recruits onto the South Pacific.  In 1903, however, to make up for declining returns in the north, the colonial administration established another depot in Madras in order to recruit along the south-eastern coast of India.  The overall labor supply, nevertheless, both in terms of annual numbers and as a composite of the entire indenture period was skewed towards the north.  According to K.L. Gillion, an anthropologist at the Australian National University, 75 percent of all Indian emigrants to Fiji came through the Calcutta depot while the remaining 25 percent were recruited from the Tamil and Telugu speaking districts surrounding Madras.(8)  The primary language for the vast majority of emigrants, then, was Hindi, an Indo-European language of Sanskrit origin that stretches from the modern Indian state of Rajasthan in the west to Bihar in the east, including the middle- and lower-Gangetic plain where most of the recruitment occurred.(9)  As with Hindi, Hinduism also predominated among the emigrants from both Calcutta and Madras.  Gillion shows that 14.6 percent of the Fijian emigrants were Muslim while only .1 percent were Christian.  The remaining 85.3 percent were Hindu of one sect or another.(10)

Because of the vast preponderance of Hindus and north Indians in the emigrant pool, the term Indian, for the purposes of this analysis, essentially includes only the 75% of migrants who left from the Calcutta deport and the 85% of emigrants who were Hindu.  This restriction is prudent for two reasons.  First, any analysis of cultural retention among Indian emigrants to the South Pacific as limited as this one should focus on the patterns of dominant culture among the emigrant population because those patterns are the most likely to reappear in Fiji.  Secondly, South India and non-Hindus have been excluded because to include them would mean a cultural analysis that in fact must explore cultural retention among multiple cultures and their practices.  For example, a cultural study that takes into account all Indians emigrants to Fiji, regardless of religion, would not only have to include the practices of the traditional Hindu wedding rooted in India’s Sanskritic past, as done below, but the entirely different set of rituals prescribed by Muslim religious doctrine.  Similarly, an analysis that included both Hindi and the Dravidian languages of southern India would require particular attention to be paid to patterns of linguistic retention among the Tamil and Telugu speakers that Gillion attributes to the Madras export depot.  Simply put, this analysis is insufficient for such a comprehensive survey and study of Indian cultural retention beyond the specific patterns of social practice among north Indian Hindus.

The notion of culture itself must be restricted because a study of the totality of human learned behavior in northern India would require demands far greater than the limits of this analysis, as well.  Culture, then, is specifically defined to include religion, language, naming patterns, caste, clothing and food.  These categories, particularly religion and language, not only present fairly homologous patterns of behavior among north Indian Hindus, but allow for substantive comparison between the notions and practices of Hinduism, Hindi, naming, caste, clothing, and food in traditional India and among the Indo-Fijians.

To this end, traditional Hinduism can, for the sake of simplicity, be divided into two complementary systems of thinking.  The oldest revolves around the ritual.  The vedic practices of the Indo-Aryan migrants to the South Asian sub-continent some 2,000 years before the common era (BCE) brought with them a system of beliefs based in the nomadic tradition of the Indo-European peoples.(11)  As evidenced by the Rg Veda, the oldest composition in any Indo-European language and the first of four revealed Hindu texts, the society was divided into four varna, or groups that would eventually come to be called caste in the west.  The division separated the population into four groups: the brahman, the kshaitrya, the vaisya, and the sudra.(12)  The brahmans were assigned the role of speaking and officiating the ritual, making them the priestly class.  The ritual element of Hinduism requires the participation of these orating brahmans to pronounce the mantras, or meters, announcing the oblation to the appropriate gods.  The second distinct school of Hinduism can be termed bhakti, or devotional.(13)  Beginning in the early parts of the common era (CE), Hindus, to some degree, turned away from the ritualistic monopoly of the brahmans to a more personal and devotional religion.(14)  In such a system, individual Hindus, without regard to varna or class can have a personal relationship with god through devotional thought and activities without the intervention of a pandit.

In terms of the brahmanical branch of Hinduism, the most helpful element in examining cultural retention for the purpose of comparison to Indo-Fijian culture is the standardization of ritual practices that result from a common tradition that originates in the earliest of the Hindu revealed texts, the Rg Veda.  An example of this ritual uniformity is the marriage rite.  Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, a professor of Sanskrit at the University of Chicago, writes in her translation of selected hymns from the Rg Veda: “The divine prototype for human marriages is the hierogamy of Surya…and Soma…Later marriages are modelled upon this one…verses 20-47 present formulaic verses…to be recited at a wedding.”(15)  While the Rg Veda itself does not provide specific requirements for the wedding, an entire class of texts has come into being that provide detailed descriptions of the traditional Hindu wedding based on the vedic past.(16)  The Mangal-Milan,(17) the text of the auspicious union, provides the critical detail needed for the officiating brahman in terms of the ritual elements and the appropriate verses.(18)  According to the text, the Hindu wedding is composed of several separate rituals taking place over several days, and perhaps weeks, which culminate in a wedding ceremony followed by the departure of the bride from her parents’ home.

The first religious aspect of the traditional wedding can be described as an engagement.  After the respective families of a boy and girl have agreed to a match, the two families must ritually seal the marriage arrangement.  This takes the form of the tilak(19) ceremony.  At least several days before the actual date of the wedding, on a date mutually acceptable to both families, a company of the bride’s male relatives, including a younger brother, makes its way to the home of the groom.  There, with the accompaniment of priests representing both families, the bride’s brother and the groom take part in a puja(20) which seals the betrothal and marks the beginning of the wedding process.(21)  At the conclusion of the puja, the bride’s younger brother places a tilak upon the groom’s forehead and presents gifts.  Upon accepting the gifts, the marriage agreement is sealed. After the tilak, the families of the two parties do not engage in contact until the actual wedding rites.(22)

Before the wedding, however, both the bride and the groom undergo ritual cleansing by female relatives that primarily involves spreading haldi(23) on the visible body parts of both the bride and the groom on five separate occasions.(24)  Both families also construct a bedi, a small altar made of four small beams of wood filled in with dirt from the center of which a bamboo pole sticks up.  During the intervening days the bride and groom do puja before the bedi and the night before the wedding both parties do Varuna puja in which ancestors and the Vedic god Varuna are invoked.  For the groom, there is an extra ritual the morning of the actual wedding, the shadi, in which he eats puri(25) and khir(26) with four younger unmarried brothers.  During these rituals leading up to the shadi, neither the bride nor the groom leave their respective homes nor their parents, who provide protection from ritual impurity.(27)

The shadi itself is a series of rituals and protocols officiated by a brahman priest at nearly every stage.(28)  The wedding takes place at the home of the bride or a location which has been adopted as the bride’s home, such as an hall or another relative’s home and her family is considered the host of the ceremony.  Naturally, then, the bride is expected to already be at the wedding site when the groom, her star guest, arrives.  Throughout the entire wedding ceremony, the groom is accompanied by his bohnoi, or the husband of his older sister.(29)  Therefore, when the groom arrives he is escorted by his brother-in-law to the wedding site.  Before reaching the entrance, however, the respective fathers of the betrothed meet and exchange greetings.  The father of the bride, with the brother-in-law of the groom, then ushers the groom to the door of the wedding hall.  There the divar puja(30) occurs in which the bride’s father pays respects to his future son-in-law through puja before the priest invokes the Hindu gods in the name of the couple and the wedding ceremony.  The groom is then led by his brother-in-law inside the entrance of the wedding site.  There, the senior female relatives of the bride do a puja to the groom.  This puja involves pouring water at the feet of the groom, doing an aarthi,(31) throwing flour balls in the four cardinal directions, and giving money.  The groom is then led to the mandala,(32) a framed-structure normally made of bamboo, in which the remainder of the religious ceremony takes place.  The bride’s parents then honor the groom with puja.  Up until this point, the bride is kept in a kohber, or secure room where she cannot be seen.  After this preliminary puja, though, she is brought out and upon arrival at the mandala receives a mala, or a series of individual flower buds sown together to form a necklace.  The bride then reciprocates by placing an identical mala around her groom’s neck.  The bride and her younger brother, who escorts her to the mandala, then joins her parents in the act of puja to the groom.  The conclusion of this section is called kanya dan, or giving of the maiden, and represents the bride’s passage from her parent’s house to her husband’s.  The female kin of the bride then present gifts to the groom to seal the marriage.

The heart of the ceremony begins next with the priest reciting Sanskrit mantras invoking the gods to bless the union and bring prosperity.  The absolutely essential element to the wedding ceremony takes place around the havan, or sacrificial fire in the center of the mandala.  The bride and groom’s respective dresses are tied together by a sash to symbolize the union and cement the vows of the Hindu wedding.  The bride then leads the groom around the fire three times after which the groom leads his bride four times.(33)  After rounding the fire, the couple again sits before the brahman priest and agrees to seven wedding vows.  The final element of the religious ceremony is the placement of sindur, a red paste made of vermilion, on the hairline of the bride by her new husband under a cover to prevent the intrusion of others at the first intimate moment of the new couple.

The pair then leaves the mandala as husband and wife, but are immediately separated.  The bride is taken to back to her kohber while her new husband takes a seat among his senior male relatives.  The party of males are served special food by the bride’s family, however not a single grain of rice can be eaten until the father of the bride gives an acceptable amount of money to the groom as the dowry. Essentially, until the groom is bribed into eating, the wedding is not complete and the responsibilities of the bride’s parents are not absolved.

This description of the marriage ritual, as provided in the Mangal-Milan, can be easily juxtaposed to descriptions of the Indo-Fijian wedding for the first major point of comparison between traditional India.  To this end, Adrian C. Mayer’s Peasants in the Pacific will be used for the critical detail of an Indian wedding in Fiji.  This monograph is an ethnography and analysis of the cultural patterns of Indo-Fijians conducted in the later 1940s.  While Mayer provides detailed descriptions of specific rituals, his analysis of cultural retention between Indo-Fijians and Indians assumes certain cultural stereo-types about Indian culture.  The most obvious is that of caste.  Mayer, like others, argues that caste distinction was completely liquidated in Fiji, however on page 28 he goes on to say that there “was a tendency for people with the same socio-religious background to form separate clusters of homesteads.”  Caste, in fact, can be understood as a socio-religious system of organizing society based on occupational group and specific religious practice within the greater field of Hinduism rather than as a simple system of birth-rights.  Therefore, in his cultural analysis, Mayer contradicts himself by arguing for the disappearance of the caste system while asserting, at the same time, that “socio-religious” considerations were used to organize homesteads.  Nevertheless, his account of the ritual process provides an excellent example from which to compare practices in Fiji against traditional Indian rituals because they largely lack stereo-typed analysis of Indian culture in favor of detailed description.

In fact, his description is almost identical to the descriptions in Mangal-Milan.  The similarity begins with Mayer’s description of a young couple’s engagement:

They [the party of the bride’s male relatives] started at the girl’s house; the Delanikoro priest blessed the gifts to be given to the boy [the groom], as the bride handed over to her ‘inviter’ or factotum, and then made a tilak on her forehead.  This, it was said, showed that the bride was in earnest and that the gifts symbolized the firm decision of the bride’s side to go ahead with the wedding...The engagement party then left the settlement…[upon arrival at the groom’s home]…the party moved outside to a space cleared for the rite.  On one side sat the groom, with his priest…and on the other side the bride’s brother with this priest…Both priests conducted purificatory rites for their subjects, after which the bride’s brother washed the groom’s feet and, taking a betel leaf on which was a white past of curd and rice flour, put it on the groom’s forehead as a tilak.  He then presented him with a tray bearing…cash, a basin of rice, a coconut, cloth for a shirt and loincloth, and a handkerchief…Speaking in Hindi, the rites having been in Sanskrit, he said that the groom had now made the contract by accepting these presents…the engagement was then complete, and the bride’s party returned home, after having accepted dinner with a show of formal reluctance.(34)

Here, as in the Mangal-Milan, the wedding is inaugurated with the tilak ceremony where the bride’s brother and the groom engage in puja at the home of the groom’s family and seal the betrothel with “purificatory rites” and gifts.  The purification in the days before the Indo-Fijian wedding ceremony also corresponds to the description given in the text.  For the bride, Mayer observes:

The actual wedding was a complex ritual spread over three days before the decisive rite, with further rites on several following days…the first day saw the construction and dedication of the ‘altar’…twice during the day, the bride appeared before the altar and made obeissance, after which she was rubbed with a purifactory paste made of turmeric and oil by the young girls of her kin group…During all the bride’s activity at the altar the mother sat behind, with the end of her shawl on her daughter’s head to symbolize her continued attachment to, and protection of, the girl…The morning of the second day (bhatwan) saw the girl’s parents worship at the altar.  During the day the bride was again rubbed with purifying tumeric…The number of girls rubbing the bride should be uneven, and similarly the rubbing itself occurred five times-twice on each of the first two days and once on the final day.(35)

In regards to the groom’s preparation, Mayer adds:

The meeting of the bride’s and groom’s parties [right before the shadi] brought the convergence of what had been two similar programmes.  For the groom, also, had been purified with turmeric for the past three days by the girls of his household and extended family; he, too, had erected a bamboo altar…Later he had taken a last meal with four younger agnates, and had been dressed and decorated.(36)

Mayer is again describing the traditional Hindu ritual.  His “altar”, the bedi, is the site of purification rites and “obeissance” for both the bride and the groom while Mayer’s groom also participates in the male-specific ritual of taking “a last meal with four younger agnates.”  The similarities with tradition continue in Mayer’s description of the ceremony on the mandala where the actual shadi takes place:

The groom was received as an honored guest in the rites which followed.  The bride’s father washed his feet in water and put a tilak on his forehead, and he went to the house and was received by the bride’s mother and other ladies, in an uneven number, who in turn…passed a pot of water and a flame of circle before him, and gave him a betel leaf in which there was money…The wedding proper first centred around the transfer of the bride from her parent’s to the groom’s care (kanyadan-gift of the maiden).  The bride’s father again washed the groom’s feet, tied a purificatory sash of turmeric-dyed cloth around his waist, and showered the pair with prosperity-giving paddy and rubbed their palms in ghee (clarified butter, also a sign of prosperity)…the bride’s younger brother poured water over the hands [of the bride, groom, and the bride’s parents]…The most important rites started with the priest tying the end of the bride’s sari to the end of the groom’s yellow sash, and their circumambulation of the altar.  Four times the bride went first, and three times the groom preceded her; before each round they poured parched rice into a container held by the bride’s younger brother…Then the priest asked seven questions of the couple, six of them directly addressed to the bride and calculated to set out the relation of co-operation which should exist between them, with the groom taking any final decisions…The couple were covered, for modesty, with a large sheet, and the groom placed red powder in the bride’s hair parting-the traditional sign of married status.(37)

The bride’s father obliged the groom with divar puja, proceeded by the aarthi session with the “bride’s mother and other ladies.”   Then, the groom receives puja on the mandala where the bride and her brother join the scene.  The Sanskrit rites are then made by the pandit, including the rotations around the fire, the seven questions, and the placement of sindur, or “red powder” on the “bride’s hair parting” beneath “a large sheet” just as described in the Mangal-Milan.  The point of comparison can also extend to the manner in which the groom comes to eat the meal prepared by his new wife’s family for him is:

The groom, his father and two brothers and his mother’s brother’s son sat down to eat in the wedding booth near the altar…Food was brought but the groom refused it; he was given a table and chairs, but still he refused; the bride’s father handed him the money collected during that morning and the preceding evening from his guests…Only then, did he slowly start to eat, and everyone followed him.  The meal was the most elaborate of the wedding, with two kinds of curry, chutney, and rice and fried pancakes…the money and goods collected by the groom at this time constituted, in effect, the bride’s dowry…The dowry had not been arranged beforehand, and the groom could, in theory, have refused to eat until he had denuded the bride’s household of all its property.(38)

Here, just as in tradition, the groom is bribed into eating a meal prepared by his new in-laws to seal the arrangement, signal the absolution of parental obligations for the bride’s household, and settle the issue of dowry.

The language used in the ritual is also identical in the Mangal-Milan and Mayer’s narrative description.  While the Hindu text is written primarily in Hindi, the actual mantras and rites must be pronounced in Sanskrit, the sole language of north Indian ritual practice.  This is exactly the case, according to Mayer, who describes the language of invocation to be Sanskrit when he notes that after the wedding ceremony “the priest changed from Sanskrit to Hindi” to explain the rituals the couple had just undertaken.(39)  He also describes the tilak ceremony, which also required to be in the ancient language, as “having been in Sanskrit.”(40)  This is in perfect correspondence to the Mangal-Milan which lays out the Sanskrit mantras necessary for the proper officiation of the wedding rites and the general trend in ritualized Hinduism towards the use of the ancient language.(41)  Thus, with only one exception,(42)  Mayer describes the same ritual required by the Hindu text in terms of form, function, and practice evidencing nearly flawless cultural retention in specific regard to the wedding ritual.  Mayer himself makes this observation in writing, “The wedding described in its essentials is an example of an orthodox Northern ceremony.”(43)

If the wedding ritual provides evidence of cultural retention within the ritual and brahmanical branch of Hinduism,(44) then festivities and holidays provide evidence of a similar retention among more devotional elements that do not require the presence of a pandit.  One such example is Dipavali, a popular Indian holiday which marks the end of the Hindu lunar calendar’s new year.(45)  The date falls between mid-October and mid-November on the last day of the lunar month ashvin and the description of traditional Indian practice again corresponds to descriptions of Indo-Fijian practice.  The basic elements of the holiday involve the placement of lights around one’s house and extensive cleaning.  The lights, according to lore, represent the welcoming of Rama, a popular Hindu deity who is said to have killed Ravana and returned to his home of Ayodhya with the help of these lights.  The name dipavali in fact means a row of lights in Sanskrit.  The holiday also involves substantial cleaning because Hindu tradition holds that Laksmi, the cosmic mother of Rama and the goddess of wealth and prosperity is said to visit homes on the first day of the new year-the day after dipavali-and bless those with clean homes and clean hearts.  The holiday also involves personal prayer and puja to the Hindu pantheon.(46)

Mayer describes a similar set of rituals in Fiji.  He writes, concerning dipavali:

Diwali,(47) the festival of lights, marked the Hindu New Year and fell in October-November.  The worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, was especially popular on this day.  Children let off fireworks, and adults cooked good food for the evening, when lights were lit in every window, pinpointing the furthest homesteads on the hillsides.  These lights were said to commemorate the welcome given by the people of Ayodhya to Rama, their king, on his return from Lanka where he had vanquished the demon Ravan.(48)

Mayer’s description of the dipavali festival in Fiji retains the essential elements of the traditional dipavali festival as celebrated in India.  Lakshmi is worshipped, Rama is commemorated, and the new year is welcomed on the time-schedule used for the holiday in India.  Furthermore, the fact that “this was mainly a festival held within each household”(49) underscores the bhakti or personal nature of the holiday as it is practices throughout India.  The dipavali festival, then, provides further evidence of Indian cultural retention in the specific terms of devotional Hinduism because both Fiji and India lack the ritual practices of pandits reading from Sanskrit texts during the ceremony.  Rather, individual families and households, which have retained their Hindu tradition and their personal devotional relationship to the gods,  predominantly participate in the festivities.(50)

The practice of dipavali and the traditional wedding not only reveals the retention individually of the two major branches of Hinduism,  but demonstrates the importation into Fiji of the actual superstructure that defines this internal dichotomy in the religion.  In essence, the Indian emigrants have not only held to their traditional practices, but also to the knowledge of when a priest is required and when access to the divine does not require an intermediary.  Nonetheless, the presence of this functional division in Fiji is attributable to the nature of the ritual itself rather than the agency of the Indo-Fijians.  Hindu rituals, and the wedding in particular, are heavy in terms of requirements and the texts describing the manner in which gods are invoked are written in Sanskritized Hindi while the actual invocations are always in Sanskrit.(51)  The knowledge of Sanskrit and the proper invocations are the monopoly of the brahman according to the traditional Hindu caste system, a social structure that did not completely survive in Fiji, but survived enough to require priests to be brahman.  Thus, Hindus had no choice but to use a priest in the wedding ceremony because the knowledge of the proper invocations does not circulate generally.  The understanding of the dipavali holiday, meanwhile, is more diffused in both India and Fiji so people can and did celebrate the holiday without the intervention of a pandit.  Therefore, the larger structure of ritualized and bhakti Hinduism has survived in Fiji, evidencing cultural retention.

Beyond the division of Hinduism into bhakti and ritualistic branches, however, several observers in Fiji have noted the retention of Hinduism in less quantifiable ways.  According to Jim Wilson, a senior lecturer in philosophy and religion at the University of Canterbury, the feel of Hinduism in Fiji remains largely the same: “Fiji Hinduism is as rich and lively and varied, and as firmly rooted in the texts, as any comparably slice of Hinduism in India.  My constant feeling was that everything was so familiar, so unchanged, so very Hindu, in relation to my experience of Hinduism in northern India; not at all that Hinduism had waned and decayed in its South Pacific home.”(52)  He goes on to argue that certain modifications have been made due to the changed circumstances in Fiji such as the adoption of new holy places to replace the loss of shrines and sites of pilgrimage in India,(53) but that Indo-Fijian Hinduism is “alive and flourishing in Fiji.”(54)

Another element of traditional Hinduism that does not neatly fit into the practical division of Hinduism, but that Wilson finds in Fiji is the worship and veneration of images and icons of the gods and the divine.(55)  Wilson argues that “it would be wrong to suggest that this enforced separation [on Fiji] from [India]… constitutes a gaping void in the fabric of Fijian Hinduism”(56) because “there is a wide range of ritual and devotional activity.  There is regular puja (worship) at the images of the various manifestations of the divine force.”  He goes on to write, “All [the mandirs] that I saw had quite a range of murti (images) and posters: of Ram and Krishna, of Hanuman, of Shiva, of Ganesh, of Durga and Kali and Lakshmi and Saraswati.  The feeling that all are but different manifestations of the one divine force or person, so pervasive in Indian text and context, is strongly suggested here also.”(57)  In effect, Wilson is arguing that in Fiji the Hindu pantheon has been preserved along with the philosophical underpinnings of Hindu pantheism.(58)  Rama, Krishna, Hanuman, Shiva, Ganesh, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, and Sarasvati compose, with Brahma and Vishnu, the major gods of the Hindu pantheon.  While different villages, families, and occupational groups will have their own set of deities, the list provided by Wilson includes the most pan-Indian of the Hindu gods and provides further evidence of a general cultural preservation in Fiji.(59)

Another element of Hinduism that Wilson discusses not only demonstrates the cultural retention of Hinduism among the Indo-Fijian population, but the continued retention of the Hindi language.  In making his argument about the retention of Hinduism in Fiji, Wilson discusses the role of an important Hindu text written in Hindi.  The Ramayana, like the Mahabharata, is a massive epic poem put into its first composite form between 500 BCE and 500 CE.  The epic is extremely popular in India on two levels.  First, it is a religious text, detailing the exploits of Rama, an avatara of Vishnu, one of three paramount deities in Hinduism.  The religious story centers around the triumph of good over evil, manifested in Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana who stole the god’s beloved wife Sita during a sojourn in the forest.  The second level of the text is literary.  The poem not only serves as a mass of popular legends and stories that are transmitted across in India in both oral and written forms, but it is an extremely popular literary genre.  This popularity is evidenced not only by the numerous other Sanskrit versions of the Ramayana, but in an extraordinarily popular film series produced in the early 1990s and the 300 other versions of the text written in the vernacular languages of South Asia, South East Asia, and East Asia.(60)

The most important of the vernacular versions for the population under consideration, the Ramacaritamanas, was composed by the poet Tulasidas in the fourteenth century.  It is more popular and important in north India than other versions of the Ramayana legend because it is composed in Hindi.  The text, like all versions of the Ramayana, is considered to be religious and is often read as part of other pujas or individually as a commemoration of Rama throughout the Gangetic valley.  Similarly, Indo-Fijians read the text as part of the cultural tradition of Hinduism.  Wilson describes the role of the epic poem as “the most common gathering amongst…Hindus.”(61)  If Indo-Fijians are gathering to hear or read a Hindi version of the Ramayana, then they have retained some element of the language sufficient to understand the religious text.

Other circumstantial evidence also exists to indicate the continued use of Hindi in Fiji.  For example, Elizabeth M. Grieco in her analysis of caste among Indo-Fijians writes, in her section on methodology, “[Interviews] were conducted in English or in Hindi.”(62)  Mayer, as well, in his discussions of the ritual provides clues as to the use of Hindi among the Indo-Fijian population.  Interviews can only be conducted in Hindi if the Indo-Fijian population under consideration for both studies continues to use Hindi as their common language.  Mayer provides further examples of such evidence on page 67 of Peasants in the Pacific when he informs the reader that the priest he is describing has switched from Sanskrit to Hindi so that the participants can understand what the priest is saying.  Mayer makes a similar observation on page 71 of the same text.  Sanskrit, the language of ritual and the priestly brahman class, is not widely used outside of the religious context.  Mayer, however, is implying that while Sanskrit is not comprehensible to the crowd, Hindi most certainly is, necessitating the switch from mother to daughter tongue.

Beyond circumstantial evidence, however, direct evidence does exist demonstrating the continued use of Hindi in Fiji despite the long absence from India, Hindi’s homeland.  In their survey of Hindi speakers around the world, Richard Barz and Yogendra Yadav write:

In 1990 the estimated population of Fiji was 772,000, of which 370,560…were of Indian descent.  Virtually all of the population of Indian origin speaks Fiji Hindi, the dialect of Hindi that has taken shape in Fiji, as its household language…Standard Hindi is used for formal speech, in radio broadcasts and in the two weekly Hindi newspapers published in the country.  Hindi commercial films are readily available in cinemas and on video tape…Fiji Hindi is close in grammatical structure and vocabulary to the Avadhi dialect of the Eastern [India] Hindi group.(63)

The fact that “Standard Hindi is used for formal speech, in radio broadcasts and in the two weekly Hindi newspapers” reveals a familiarity with Hindi among the Indo-Fijian population.  Furthermore, the patronage of “Hindi commercial films” both “in cinemas and on video tape” demonstrates that the Indo-Fijian patrons of such films know enough Hindi to understand the films and the endless string of songs that accompany them.  It would then make sense that “Fiji Hindi is close in grammatical structure and vocabulary to the Avadhi dialect” because that grammar and vocabulary would allow for the understanding of the cinema, radio, and newspapers, revealing a fluency of Hindi that has survive the journey to the South Pacific.

Rodney F. Moag, a professor of linguistics at the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, provides further evidence to the claim of Hindi’s use of Fiji through his detailed analysis of linguistic evolution among the Indo-Fijians.  Moag argues that several features make Fiji Hindi distinct from the standardized Hindi, which is derived from the dialect around Delhi,(64) but one of the primary modifications is in India rather than Fiji:

Hindi has undergone what has been termed Sanskritisation in India.  The Devanagari script has long since become the official one, and there has been vigorous promotion of the use of words derived from Sanskrit in preference to those of Perso-Arabic origin.  Though the Hindi script was first officialised in Fiji in 1929, no Sanskritisation of the vocabulary has taken place as it did in India.  Therefore, one hears a kind of Hindi in formal speeches reminiscent of that of the Urdu-educated leaders of the Independence Movement in India in the 1930s.(65)

Fiji Hindi, then, is more closely related to the more natural Hindi that was prevalent in India before the 20th century rather than the more highly Sanskritized language of modern India that is largely the creation of human agency.

Overall, however, Moag argues that the Hindi of the Indo-Fijian population is, for all practical purposes, Hindi.  It does contain a fair number of loan words from both native Fijian and English which have come to define primarily technically and indigenous Fijian objects.(66)  Nevertheless, Moag demonstrates in his analysis of Fijian grammatical forms that the major distinctions between Fiji Hindi and standard Hindi derive from dialectical differences apparent in India itself.(67)   In fact, his evidence supports the claim of Barz and Yadav that Fiji Hindi is very similar to Eastern Hindi.  For example, in 13 of 16 grammatical and lexical items, Fiji Hindi corresponds with a majority of the Bihari dialects, located in the modern state of Bihar, between Uttar Pradesh and Bengal, one of the primary sources of Indian emigrants to Fiji.  Similarly, 13 of the 16 grammatical and lexical items in Fiji Hindi correspond to a majority of the Eastern Hindi dialects, which run along the Gangetic plain from Lucknow to Bihar.(68)  In assessing difference with Hindi, in fact, Moag only finds that Fiji Hindi is substantially different from the Western Hindi dialects.(69,70)  Therefore, Fijian Hindi, like Fijian Hinduism, can tentatively be described as essentially Indian because they continue to function, with minor modifications, like their counterparts in traditional India.  Nevertheless, the cultural continuity with India is also evident in other categories outside of the religion and language.

In every culture there is a corpus of terms, people, and places that form the basis of names.  These names come from literary, religious, and mythical sources and vary in accordance with the specific requirements of the languages in which they operate.  In the northern Indian culture, then, it is not surprising that names originate in the religious cannon of Hinduism, or from literary sources in Hindi and Sanskrit.  For example, the common modern name Ram,(71) originates in the name of the Hindu god Rama as does the modern name Sita from a Hindu goddess, both of whom are glorified and popularized in the Ramayana legend.  In Fiji, too, the pattern of naming children using the literary and religious cannon of Hinduism, Hindi, and Sanskrit continued in three family trees gathered through field work.

Deen Bandhu, whose story opened this analysis, was born in Fiji in 1925 and in 1949 married Tara Mathi Sharma.  Together, they had five children over the period from 1949 to 1950 while living in the port city of Navua.  The two sons and three daughters all have names derived from the Indian cultural tradition: Rajendra, Vina, Prakash, Chandra, and Shashi.(72)  Similarly, Devi Prasad and Sembhudai Prasad had a total of three sons and eight daughters: Shrimati, Savitri, Narayan, Nirmila, Durga, Urmila, Dharmvati, Gayatri, Dayavati, Chandravati, and Kesho.  The children were born between 1939 and 1953 in the central Fijian city of Kornivia.(73)  In effect, all of the names listed here and those gathered during field work have their origins in the literary or religious tradition of India.  If these family trees are indicative of naming patterns among the Indo-Fijian population, then, along with the retention of Hinduism and Hindi, naming demonstrates the cultural retention of Indianess among the Indo-Fijian population despite one hundred years of cultural solitude.  The causes of this fierce loyalty to traditional Indian naming patterns can be traced to the continued use of Hinduism and its rich tradition mythology and literature chalk-full of heroic and godly names, and, as will be argued later, the relative isolation of Indo-Fijians from the native population and European administrators, removing a potential fountain of new names outside the Indian tradition.

Another specific cultural category, beyond names, that can be used to track cultural retention, and which is, in fact, quite unique to traditional Indian culture, is caste: a system of birth-based classifications that define social and occupational relationships between individuals.  A complete and detailed description of caste and its workings in India would require a narrative far beyond the limits of this analysis and a tedious exposition into the most current debates on what caste truly meant in traditional Indian texts.  The simplest and most facile interpretation of the complicated system of social hierarchy can be drawn from the Rg Veda.  As discussed earlier, the ancient text lays out the occupational categories that form the basis of the modern caste system.  At the top of the system are the orating brahmans who function as priests, teachers, and sages.  Below them are the kshaitryas, or warriors and kings who serve the state as protectors and rulers.  The vaisyas constitute the urban and agricultural caste who carry the burden of feeding society and maintaining its economy through business and transactions.  Supporting the remainder of the castes are the sudras, or servants and slaves who serve their social masters.(74)  This system of stratification is elaborated by a system of restrictions on interactions between the larger caste groups and even sub-caste groups.  For example, brahmans are not to eat food touched by other castes nor live among them while all caste members are expected to marry within their own rank.(75)

Even this simplified version of social stratification, however, is largely absent in Indo-Fijian culture.  Elizabeth M. Grieco, an anthropologist of Florida State University, argues that the traditional Indian caste system, and particularly its notions of ritual purity and impurity, have all but disappeared from the Fijian social scene, leaving individuals in the role of polluting or cleansing themselves in particular regard to the ritual. Instead, caste has come to mark only the brahmans from the group in terms of their monopoly on religious practice while degenerating as a whole into a blurry hierarchy where hereditary is not so important:

Ritual purity and impurity are no longer seen as permanent, hereditary status associated with groups of people.  Rather, they are temporary states associated with acts, events, and objects that become polluting only at the venue of religious rites and ceremonies.  While only members of families that claim Brahmin ancestry can be priests, ritual purity is no longer associated solely with the Brahmins as a class…Anyone can be polluted and anyone can be cleansed, regardless of hereditary caste status…Ancestral caste membership, if remembered, provides individuals with little except perhaps pride in their heritage.  In this sense, the concept of hierarchy has not completely died out, but has become a type of blurred social status.(76)

Suffice it to say, for the sake of simplicity, that caste patterns as manifested in both India during the emigration process and now were not transplanted to Fiji because of several features inherent in the migration process.  First, the recruitment of indentures focused on individuals or individual married couples while caste identity is a social category applied to family and clan groups:

By recruiting individuals from numerous geographic regions and social groups, the process of indentured labor migration severely altered the structure of the caste system and removed the basis for the reestablishment of both caste and subcaste groups overseas.  This eliminated the structural basis for much of what is considered caste-related behavior and thus prevented its reformation and continuation in Fiji.  This not only included behavior that required the interaction of caste groups-such as ritual stratification, comensal hierarchy, and economic exchange-but also behavior based on subcaste integrity, including the organization of panchyat councils, occupational monopolization, and marital endogamy.  This is not to say that caste-based prejudices did not affect interpersonal relations during the indenture; the majority of the individual migrants were members of the caste systems within India and brought with them caste-related ideologies that undoubtedly influenced their behavior and that of their descendants.  However, there was no group bases for those prejudices, so no uniform behavior could be reestablished or enforced and, ultimately, any remaining practices were reduced to individual or family customs.(77)

Without the migration of whole families or clan groups, the “structural bases” for “caste-related behavior” was removed.  Thus, “ritual stratification, comensal hierarchy, and economic exchange” were all compromised  while the “panchyat councils, occupational monopolization, and martial endogamy” disappeared without larger caste structures in which to ajudicate disputes, hold a single occupation against competition, and find similar marriage partners.  Instead, caste prejudices as imported from India became “reduced to individual or family customs.”  Second, the journey itself made ideas of ritual purity based in the separation of the castes extremely difficult.  Boarding the ship to Fiji and crossing the kala pani, or black water that surrounds India was itself a violation of caste requirements.  Furthermore, the conditions in the emigrant depots and the ships themselves made caste restrictions regarding dietary and social segregation moot:

Whatever the situation on Indian soil, caste restrictions did not survive the journey from India to Fiji.  In the first place, the high caste people were defiled by crossing the ocean.  This act put them out of their caste groups, to whose punishment they would have to have to submit were they to have returned to their villages.  Secondly, life on board the immigrants hips was inconsistent with caste rules…[Dietary] prejudices usually disappeared after a short at sea[,] there could be not rigid spatial segregation in the holds of such vessels and people who had lost caste by coming aboard where less inclined to stick to their rules of diet.(78)

Finally, the occupational distinctions of caste used in India disappeared in Fiji because all indentures initially worked the sugar cane plantations, creating an occupationally egalitarian society, depriving caste ideology of a primary justification:

One of the main props-that of purity through diet and touch-had been knocked from under the caste hierarchy [while on the journey from India].  The other important upholder of both caste separateness and caste rank had been occupation.  Not only were occupations graded as to purity, and thereby made indices of caste rank in the hierarchy; the fact that most were exclusive to the members of a single case was a jealously guarded economic right…On their arrival in Fiji [however], the Indians were dispatched to the sugar cane estates, and there everyone did the same work…[which] effectively destroyed status differentiation on the basis of occupation…When the immigrants had fulfilled their indenture contracts on the estates, and moved to their own homesteads as free men, the earlier pattern did not return.(79)

Therefore, the unique circumstances of the immigration process to Fiji, including the individual basis of recruitment, the journey itself, and the economic pattern of settlement worked to undermine the system of caste ideology that had been so prevalent in the India left behind by the migrants.  Nevertheless, the presence of even a kernel of caste ideology in Fiji, as described by Grieco and Mayer reveal a sense of modified cultural continuity.  While, the complicated superstructure of caste did not resurrect itself in the South Pacific, the exclusively brahmanical monopoly on the ritual, the continuation of “individual and family customs” based in caste described by Griego, and the limited “continuance of caste endogamy by the Fiji-born”(80) reveals a cultural knowledge of caste-based structures, particularly in regard to the ritual, customs, and marriage despite the harsh conditions of Fijian immigration.

Like caste, clothing, too, provides an example of modified continuity in which cultural knowledge rather than cultural practice reveals the retention of traditional Indian custom in the South Pacific.  Traditional Indian garb, both in South Asia and Fiji, is quite easily recognizable and can be divided along the gender line.  For women, the sari is the more old-fashioned and involves wrapping a several-foot-long piece of cloth-which can vary in material and length-around the body in one of several ways.  The modern sari is also worn with a blouse and petticoat.  In addition to the sari, though, there is the salwar kamiz which consists of a long blouse, pants, and a long scarf-like wrap known as the orani.  In contrast to the sari and the salwar kamiz, which are often made of finer fabrics such as silk, men’s clothing is generally made of simpler fabrics, like cotton, and lacking the variety of color and embedded jewelry which is available to women.  Beyond this, however, Men’s clothing is basically similar to the sari and the salwar kamiz.  The dhoti is a several-foot-long piece of cloth which is wrapped more complexly than the sari and often accompanied by a shirt.  Meanwhile, the pajama(81) suit consists of a long shirt and long pants, but no orani.(82)

Mayer does provide limited evidence of the use of Indian clothing in Peasants in the Pacific in the form of pictures included with the text.  In plates VII(a) and (b), for example, Mayer shows two wedding scenes.  Plate (a) shows the bride being purified with haldi while wearing a sari.  Plate (b) shows a groom wearing a pajama suit while the rest of his party wear slacks and shirts.(83)  Plate VIII(a), a picture of the bride and groom rounding the havan, both parties to the wedding are wearing traditional garb: the groom is wearing a dhoti and the bride a sari.  The bride’s attendant is also wearing a sari.  Plate IX(a), however, only shows a middle-aged woman in a sari during a baby’s head shaving ceremony while the man who is shaving the hair is dressed in shorts and a shirt.  Plate (b) of the same series shows a man performing the funeral rite for his father.  He is wearing a dhoti while the pandit appears to be wearing a pajama suit.  A third man, who is not participating in the ritual, is wearing slacks and a shirt.(84)  Plates XIII(a) and (b) show similar scenes.  In the first of the two pictures a man and a woman stand before a Hindu altar.  He is wearing a dhoti and she is wearing sari.  Three observers, however, are wearing slacks and shirts.  The second plate, though, shows a group of young men all wearing shorts and shirts.(85)  Plates, V(a), V(b), VI(a), VI(b) display men working the sugar cane fields.  In three of the four images men are wearing western clothing.  In plate V(b), however, the field hand is wearing a dhoti.(86)

With the exception of plate V(b) a pattern emerges from the limited pictures provided by Mayer: men and women, when not engaged in ritual or ceremonial activities refrain from wearing traditional Indian clothing.  In the context of specifically Indian events, however, women will wear traditional clothing both as audience members and as ceremony participants.  Men, meanwhile, will only wear traditional clothing if actually participating in the ritual or event.

The limited use of traditional Indian clothing, however, is understandable considering the climate of Fiji and the nature of work that Indo-Fijian migrants went into.  As a tropical island chain, Fiji’s weather averages about 77 degrees with some 100 inches of rainfall over the course of a year.(87)  For a woman in a sari, the prospect of such weather must be horrifying.  Six feet of wrapping, a petticoat, a blouse, a natural orani in the sari, and clothing covering every inch from the feet to the head is not the most comfortable way to endure the tropical climate.(88)  This diversion from traditional garb is not exclusive to Fiji, however; the South Asian tropical climate and the availability of other clothing has also forced the use of the sari and dhoti to recede in both urban and rural India outside of the ritual setting.(89)  Furthermore, the requirements of cane farming, the primary occupation of Indo-Fijians, is not best accomplished in a silk or finely woven sari that must wade through the mud and dangle amidst natural fertilizer while bending over to pick weeds and gather produce.  It is not surprising then to see women wearing skirts and blouses while working the fields.(90)  Similarly, a dhoti or pajama suit is not best suited for bending amidst the crops and fields during the tropical weather.  Ritual and ceremonial occasions, however, are a different that do not require field work or dangling in the mud.(91)

Nonetheless, this selective use of clothing reveals some retention of Indian culture.  The use of the sari and dhoti, even in a limited setting, reveals a cultural knowledge of these clothing items, even if the garb is not used to a large degree outside of an Indian event.  Using Indian clothes only in ritual and ceremonial occasions does not deny the indianess of the Indo-Fijian population.  In fact, the use of the clothing in the ritual and ceremonial setting implies a retained sense of being Indian.  If the population had abandoned its Indian roots, there would be no need for the clothing, nor for the ritual in which it is worn, for that matter.(92)

These specific examples of cultural retention provided by Mayer, Wilson, Moag, and Greigo are not the only evidence of a larger pattern of cultural retention among the Indo-Fijian population.  In North America, too, significant populations of Indo-Fijian migrants have formed in the last fifty years.  For this purpose, three specific groups will be used: the first resides in London, Ontario; the second in Sacramento, California; and the third in Menlo Park and Fremont, California.  Among these population centers, traditional Indian culture continues to be a substantial portion of Indo-Fijian life despite a two-step removal from South Asia.

One example of the cultural continuity between traditional India, Indo-Fijians and Indo-Fijian Americans is food.  Indian foods, like Indian religions and languages, are as diverse as the people who eat them.  Two categories of food, however, are universal in their use across Gangetic India, the site of major recruitment for Indo-Fijian migration.  The first is curry, or subzi: a method of food preparation that involves several steps, including the use of masala(93) and haldi(94), powdered spices added to give color and flavor to vegetables and meat.  Food items which are not considered subzi, but are included with the curry include rice, an Indian flat bread called roti(95), and a fried variant of roti, puri(96).  The second culinary category used for tracking cultural retention involves the types of food served at religious occasions.  Prasad(97) is an offering given during a Hindu ritual, first to gods, and then to those in attendance.  Throughout northern India, halwa(98) and khir(99) are traditionally used in the ritual along with rot,(100) another variation of flat bread which is thicker than roti, but generally not fried like puri.

All of these foods, in fact, can be found among the target populations in London, Sacramento, and the Bay Area both as part of ritual and ceremonial occasions and every day life among Indo-Fijians.  In Menlo Park, for example, Abhinesh Ram’s sisters helped to cook a substantial meal composed entirely of Indian curries ranging from daal and puri to khir, halva, and rot as prasad.(101)  Similarly, on November 5, 2000 Narayan Prasad and his extended family helped to cook an entirely Indian meal for his mother’s last funeral rite that included both curries and a prasad of halva, khir, and fruits.  Mr. Bandhu meanwhile dines on roti, rice, and green curry at his almost home daily.(102)  In London, Ontario, Indian food was not only served as part of the wedding ceremony for Ronal Padai, but for several days before and after, when guests were absent and rituals unattended.(103)

The use of Indian food as part of ritual and normal activities reveals a cultural knowledge of Indian cooking practices among this population of Indo-Fijian Americans that was passed down through the Fijian experience, resulting in their contemporary manifestations in North America among an Indo-Fijian population.  Moreover, the use of Indian food among populations that migrated at substantially different times reveals the continued use of Indian food, and implicitly, Indian culture into the recent past.  Mr. Bandhu migrated in 1958 while Ronal Padai migrated in 1994.

In particular regard to the Padai wedding, the indirect reconstruction of Indo-Fijian culture can also be extended to Hinduism because the traditional Hindu wedding was performed in London, Ontario at the Padai wedding, despite a two-step separation from India.  The ritual followed the pattern laid out in the Mangal-Milan(104) from the tilak ceremony to the groom’s meal after the shadi ceremony.  One of the most interesting aspects to the wedding, for the purposes of this analysis, was not the ceremony itself, but the arguments ensuing between the pandit and Uttara Padai, the grandmother of the groom.  Ms. Padai demanded that the ceremony not be a “short-cut,” as she described it, but the full rite.  The fact that she was familiar enough with the ceremony to argue with the pandit and demand the full rites implies a knowledge of the traditional Hindu wedding being available in Fiji through the use of that ceremony and the text that defines it.

Another wedding, however, provides indications of a cultural swerve in terms of the Hindu ritual.  In March 1999, Angenie Shandil married.  Her wedding followed the basic outline of the traditional practice as defined by the Mangal-Milan.  At several key points, though, the text and its admonitions were ignored.(105)  The opening scene of the wedding videotape is the divar puja, which is being conducted inside the hotel that hosted the occasion.  The groom and the bride’s father violated the textual requirements by sitting on chairs in front of a table.  The divar puja, as with all pujas, must be performed while sitting on the ground.(106)  The wedding ceremony itself also deviated considerably from the Manal-Milan and Mayer descriptions at the conclusion of the wedding rites.  After completing the sindur placement, the bride and groom then proceeded to leave the room.  They only returned in the context of a Christian wedding in which the father of the bride gives his daughter and the groom kissed his new wife.  In a tradition that requires hair to be parted under cover, kissing in public is certainly a cultural swerve.  While the Shandil wedding may not have been conventional, the elements of the traditional Hindu wedding, such as the actual shadi and even the modified divar puja reveal a cultural knowledge of the wedding that existed in Fiji.

Sacramento also provides evidence of Hindu retention beyond the ritual and devotional divide.  The Sacramento mandir was established in the early 1980s by a committee of Indo-Fijians who deplored the lack of a Hindu temple in the metropolitan area.  After a fundraising drive in which Indo-Fijian immigrants provided the vast bulk of the donations, the mandir was built just south of downtown Sacramento.(107)  The first president of the organization was Mr. Bandhu and the and the first pandit was himself an Indo-Fijian.  The need for Indo-Fijians in the United States to build a mandir and site of worship reveals a cultural continuity with the mandir tradition in India through Fiji and into the United States.  Similarly, the visual images of the pantheon inside the mandir provide further evidence to support Wilson’s claims about the continuation of the Hindu divinity.  Similar images of the divine can be found in the homes of Indo-Fijians.  For example, Abhinesh Ram and the Padai family both hang images of Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Rama, and other divinities on their walls.  Mr. Ram and Ronal Padai also have images of Hanuman, Rama’s companion in the Ramayana, in their automobiles.

The same pattern of partial retention is seen with Hindi.  All three target populations continue to use Hindi as a means of communication in the home and with other Indo-Fijians.  The general pattern of use tends towards English for technical and modern terms specific to the North American context.  Nevertheless, Hindi is still sufficiently good in all three cities to enable the Indo-Fijian migrants to watch Indian films and enjoy them.(108)  In the area of written Hindi, though, retention has not been as successful.  The general pattern is that people born and schooled in Fiji know the devanagari script and can read Hindi to varying degrees of success.  Indo-Fijians born in North America, with two exceptions, however, are not able to read devanagari.  This pattern itself is indicative of a particular scenario which has enabled cultural retention in the South Pacific to a degree not present in North America: Hindi, including the devanagari script, is the primary language of instruction in Fijian schools until the fifth grade while Hind is generally unavailable to students in the United States until the university level.(109)

The partial use of traditional Indian names, like the partial retention of Hindi, is also indicative of a larger pattern of Indianess in Fiji.  Mr. Bandhu’s five children born in Fiji all have traditional names as demonstrated earlier, his two youngest children, however, were both born in the United States and are named Dennis and David, respectively.  Meanwhile, among Mr. Bandhu’s eighteen grandchildren, four have American names, one a mixed name,(110) and the remaining 13 have traditional Indian names.  In the Padai family, only two children have been born outside North America and both have Indian names.  For Sembhudai and Devi Prasad, all of their granchildren were born in Fiji with the exception of three: two have Indian names and one an American.

Indian clothing also provides an example of modified cultural continuity.  Just as in Mayer’s pictures in Fiji, Indian clothing is no longer worn on a daily basis, but has receded to use at ritual and ceremonial occasions for both men and women.  Women’s clothing leans Indian for both audiences and participants while men generally wear Indian garb only when they actually participate in the ritual or ceremony.  At Abhinesh Ram’s puja, for example, all of the women wore saris or salwar kamizes, but none of the men went beyond normal American wear.  In the Padai wedding in London, Ontario the guests followed the same pattern.  Women almost entirely wore traditional Indian clothing while men chose suits or slack and shirt outfits for the occasion.  The groom and the officiating pandit however both wore traditional garb: the groom in a pajama suit and the pandit in a dhoti.(111)

While clothing, religion, language, and naming have begun to swerve away from traditional Indian cultural patterns, the fact that all still persist in some form among the Indo-Fijian population in North America reveals their continuity in Fiji itself.  This circumstantial evidence of cultural retention in the United States, therefore, strengthens the observations made by Mayer, Wilson, Moag, and Griego about the retention of Indian cultural practices.  Certainly, a sample bias exists in the North American samples and the ethnographies and articles consulted for information on Fiji are not extensive in their use of subjects.  Nevertheless, the correspondence between Indian cultural practices and actual Indo-Fijian culture, as evidenced in both Fiji and North America, provides sound reasoning for cultural retention at least among some Indo-Fijians in the areas of religion, language, clothing, naming, and food.

The assimilation of Indo-Fijian culture into more mainstream American and Canadian culture is not surprising considering the history of immigration to North America.  What does require an explanation, however, is the process of cultural retention in Fiji.  If the findings outlined above are correct and the areas of religion, language, food, naming, and clothing can be applied to Indian culture as a whole, then little assimilation took place into the native Fijian culture, or even into the European culture of the British colonial regime.  The reason for this cultural continuity during the one hundred years of cultural solitude involves structural pressures inherent in Indian society, economic forces which isolated Indo-Fijian laborers, legal requirements preventing large-scale cultural blending, and a continual flow of ideas and people from India in the form of immigrants and media.

Among Indian emigrant populations as a whole there is actually a trend towards the preservation of some elements of traditional Indian culture.  This suggests that Indian culture itself, because of internal social pressures and mechanisms, does not disappear from the cultural lives of South Asian emigrants.  Lavina Melwani provides evidence of this in an article published in Little India, an ethnic newspaper in the United States.  Melwani is glossing the lives and fortunes of several groups of Indian emigrants who, before settling in the United States, had settled in another location after leaving India.  Her descriptions of cultural practices, however, provide evidence of cultural retention among Indians outside of Fiji.

A brilliant red flag flies outside many a home in Richmond Hills, New York, the stronghold of immigrants from Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname.  This people of Indian origing from West Indies are collectively known as Indo-Caribean.  In many families it has been several generations since a member set foot on Indian soil yet the music, the dance, the foods-but most especially the religion-are an integral part of their lives.  They have managed to keep their faith alive in spite of the adversities that every immigrant group faces.(112)

Religion, food, music, and dance are the cultural categories Malwani attributes to this population of Indians who found their way to the United States through Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad.  Meanwhile, the caption on the Harilela family picture included on the first page of the article reads, “The Harilela clain is a modern day overseas Indian dynasty.  The family has migrated from Sindh to China to Hong Kong and has now put down roots in many countries, including the United States.”  The picture, meanwhile, displays a collection of family members in which every woman is wearing traditional Indian clothing.(113)  Melwani also provides evidence of the retention of traditional names.  Manu Lal, Ravina Advani, Renu Bakshi, Madan Kumar, Basdeo Mangru, Ramesh Kallicharan, Mohan Ramchandani, Vishnu Bisram, Gora Singh, Roop Narain Persaud,(114) are all Indian names of Melwani’s  “twice migrants.”  Melwani descriptions, though, do not imply the level of cultural retention seen among the Indo-Fijians.  Some of the Harilela clan, for example, have adopted American names.  While Melwani does not go on to discuss other cultural categories, the descriptions she does provide of cultural retention, even in partial form, narrate a century, in the case of the Harilela family, of Indianess that can still be distinguished in “the music, the dance, the foods” and “the religion” among populations far removed by time and space from India,  revealing a cultural trend towards retention.

Similar conclusions can be drawn from Chandra Jayawardena, a professor of anthropology at Sydney’s Macquarie University, whose has conducted field work among the Indian populations of both Fiji and Guyana, where some aspects of the South Asian cultural heritage have survived.(115)  According to Jayawardena, the most public display of traditional Indian culture is religion:

In Guyana Hinduism flourishes with the full panoply of public temples and ceremonies…practically every household presents…an offering to the gods, especially to Hanuman, one or more times a year…In Guyana almost every local Indian community has its own temple in the charge of a Brahmin priest…Public religious ceremonies are held with a noticeable frequency.

Language, however, did not survive so publicly.  Instead, Hindi as it is known in India has almost entirely disappeared while a creole, composed of Hindi, English, and the linguistic tradition of the freed slaves on the Caribbean island, came to unite the different populations.(116)  Nevertheless, the retention of even some aspects of Hindi in the creole and such public displays of religion reveal at least a partial retention of Indianess in Guyanese culture, indicating some form of internal strength in Indian traditions which have prevailed in Guyana just as they did in Melwani’s descriptions.

The presence of Hinduism among the migrant populations studied in Melwani and Jayawardena indicate that religion itself may be the driving force behind limited cultural retention among these emigrant populations.  As discussed earlier, Hinduism places a great emphasis on the ritual, and as such, requires the presence of an officiating brahman priest and the Sanskrit texts laying out the nature of the ritual.  Because these texts are standardized, the practice of the ritual in different places across the globe is not surprising.  Furthermore, interdependence of cultural categories within traditional Indian culture may account for other areas of cultural retention among other emigrant populations: the use of food is an essential part of the ritual, especially in the form of prasad; images of gods are often clothed in traditional Indian clothing, reinforcing the use of Indian garb; Hindu rituals, such as Ramayan, require the use of songs and recitation.  These may account for the continued use of food, dance, and song in Malwani and perhaps even the creolized Hindi in Guyana discussed by Jayawardena.

If South Asian cultural patterns are popping up in other areas around the globe, then it is not unnatural to see them in Fiji among that Indian population.  Nevertheless, the almost total use of Indian cultural patterns in the categories of religion, language, names, and food, as demonstrated in this analysis, cannot simply be explained by the universality of Indian cultural retention; something unique to the historical development Indo-Fijian society must account for the remarkable similarity between traditional India and Fiji.  Jayawardena also provides clues to the historical development of Indian culture in Fiji.  First, he argues that “traditional Indian culture is rooted in a peasant way of life: the more extensive the process of proletarianisation the more extensive its erosion.”  In Guyana “Indians came to be anchored in a domestic mode of production conducive to the retention of some of the essential elements of the traditional peasant culture.”(117)  This contrasts to Fiji, where “the indenture system did not create a permanent proletarian class as it did in Guyana”(118) allowing Indo-Fijians to retain and develop “a greater and more essential part of the ancestral tradition than that of their Guyanese counterparts.”(119)  Jayawardena is essentialy describing an economic rationale for cultural retention among the Indo-Fijians: the lack of “proletarianisation” meant that Indian society could continue unabated.  Secondly, Jayawardena implies that Indo-Fijians were able to retain their cultural heritage because of their social isolation from the native population.  In Guyana “Indians moved into established local communities where they intermingled with the Negroes.”  “In Fiji, however, the Indians who left the plantations moved out into a quite different environment.”  The reason for this contrast is legal: “They [the colonial administrators] forbade Indians to settle in Fijian villages.”(120)  Norman Buchignani furthers this claim in arguing that “until the 1950s natives were actively discouraged…from farming independently from their village based lineages.”(121)

Mayer’s field work in Fiji provides further evidence for Jayawardena’s findings, supported by Bachignani, that economic and legal pressures in Fiji prevented the assimilation or creolization of Indo-Fijian culture into the cultural traditions that surrounded it in the South Pacific:

For fear of unsettling influences on the Fijian way of life, efforts were made by the government to keep Indians and Fijians apart, and Indians were forbidden to live in Fijian villages.  The pattern of those days still existed in 1951 in many rural areas, where economic activities of Fijians and Fiji Indians continued to be different.  The latter cultivated sugar cane in the valleys around the coasts of the large islands; the former occupied the high lands of the interior as well as parts of the coast.

To prevent the Indian population from corrupting the native Fijian population, the British colonial regime effectively illegalized long-term relationships between the two predominant populations on the island nation.(122)

Economic patterns also contributed to the segregation of the native Fijian and migrant Indian populations, allowing a distinctly Indian culture to flourish without much borrowing from the native Fijian society.  This process was initially accomplished by the indenture system itself.  The entire point of bringing Indian emigrants to Fiji was to prevent the perceived social degradation of native Fijian society through plantation agriculture.(123)  Therefore, indentures settled “in the valleys around the coasts of the large islands” to cultivate sugar cane while the Fijian population, under legal pressure from the colonial authority and even the Fijian chiefs, remained in the “highlands of the interior as well as parts of the coast.”  This created an economic segregation in which Indians were isolated in sugar plantations and native Fijians in their highland homes, preventing cultural sharing and mixing that Jayawardena describes as essential to the creolization of Guyanese culture.  The cultural and economic separation enabled the development of two distinct cultures in Fiji: one native to the island nation and confined to the Fijian villages; the other limited to the Indian migrants who continued to cherish their ancient cultural heritage.  Isolation alone, however, provides only part of the answer to why Indo-Fijian culture so closely mirrored traditional Indian practices.

Another factor in the continued retention of Indian culture is, in fact, the continued immigration of Indian indentures and free labor into the 1930s.  K.L. Gillion, whose research on Indian immigration to Fiji has formed the basis of most later studies, finds that migration from the beginning of the indenture period in 1879 until it ended in 1916 was fairly steady at or near 3,000 migrants with the peak in 1911 at 4,204.(124)  In practical terms, the steady supply of migrants from India until 1916 served to continually revitalize Indo-Fijian culture in favor of traditional Indian patterns.  New faces and old ideas continued to reach the shores and reinforce Indian cultural values, including those cultural categories used in this analysis.  Thus, the constant reminder of an old Indian way of life in the form of new immigrants was a constant impetus for cultural preservation.  Beyond 1916, however, the task of providing the basis for Indian cultural preservation fell to free migrants who found their way to Fiji outside of the indenture system.  This flow of free immigrants, particularly artisans, merchants, and farmers, began to reach significant numbers after the reopening of international water ways in 1919 and 1920 and reached its peak in 1930 when 4,200 Indians emigrated to the South Pacific.  These newcomers filled the shops and town centers of Fiji with Indian merchants pouring traditional Indian culture afresh into the South Pacific landscape.  This migration too, however, met its end shortly after 1930 when the Fijian and Indian colonial governments began to introduce increasingly burdensome restrictions until the flow of migrants was effectively ended just before World War II.(125)

What immigrants couldn’t bring in terms of culture, however, was imported through the highly successful and effusive Indian film industry.  According to Firoze Rangoonwalla’s detailed study of the Indian film industry, 75 Years of Indian Cinema, “the Indian cinema gradually assumed the shape of a regular industry” in 1920 and 1921.  This was immediately followed by a dramatic rise in the output of films from the Bombay film machines: “The quantum of production…rose from a mere eight per to eighteen (1920), forty (1921), eighty (1925) and a hundred and seventy-two at the turn of the decade.”(126)   This rise in production continued in the 1930s, with a total of 207 films produced in 1931.(127)  In terms of Fiji, the immediate effect of this flowering in the film industry was the reinforcement of traditional Indian cultural norms through a widely-accessible and popular medium.  Films in any setting take on the cultural flavor of the society surrounding it, especially when the industry is dependent on that surrounding culture to pay the salaries of those involved in production.  Thus, a survey of any variety of Bombay films would, in fact, reveal such norms portrayed across the screen: women, particularly in older movies, almost exclusively wear saris; weddings are performed in the traditional Hindu manner, appealing to the cultural sensibility of the predominantly Hindu population of India; names drawn from the same religious and literary context that surrounds real life and real names across the Gangetic plain; foods that include subzi and prasad, the diet most easily recognizable to the paying public; and, of course, the almost exclusive use of Hindi, appealing to the dominant cultural tradition of northern India, and the very tradition in which the Bombay film industry is firmly based.

The use of traditional India in the Bombay film industry is particularly important for cultural retention in Fiji because the films served to reinforce the Indian cultural practices of the Indo-Fijian population.  While immigration may have dropped off after 1930, Indian films were only starting to become part of a booming industry and the importation of these films into Fiji constitute the effective exportation of Indian culture from Bombay to the South Pacific.  As quoted earlier, Barz and Yadav in their survey of Hindi speakers describe the Indian film as a pass-time of the Indo-Fijian population.(128)  Furthermore, Indo-Fijian emigrants in the United States also demonstrate the importance that films played in the Fijian context.  It was not uncommon to see Indo-Fijians humming tunes from classical Hindi movies such as Kabhi Kabhi and Prem Kahani.(129)  These songs, and the movies that popularized them, according to those interviewed in field work, were a deep-seated part of Indo-Fijian society and Indian films in fact formed the bases of many conceptions of Indian culture and the way it should be constructed.(130)  Thus, Indian films provided the cultural forms to which Indo-Fijian culture could mimic even during the one hundred years of cultural solitude.

The fact that Indo-Fijians did ultimately mimic traditional Indian culture, whether because of films, economic segregation, legal separation, or structural pressures inherent in Indian culture at a global level, is what marks the Indian emigrant society in Fiji as so unique.  While the descendants of those emigrants to the South Pacific now face the prospect of melting into the greater sphere of North American culture, a path of assimilation largely followed by Indian indentures in other parts of the world, Fiji stands as an example of a largely successful pattern of cultural retention that left an imprint in Fiji which is hardly distinguishable from the imprint left by Indian culture along the Gangetic plain.  Certainly, some aspects of Indian culture significantly modified in the South Pacific context, and continued to be modified in the three cities studies for this analysis, but even this change was entirely unable to erase the distinctly Indian flavor to cultural patterns such as caste, clothing.  This is particularly the case when considering the specific historical circumstances which accompanied the reformation of caste ideology and the specific temperate and environmental considerations that have modified traditional Indian garb in both Fiji and South Asia.

Unfortunately for Indo-Fijians still residing in the South Pacific, the interesting and unique phenomenon which has resolved the apparent contradiction between Deen Bandhu’s ethnicity and nationality has left a bitter legacy of racial division and political intrigue in post-colonial Fiji.  While Indian emigration may have saved native Fijian society from the social disruptions of capitalism in the early parts of this century, the colonial isolation of the two dominant ethnic groups of Fiji has left two distinct cultures vying for space and economic power on an island nation which has utterly failed in resolving the apparent contradiction of two cultures sharing a single nationality.

Last Updated 15 March 2005.
Copyright 2005-2007 by Rishi Sharma.
All Rights Reserved.