Hinduism

Fijian Hindus: Ethnicity and Culture

Hinduism in Fiji has a following primarily among the Indo-Fijians, who are descendants of workers brought to Fiji by the British, for colonial sugarcane plantations. Fiji identifies people as Indo-Fijians if they can trace their ancestry to the Indian subcontinent. Originally, there were five “ethnicities” that made up the Indian population in Fiji, the majority of them consists of Fijian Hindus:

1) The Hindustanis –

While nowadays, the word Hindustani is synonymous with Indian, historically this ONLY referred to North Indian Hindus. These were about 75% of the Indian population in Fiji, and quickly became the dominant Indian group whose children spoke a dialect of Awadhi as their lingua franca while other dialects, most notably of Bhojpuri slowly died out. They were first brought from India to Fiji by the British due to their farming and agricultural expertise. These NI Hindus in Fiji originally were from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Uttarakhand. However, it also included people from Rajasthan, Terai region of Nepal, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Punjabi Hindus. Caste identity was eroded in this community, but Brahmans still maintained an exclusive role in society and had their own sub-community while practicing selective marriage. The culture of this group is common to the culture found in the late 1800s in East Uttar Pradesh.

2) The Mandrajis –

Note that the word Mandraji is probably a misuse of the word Madrasi, originally used by the Hindustanis to refer to South Indians, and is sometimes considered an improper or unfavorable term. This group consists of South Indian Hindus, they were maybe 15% of the Indian population. Most of this group originated from Tamil Nadu, but some came from other south Indian states also. They originally spoke Tamil in the early days, but this language has been lost over the years, and the Hindustani language of Awadhi was absorbed by the community, although pronunciation differs somewhat.

3) The Bombaiyas –

I am not sure how this name came to be, but it refers to Gujaratis and Marathis (although I have only seen Gujarati ones) in Fiji. This is a very small community, most likely less than 1% of the Indian population in Fiji, and came later than both the Hindustanis and Mandrajis. These individuals are most notably Baniyas or Lohanas who came to Fiji to run or expand their businesses, and many are known to sell fish as well.

4) The Punjabis –

Note that Punjabi in the Fijian sense refers to Sikhs rather than those from the state of Punjab. Hence, a Haryanvi Sikh would be considered a Punjabi but a Punjabi Hindu would be considered a Hindustani. This is also a relatively small but successful community. There are four Gurudwaras today in Fiji. Most Punjabis speak Hindi (the dialect of Awadhi spoken by Hindustanis), but many still converse in Punjabi at home.

5) The Musalman –

These are Muslims. The vast majority of them came from North India with the Hindustanis but there are also some from outside North India who all fused into one group of people, yet they are not considered Hindustani as they developed into a different community due to religious and cultural differences. They also speak the same dialect as the Hindustanis. In the Girmit era, they constituted maybe 10-15% of the Indian settlers.

Nicklas Nilesh Baran Nath, an Indo-Fijian Indologist.

 

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