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By Patricia Page

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Sample text

In 1943 the Indian cane growers went on strike and managed to hold out for some time. They refused to cut the cane and it rotted in the fields. How dare they! Sabotaging the war effort. Getting too big for their boots. Fijian security forces were sent to punish them, a race-dividing tactic used again for strikes in the Sixties. ’ Unlike the Fijians, the Indians weren’t dutiful, malleable children but naughty ones — a bad influence. They were officially barred from attending Fijian schools or settling in Fijian villages, even if they were welcome there.

This stretch of road had a special significance. In 1947, the year before we left Fiji, I started a diary in a school exercise book with an illustration for each day. The drawings are more lively than the text which is restrained and prim as if my mother was peering over my shoulder. I think she often was. In the drawings — coloured with paints or pencils and carefully outlined in ‘Indian ink’ — I make myself look a lot younger than my eleven years: a babyish creature with a big head, round eyes and tiny body.

Indian plantation labourers at the end of the nineteenth century described the cruelty they had endured from Europeans and Indian overseers, but ‘there was no conflict with Fijians. Some of the Indians used to run away from work and go to the village. ’ A guidebook published in the Eighties mentions how Fijians and Indians lived apart and didn’t intermarry but they united round the kava bowl. Kava drinking is an ancient and almost sacred pastime in Fiji and for Indians to be included in the ritual must mean they are considered mates.

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