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  • Stolen Worlds: Fijiindian Fragments
  • Seri I Luangphinith
Stolen Worlds: Fijiindian Fragments, edited by Kavita Ivy Nandan. Canberra: Ivy Press International, 2005. ISBN 0-9757223-0-1; xii + 353 pages, maps; written in English and Fiji Hindi with some English translations. A$29.95.

As 2004 marked the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the first Indians in Fiji, the release of Stolen Worlds: Fijiindian Fragments represents the latest in the development of Fiji(-)Indian/Indo-Fijian literature in the diasporic context. Spanning several generations, religions, and regions of origin (in South Asia, Fiji, and elsewhere), this collection of writers offers an honest and unmitigated look at the ongoing legacy of the indentured Indian laborers, or girmitiyas. These narratives further demonstrate the unresolved incongruity that exists between globalized multicultural visions of the nation and aboriginal/indigenous nationalisms. For the scholar of Pacific Islands literature, postcolonial politics, or migration studies, this newest anthology offers "real-life" insight into the problem of migrant identity that suffers from the trauma of colonial history and the contemporary crises that erupt as issues regarding "Pacific" sovereignty come to the forefront.

The nineteen entries start with a poignant piece by former Bavadra Coalition cabinet minister and contemporary poet Satendra Nandan and end with an essay by Anglo-Australian Anthony Mason that touches on, among other things, the political ramifications of linguistic markers for a people all too often considered "foreign." These entries trace the lives and movement of "Fijiindians" within Fiji as well as across the Pacific Ocean, from Australia to North America. Editor Kavita Ivy Nandan notes the reasoning behind the title, Stolen Worlds: the Indians of Fiji had to contend not only with the loss of the homeland and the brutality of plantation life, but also with the series of coups that left the political landscape reverberating to this day with lingering discrimination and racism (xi). Not surprisingly, one of the main goals of certain entries in this volume is to demonstrate the exclusion of Indo-Fijians from the national imaginary. This is a point well made by Bhaichand Patel's analysis of the official crest of the city of Suva in his piece, "Suva: Electric Shadows" (63).

As one would imagine, intense pain and sorrow emerges from these stories of stolen lives and histories that embody universal truths concerning colonization. Several writers' reference to the Pacific as "kala pani," or the dark waters, invites a comparison to the Middle Passage (journey of the slave-trading ships from Africa) and to the inhuman Atlantic traffic in bodies for labor. Specifically, as Satendra Nandan's piece, "Ancestors," reminds readers, the experience of the first generation involved some eighty-seven ships that left Calcutta beginning in 1879, and later from Madras, with more than sixty thousand bodies headed to a "new world" of dispossession and displacement (8). Bhim Singh's piece, "Koronubu: Across the Bridge," further relates how the hardships and the lack of human rights [End Page 202] these immigrants faced led to the association of the word "girmit" (indenture) with "narak" (hell). This account is not unlike the experience of the Japanese and other ethnic labor enclaves of Hawai'i as outlined by local scholars and writers such as Ronald Takaki (Pau Hana [1983]), Milton Murayama (All I Asking for Is My Body [1975]), Juliet Kono (Hilo Rains [1988]), and Virgilio Menor Felipe (Hawai'i: A Pilipino Dream [2002]).

Stolen Worlds additionally presents a useful understanding of the persistent bitterness within immigrant consciousness and identity formation, given the contention that has arisen over the legitimacy of the Asian experience in parts of the contemporary Pacific. In particular, racial tensions inFiji have resulted in coups, what Sulochana Chand (in his entry, "Levuka: An Island Lost") describes as "the rape of democracy" and a "slippery slide toward apartheid, when the rest of the world was actively demolishing barriers" (42). Divakar Rao's "Vitidays: An Indian Passage" goes one step further in enunciating what Fiji blindly ignored and what it still stands to lose: "It would be a sad commentary on Fiji society if it did not evolve into something more homogeneous and wholesome. If Fijians, Indians, Chinese and Europeans had gone to school together...