Girmit, postmemory, and Subramani
The centenary of indenture in Fiji was celebrated with public displays, speeches, parades, and publications. The momentum for critical and creative response grew in tandem with the wave of publications inspired by the end of colonial rule in many Pacific Island countries. This period of increased agency and autonomy was also a time of political uncertainty in Fiji, as questions of the nation’s identity and direction were raised. For many Indo-Fijian writers rootedness in Fiji was voiced through the traumas of indenture, which they invested with mythic valence, and which can be understood as operating as an origin story for Indo-Fijians. Vijay Mishra considered indenture, or girmit, to be a foundational ideology for Indo-Fijian writers, but viewing girmit in terms of false consciousness leads him to read Indo-Fijian anxieties in terms of political blindness and cultural insularity. Building instead on Sudesh Mishra’s elaboration of girmit as non-agreement, and Vijay Mishra’s later revisions of girmit ideology as founded on memories of betrayal, this article argues that girmit can be productively understood through Marianne Hirsh’s work on postmemory. Looking at writings of the centenary, and in particular Subramani’s short stories, this article proposes that the traumas of girmit that haunt writings of the period do so as postmemories.
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