Tui Noco Ratu Isoa Damudamu delivers his speech at the symposium at USP Laucala Campus.
Indentured Indo-Fijian labourers who fortunately survived the shipwreck of the Syria on 11 May 1884 were well-fed and properly looked after by nearby villages after she ran aground on the Nasilai reef in Rewa.
Those were the words of the Tui Noco Ratu Isoa Damudamu during the ‘End of Indenture’ symposium hosted by The University of the South Pacific's (USP) Laucala Campus on 28 June 2016.
“They were clothed, sheltered and provided with places to rest and sleep before they were transported by other rescue boats while some walked through villages to be transported by colonial Government officials to Suva,” Ratu Isoa said.
He explained that the story had been retold through generations by his great grandfather Ratu Timoci Sauvoli, who was a youth at that time.
He said people from the 10 villages in the district of Noco, Rewa took part in the rescue and also in the burial of those who had perished, near their coastline.
“Some were buried at ‘Koro o Tauluga’ while some were buried at ‘Waiwai’. The land used for burial belongs to the Tui Noco and the other site belongs to Naivilaca village,” he explained.
Ratu Isoa said the people of Noco conducted the burials in a sacred traditional manner.
“The bodies of our dear beloved Indo-Fijian relatives who were buried in those special burial sites for 132 years turned into soil and have become seeds of everlasting relationship, establishing that they belong to Noco, the Ratu na Tui Noco, the people of Rewa, the Gone Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi and the people of Fiji,” he stated.
He emphasised that the information he shared was relayed through generations in their families and villages even though it has not been recorded or documented in the National Archives.
Present at the symposium were some village elders from Noco who are great-grandsons of those involved in the rescue operation in 1884.
Sashi Kiran, a descendant of Girmityas shared her research saying it had been established that the people of Naivilaca conducted burials of their ancestors upon the orders of their chief at the time “and our dead lay in their vanua”.
“It is not known exactly how many but narratives talk from around 39 to 50. There are two main burial sites. There are many stories of our ancestors singing and screaming at certain times of the year and still restless a century later, perhaps awaiting some closure,” Ms Kiran said, in a moving speech.
Naivilaca village in Noco, Rewa received a medal of appreciation from the Girmit Council in 1984 when the Syria monument was established at the Syria Park in Nausori to mark 100 years of the disaster.
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