Restorying indenture : the first Fiji Hindi speakers narrate Girmit : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Massey University
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This research is about the framing of Girmit through Fiji Hindi life narratives. The study is symbolic as it focuses on the life narratives of the first generation of Fiji Hindi speakers. The seven narrators in this study are part of 60, 965 Indian indentured labourers, or Girmityas /ˈgɪrˌmɪtjəz/, who voyaged to Fiji between 1879 and 1916, most to work on the Australian Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s plantations. This study traces their experiences of indenture, or Girmit /ˈgɪrˌmɪt/, through their life narratives. To date, Girmit researchers have relied on official documents about the Girmit system while the Girmityas’ voices are either absent, or, at best, excerpted to support the master narrators’ discourse on Girmit. This study turns to the Girmityas’ life narratives with the question: How do Indian indentured labourers to Fiji construct life narratives in Fiji Hindi to reconstruct their indenture experiences, and through the narration process, negotiate positions of identities and agencies? Beginning with Labov & Waletzky’s (1967/1997), and Labov’s (1972; 1997; 2001; 2004; 2006) high-point analysis, the study analyzes how each Girmit recollection has been re-constructed. Further, using Bamberg’s (1997; 2003; 2004a; 2004b; 2004c) positioning analysis, the study analyzes the Girmityas’ adopted positionings in, and through their life narratives. The interweaving of the two frameworks takes the life narratives from the textual back into the social world of production. The scope of the research is limited to understanding the interconnectivity between structure, focus, and manner of narration, within the bounds of memory, the shared knowledge of cultural ideologies, and the master narratives of indenture, for the purpose of negotiating identities and agencies favourable to the Girmit narrator. The variables conform each other, and help explain why these seven life narratives are told. The research makes the following major contributions: it uses a culturally relevant model of analysis, it details the movement from structural to performative analysis, it analyzes the factors underlying the performativity of the Fiji Hindi life narrative; and it analyzes the consequences these performativities have for the contextually produced self(s). In working towards these contributions, the study also contributes back to the Fiji Indian community.
Indentured labour, Fiji Indians, Personal narratives, Fijian Indians