PhD Project: Enigma of departure: Material histories, politics of land and belonging among the Nepali diaspora in Fiji
Fiji's recent history hinges on the sugar industry, entwined with the British colonial endeavour to transport labourers to work in sugarcane plantations. As a relatively young colony then, Fiji was also one of the last to import indentured labourers from India.
Between 1879 and 1916, over 60,000 Indians were transported to Fiji under the indenture system during the British colonial rule. However, almost completely silenced from the pages of this colonial chapter are the relatively small number of Nepalis who departed for Fiji (from India) during the indenture period. Although the exact figures are difficult to ascertain, it is believed that around 350-400 Nepalis arrived in Fiji. Today, many of their descendants live in Kavanagasau, also referred to as 'Nepali tola' (Nepali neighbourhood) by locals, in Sigatoka valley - the ‘salad bowl’ of Fiji.
Through his PhD research, Bhokraj seeks to address the challenges of tracing the pathways of such hidden histories of colonialism and displacement, and engage with the ethnographic instances of such traces. The main aim of this research is to examine how ways of belonging and its ensuing meanings and activities are experienced through understandings of land and material objects amongst descendants of Nepali-indentured labourers in Fiji.
As such, this study will seek to determine the ideas regarding land in Fiji and further explicate how such ideas are entwined within understandings of historicity, identity politics and material culture amongst the Nepali diaspora in Fiji. Since the notion of land is at the very heart of the tensions and dilemmas of the past (and present), it serves as a vehicle to understanding the modes of identification with land ownership. Senses of belonging and alienation amongst the descendants of indentured labourers are also interlaced with the politics of land rights and ownership.
A study on the Nepali diaspora in Fiji in the present context seems imperative for evoking valuable insights for the historical, social and political implications of Nepali migration to Fiji. Hence, this research is by no means a final word on the Nepali diaspora in Fiji in respect to their identities and cultural meanings, but an endeavour to stimulate further research about Nepali populations across the globe – whether it is the case of labour movements, religious practices, relations of caste or gender, amongst others. Overall, this research is an ethnographic enquiry that embraces ways of imagination coupled with real lived experiences, not least in the continuation but also the disruption of cultural practices, and the specific ways through which they are transformed.
Prior to embarking on this research, Bhokraj has made the film My Sarangi, Your Sarangi (2016), which won the First Commendation Award at the 2016 International Folk Music Film Festival in Nepal, and was selected for Heritales, the International Heritage Film Festival, Portugal in 2017/
Vice-Chancellor's Scholarship, University of Kent