Josiah Voreqe Bainimarama
We are lucky to be in a country that is rich in different cultures and religions, and I am grateful that in the Fijian society, we openly share the traditions and celebration of our fellow Fijians.
Every year, the ‘Ram Leela Festival’ brings colour, artistic expression and joy to communities across Fiji.
Through the dramatic re-enactment of the life of the Hindu Lord Ram, poetry, singing and dancing, our Hindu brothers and sisters express the noble ideals of Lord Ram, and the triumph over adversity that was the ultimate purpose of Rama’s incarnation on earth.
Since the Girmit Era
I have been told that the art form of Ram Leela has been practiced in Fiji for around 140 years, when it was first brought to Fiji by indentured labourers from British India in the early years of the Girmit Era.
Then, it was a social gathering, a celebration that brought the comfort and familiarity of home to a strange and foreign land. And we can all be proud, that nearly a century and a half later, this Festival continues as a joyous tradition in our nation’s life.
I was very proud when, just over one year ago, Fijians from all backgrounds and walks of life came together to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the arrival of the SS Sutlej – the last ship of the Girmit era that brought 888 indentured labourers to Fiji in November 1916.
It was a very special and emotional tribute to the ancestors of our fellow Fijians who suffered through that dark time in our history.
I was grateful then, as I am grateful now, that Fiji is blessed with such a rich tapestry of religions, ethnicities and cultural heritage.
Diversity is strength
While it has not always been an easy journey, today, that diversity is our nation’s greatest strength, and our unity has emerged as the foundation for the great progress we’ve made for Fiji over the past decade.
In every religious tradition in Fiji there are values that every Fijian can appreciate and celebrate. The Ram Leela Festival is no different.
It is a story of family, friendship and leadership. And as a father and grandfather myself, the story of Lord Rama puts forward ideals that I strive to meet in my own life, and I know mothers, fathers and grandparents across the country strive to do the same.
The Story of Lord Ram is also a story of teamwork, unity and camaraderie. Values that have built the Fiji we know and love today. Values that bond us together in our great journey forward as a nation. And values that we have enshrined, for all time, in the Fijian Constitution. A Constitution that, for the first time, establishes common and equal citizenry in Fiji, regardless of our background, our beliefs, our socioeconomic status, or where we live.
Under that Constitution, united in common purpose, the Fijian people have taken our nation to unprecedented heights – at home, as we have grown our economy for eight straight years, and abroad, where we’ve assumed global leadership on causes critical to our secure future. We’ve shown that when we respect one another, when we work alongside our fellow Fijians and embrace our differences, there is nothing we cannot achieve.
We have just entered the New Year, as we look ahead to the rest of 2018, it is more important than ever that we continue to stand together – as one nation and one people – in building the new Fiji.
General Elections 2018
We will be holding our national elections later this year, and, as we have seen before, we will again be confronted with old forces that seek to divide us and hold us back from our journey into the future. Again, we must reject that backwards way of thinking. Again, we must choose progress over prejudice and dirty politics. And again, we must renew our commitment to one another, as Fijians and as men and women dedicated to the betterment of our nation.
Josiah Voreqe Bainimarama is Prime Minister of Fiji. The above is an edited version of his speech at the ‘Ram Leela Festival’ held in Sigatoka on Sunday, January 6, 2018.