Sorrow overshadows joy in ancestral motherland

Sorrow overshadows joy-Janifa Khan JanifJanifa Khan Janif – 

Second and Final Part

In July 1989, the cold winters of New Zealand greeted us off our flight from Fiji to Auckland, forcing the tropical warmth of our homeland into a distant past.

The settlement process was difficult. We had to cope with culture shock, New Zealand English and the loss of our social networks back home.

When I enrolled as a mature student at the University of Auckland for an undergraduate degree, I was introduced to the topic of the indenture system.

Sad stratification

With the changing demography in Auckland, the Indian community has grown and diversified including the early settlers of Guajarati descent, newcomers from all over India; and those of Indian descent from Fiji, South Africa, Malaysia and Singapore.

While some would have thought that being of Indian descent would unify the Indian community, social stratification and the indenture experience of Indians from Fiji and South Africa have meant little to mainland Indians.

The 1.5 Generation

Displacement of Indians from India to Fiji and then to New Zealand continues to have a profound impact on the ‘1.5 generation’ born in Fiji and migrated to New Zealand at a young age and; those born in New Zealand of Fiji-Indian parentage.

Through my voluntary global development work, I have had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East, South East Asia, Canada, Britain and South Africa. Travelling made me realise that my son Gibran Janif, who had grown up in New Zealand since the age of four, had not been to Fiji for almost two decades and we decided to return home with him.

I thought that the trip would be an opportunity for him as a young adult, to see our extended family and to see his birthplace. In June 2010, our family travelled to Fiji for a two-week trip travelling extensively around Viti Levu, Vanua Levua and Ovalau.

Gibran learned about the culture and history of Fiji, and the value of elderly family members who are the custodians of our history. The two weeks that he spent in Fiji shaped his philosophical views on humanity, framed the struggles of his ancestors and his family, the reason for his parents’ migration to New Zealand, and their hopes and aspirations.

Visit to India

As I continued my quest to understand the Girmit indenture system through attending Fiji Indian community events and talking to elders, I understood that to put things into perspective it was important to visit India, the ancestral home.

Sorrow overhadows joy-Janifa Khan Janif with her husband at Kolkata PortIn 2012, I was invited to present a paper at an international conference in India. I utilised the opportunity to visit places that were of historical significance to my family, particularly Kolkata, the first capital of British India, from where the ships carried Indians to their colonies.

My first visit to India was emotional, and visiting the Taj Mahal and many sites of historical significance provided me with an appreciation of the skills of architects, artisans and workers who build such majestic and magnificent structures.

Painful memories

I was overcome with grief and sorrow for the hardships endured by our ancestors on the journey to Fiji after visiting the Kolkata markets, the port, and the warehouse which housed the recruited men and women before boarding the ships but I realised that I had no emotional attachment to India.

Whilst I was walking through the markets, I was searching for faces that bore any resemblance to family members in Fiji. The feeling of loss was profound, recognising that if I had any biological connections to people in India, I would never be able to find them.

I am a proud Pacific Indian of Pathan and Melanesian heritage with links to India, my  ancestral homeland, Fiji, my country of birth and the resting place of my ancestors, and New Zealand the country which has provided me and my family a safe haven.

Janifa Khan Janif was born and raised in Labasa, Fiji. She migrated to New Zealand in 1989 and currently resides in Auckland. She has had several public sector assignments over the past 25 years, with a focus on issues relating to community development, identity and ethnic affairs. She obtained a graduate degree (Bachelor of Arts) in Sociology from University of Auckland and a Post Graduate Diploma in Arts (Pacific Studies) from AUT University. She was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1997. Email:


Photo :

  1. Today’s Kolkata is far removed from the old British Capital City which sent ship loads of indentured labourers to Fiji and other parts of the world in the late 1800s. (Picture by Janifa Khan Janif)
  2. Janifa with her husband Khan at Kolkata Port in November 2012

Related posts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: