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The Tuva Sanatan Ram Leela, Committee,
Members of the Shree Satsang Ramayan Mandali,
Tuva Primary and Secondary School, Committee
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
I’m very glad to be here as – for the very first time – I have the chance to take part in the Ramleela festival here in Sigatoka as we mark such an important celebration on the Hindu calendar.

We are lucky to call home a nation so rich in different cultures and religions, and I am especially grateful that in Fijian society we so openly share in the traditions and celebration of our fellow Fijians, as we do so today in welcoming the Ramleela Festival.

Every year, this 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 lived out by Lord Ram, and the triumph over adversity that was the ultimate purpose of Rama’s incarnation on earth.

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 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.

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 Ramleela festival is no different, as in the story of Rama’s life are lessons that hold meaning for us all.
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’ve 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.
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.

We must continue our work to make Fiji a better, safer and more inclusive nation. We must continue the sound financial management and planning that has carried our economy to such success. We must continue opening doors of opportunity for our young people, through free education, subsidised bus fares for school children, and record funding towards scholarship programmes. We must continue our work to create a more knowledge-based society, one that rewards on the basis of merit, and merit alone. And we must continue to hold our great belief in what this nation can accomplish, as we strive to make every year an even better year to be a Fijian.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to acknowledge the Tuva Sanatan Ram Leela Committee and our Hindu communities in Vulileka, Labasa and Navua that are also holding celebrations for the Ram Leela festival. Lastly I’d like to give my thanks to the Sanatan Ram Leela Committee for continuing the tradition of Ramleela in the Sigatoka community

I wish you all happy New Year and a wonderful festival celebration.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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