Saturday, December 6, 2014

Embracing Ecumenism – A Methodist Church in Fiji Perspective

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall on Wednesday 3rd December, 2014

The Wesleyan / Methodist Tradition
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement described religious liberty as the “liberty to choose one’s one religion, to worship God according to one’s own conscience.” He insisted that every person living had a right to do this. 

   Wesley’s Essay, The Character of a Methodist, attempted to speak for all Methodists, as well as himself: “…from real Christians of whatsoever denomination they be,” he wrote, “we earnestly desire not to be distinguished at all… Dost thou love and serve God? It is enough. I give the right hand of fellowship.”
Wesley also believed in religious liberty for Roman Catholics and was an ardent campaigner against all forms of straightforward persecution. He included the hymns of Roman Catholic priest John Austin and the dissenter Isaac Watts in the Methodist Hymnbook. His ecumenically celebrated, Letter to a Roman Catholic, was written in 1749 in Dublin. In it Wesley admits that bitterness exists on both sides set out to clarify what “a true Protestant” believed and what he though both groups were agreed on, those essentials which correspond with “primitive Christianity.” Hel pleaded that they “love alike,” even if they could not “as yet think alike in all things.”
Ted Runyon writes that in the context of the challenges facing the ecumenical movement today, “John Wesley emerges from the eighteenth century as a surprisingly ecumenical figure.” Wesley has, therefore, an important contribution to make to the current ecumenical challenges.
Wesley’s ecumenism was limited to a broadminded definition of the Church as, “the catholic to church is, all persons in the universe whom God hath so called out of the world as to entitle them to the preceding character,” referring the biblical concepts of having one body, one Spirit, one hope in Jesus, one baptism and one God living in his people. Wesley was willing to learn from the theology of other traditions, accepting what he agreed with and rejecting what he disagreed with. In this regard Wesley was supportive of recognising the visible unity and engagement in dialogue that the current ecumenical movement seeks.
The Methodist Church in Fiji and Ecumenism
The Methodist Church in Fiji has historically been an ecumenical church, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Pacific Theological College (the Pacific’s first regional Protestant theological institute) and the Pacific Conference of Churches. It is a member of the World Council of Churches and of both the Fiji Council of Churches and Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji. Ecumenical matters also have a place with the agenda of the church’s annual conference, although in the recent past this has been ignored as much of the focus has been internal.

This year, the 50th year of being an independent conference, the Methodist Church embarked on a reflective and revisioning process for finding a way forward. Part of this process included the recognition of the Methodist heritage of ecumenism within the Fijian context. This means celebrating the traditional Fijian values of relationship, community, mutuality and reciprocity which are also hallmarks of the Ecclesia Primitiva; while at the same time opening eyes, ears and hearts to embrace the wider community of faith.

This embrace of the wider community of faith is part of the new ecumenical paradigm. The challenge of embracing ecumenism more fully so that the spirit of kononia permeates all of Fijian society is a necessary challenge. But it is an encounter with other members of the body of Christ who are also seeking to manifest just peace in their communities. Such engagement is not only a reminder that we are not alone, but also an opportunity to struggle together, from the global to the local level for God’s shalom.

Last year’s 10th World Council of Churches General Assembly in Busan, South Korea, had for its theme the cry, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace!” This echoed the ecumenical call at the 2010 International Ecumenical Peace Convocation for just peace in the community, with the earth, in the marketplace and among people. From a Methodist perspective, the unconditional love of God and for God’s people, if expressed truthfully by the community of faith, should lead to a just peace in society – social holiness
The process of developing new Connexional or strategic plan for the Methodist Church has seen ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue being included as one of the 12 pillars for the Methodist Church in Fiji:
This is an important aspect of our Nation building. Our society is pluralistic in nature. Ignorance, misunderstanding or having a distorted version of your neighbour’s culture and religion are obstacles to healthy nation building. Cross-cultural and religious communication and studies of our neighbours culture and religion should help with our mutual love and trust to guide us along the road of our Nation Building.
            The Connexional Plan’s Key Strategic Area #5 has the component of this pillar as Healing of the nation through strengthening relationship intra / inter church and inter religion (as well as civil society and government). The Intent of this Key Strategic Area is as follows:
·         That the Church encourages its members to have greater understanding and fellowship with other communities.
·         Acknowledgement of God’s Presence in Advocating Solidarity through the Whole Nation by ensuring democratic governance.
·         Encourage healing and reconciliation in Fiji beginning with members of the Church
·         That a more down to earth process of healing and reconciliation be implemented to foster better understanding, spirit of goodwill, mutual respect and tolerance

This Sunday, 7th December, leaders and members of the Christian community in Fiji are expected to gather at Centenary Methodist Church for a special ecumenical worship service to celebrate the contributions of the late Archbishop Jabez Bryce,Archbishop Emeritus Petero Mataca and the late Rev. Dr. Tuikilakila Waqairatu to the Ecumenical Movement in their ministries.

In an interesting twist, to celebrate the close relationship of the churches, speakers from the Methodist, Anglican, and Roman Catholic Churches will each pay tribute to a leader who is not from their own community of faith.

Religious, political and community leaders have also been invited to the service which begins at 3pm.

Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity

Monday, December 1, 2014

Great Expectations

Off the Wall 26/11/14

As we approach the end of the academic year, pre-schools, primary schools and secondary schools are holding graduation and prize-giving ceremonies. A number of tertiary institutions are following suit, while some lecturers are marking huge batches of exam papers and assignments.  Some students are waiting with baited breath to find out their results – some seeking the best grades and some just happy to pass the course or unit.

Parents will be analysing reports and grades and making their own evaluation of teachers, subject combinations, class-based assessments, curricula, school management or perhaps the Ministry of Education itself.  And then of course there are our children. The other day I noticed a comment by a friend on social media that his child was disappointed with his position in class. Not everyone can come first, not everyone receives an award, not everyone gets the marks or grade they hoped for – or that their parents hoped for.

I have overheard parents attempting to motivate their children to do well in class; to try and come first or get this mark or that mark for a subject. Living in Korea, I used to wonder at the children who were daily sent by well-meaning parents for extra classes running well into the night to give their children that edge in their academic achievement. Even in primary and intermediate level.  Just how much pressure do we put on our children?

I admit that I have been guilty of this myself. Last year when my son, who usually does well in his studies, showed me his marks, I congratulated him and then asked him if he had done his best. He was a little taken aback that I would be critical of his grades. I explained to him my view that I thought he could do better, not merely in terms of grades but in terms of effort. Earlier this year I caught myself telling my children that as “luve ni talatala” (children of a minister) they should be getting good marks in Christian Education at school. Fortunately for me, my children take their spirituality seriously and enjoy religious discussions. 

Later, I reflected on my “motivational” speeches. I am sure they had not been as inspiring as I hoped. Was I putting too much pressure on this then 9 year-old class six student? Was I encouraging my eight year old daughter to be competitive for the right reasons?

We live in a competitive society, so it's no surprise that parents feel pressure for their children to excel and compete. Yet the quest for perfection usually fails. Dr. John Duffy, an American clinical psychologist and author of "The Available Parent," advises that "Expectations should be high but reasonable. Many parents seem to expect their children to be perfect, but there is a lot of anxiety, and very little satisfaction, in this set-up."

Dr. Duffy suggests that instead, we need to watch our children closely so we have a realistic view of their potential and strengths. Then, encourage our children to give their very best effort. Duffy says, "Too often, parental expectations are based in achievement as opposed to effort." Try to live life in the moment. Read books, visit museums, and take classes together because you enjoy learning, rather than focusing on grades. Throw a ball around for the joy of it, not because you want to mould the next rugby 7s superstar.

Former president of American Psychological Association and Director of Yale University’s Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, Alan E. Kazdin, suggests that when we enforce unreasonable expectations, and especially when we punish according to them, we put stress on kids, who respond by avoiding, escaping, and becoming irritable. Ironically, that puts them off whatever activity, skill, or virtue we're trying to inculcate, making it aversive rather than attractive.  His article on why parents expect far too much from their children, “Why Can't Johnny Jump Tall Buildings?” makes good reading for parents.  (

The good news, according to Kazdin, is that you're the world's leading expert on your child, the one person in creation best equipped to find that sweet spot. Just remember, as you go about it, that it's only human for parents to tend to expect that our children can do more than they can really do. Even slight adjustments of your expectations to compensate for that tendency—a little more emphasis on shaping, a little more patience, a little reflection on what's really important to you as a parent and what behaviours can be left to disappear or develop on their own—can produce surprisingly excellent results.

Last year, my daughter announced that she no longer wanted to be a mermaid but a marine biologist. Rather than tell the then class three student to study science and biology, the best thing I felt I could do for her was ensure that she was a strong swimmer so that she could snorkel and find her a book on sea life.  My son’s mercurial nature means right now he wants to be many things in the future. The best I can do is to encourage him to explore it all in the hope that a spark is ignited into a flame.

In the end we need to let our children develop their own passion for something and nurture that passion. Where there is passion, success, however one chooses to measure it, will come naturally.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.”

Breaking the Silence

Greetings again from Sydney!

A week ago, the arrival of four large vaka into Darling Harbour in Sydney, not only created history but also ensured that the denial and culture of silence surrounding the issue of climate change was broken – by the beating of drums, the trumpeting of conch shells, the Mua haka combining elements of Cook Islands, Maori, Samoan, Tongan and Fijian culture and the roar of the crowd.

While we of the Pacific may have celebrated the dramatic way in which the Pacific voice was brought to the world, Australia included, there are a number of issues that continue to exist in a culture of silence in our communities. One of these issues is gender-based violence.

A 2010 report by UNIFEM (a part of UN WOMEN) titled, “Ending Violence Against Women and Girls” highlighted the following for Fiji:

·         The main forms of violence reported by Fijian women are: physical, sexual and emotional abuse by an intimate partner; sexual assault; and sexual harassment.

·         Violence against women imposes a large cost: the Reserve Bank has calculated the direct and indirect costs of violence in Fiji to be FJ$210.69-million per year, or 7% of GDP.

·         Domestic violence appears widespread in Fiji. Figures from the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre show that 80% of women have witnessed some form of violence in the home; 66% of women have been physically abused by partners and nearly half repeatedly abused; 26% of women have been beaten while pregnant; 48% of married women have been forced into sex by their husbands; and 13% of women have been raped. Police statistics show that domestic violence made up around 13% of all crimes against the person between 2003 and 2007. Workplace sexual harassment is also prevalent: a 2002 study found that one in three women had been sexually harassed in the workplace.

·         In many cases, the offender is known to the victim. According to Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre statistics, the victim knew the perpetrator in 70% of reported rape cases and 94% of child sexual abuse cases.

·         Many incidents of sexual violence involve young girls: one study found that 30% of female rape victims were 11-15 years. Children who are billeted with their extended family are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse e.g. children from outer islands sent to live in urban centres to complete secondary education.

·         Sexual exploitation of children exists in Fiji, including prostitution, sex tourism and pornography.

·         There is evidence that violence against women is increasing in Fiji: reports of sexual violence increased by 155% from 2003-2007 and there have been an increasing number of violent deaths of women.

·         Fiji’s four political coups have been cited as a cause of increased violence. Research shows that violence against women, both from intimate partners and strangers, increases during and after coups. At the same time, police have diminished capacity and willingness to respond to violence against women.

Last year, the late President of  head of the Methodist Church in Fiji, Rev. Dr.  Tuikilakila Waqairatu, spoke out against gender-based violence, acknowledging that was, "legitimised by many cultures, institutions and some Christian groups in society and its effects are extensive in nature".

He was quoted as saying that the church "must create a climate of openness and develop policies and procedures which keep children and the vulnerable safe from harm".

Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, has called for churches to take "an aggressive approach on the elimination of this social evil from our midst".

According to the UNFPA, a unique strength of faith leaders and faith-based organizations is that they are perceived as credible structures by their constituencies. Existing networks can thus be used for outreach within faith communities, to provide information and to mobilize congregations. Linked to this is the specific advantage faith leaders have as providers of spiritual guidance.

In an attempt to change the culture of silence surrounding gender-based violence, the world’s attention is drawn to this issue from the 25th of November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, through to December 10th, which is International Human Rights Day. It is known as the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence,” a global campaign to focus our efforts towards working to eliminate violence against women in our families, our communities and our world.

A project to involve the churches in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence has been developed by the Christian Network (Talanoa) – working together to end violence and abuse against women and children in our families, our churches and our communities.

This year the Network is inviting the Christian community  to support this campaign and to use Sunday November 23rd to introduce and focus the efforts of Christians towards the goal of these 16 days. (If this Sunday is not appropriate you might consider either November 30th or December 7th).

In addition to this Sermon Suggestion we also have made available Liturgical Resources, Daily Readings and Prayers for each of the 16 Days and have sourced some Bible Studies which could be used.

 Also there will be a Seminar and Ecumenical Service at Holy Trinity Cathedral on Thursday December 4th - Dr Holger Szesnet  of the Pacific Theological College will facilitate an interactive Bible study on Ephesians 5 -  the seminar starting at 9 am and the service at 12.30 pm with light refreshments in between and lunch at the conclusion at 1pm.  

The resources for Break the Silence Sunday have been resourced and/or prepared by Revd. Ann Drummond – Australian Volunteer for International Development in conjunction with members of the above Network. Ann is based at the House of Sarah – a ministry of the Diocese of Polynesia and the Association of Anglican Women. These resources in both English and i-Taukei are on line in the Resources page of House of Sarah website – or from the Methodist Church in Fiji website –

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Spirituality and the Environment


 Bula vinaka mai Sydney!

As you read this, history is being made as the Uto Ni Yalo, with three other vaka from the Cook Islands, Samoa and Aotearoa/NZ, sails into Sydney’s Darling Harbour.  Unfortunately I will not be onboard as I have been given the task of being the Master of Ceremonies for the official arrival programme for the vaka on the completion of their over 3,000 nautical mile voyage.

This voyage, originating in the Cook Islands and travelling via Samoa, Fiji and Vanuatu for the Marumaru Atua, Gaualofa and the Uto Ni Yalo respectively, with the Haunui sailing over 1200 nautical miles from Aotearoa/NZ via Norfolk Island, is a historical event. When the 3 vaka arrived in the Gold Coast late last month from Vanuatu, they became the first traditionally sailed canoes to arrive in Australia in recent history.  The significance of that will be further deepened when the 4 vaka sail into Darling Harbour today, past the Sydney Opera House and under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, as they make their way to their berths at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

On board the vaka, accompanying the crew will be Çook Islands Prime Minister, Hon. Henry Puna; New Zealand Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development, Shane Jones; President of the Republic of Palau, H.E. Tommy Remengasau Jr; and Fiji government-Nobel Prize nominee and President of the Republic of Kiribati, H.E. Anote Tong; as well as other invited dignitaries including Australian rugby legend Mark Ella and dual rugby league international Kevin Iro.

As the vaka arrive they will be met by an elder from Australia’s first people in a “nawi”, an Aboriginal bark canoe, carved from white stringybark, wrapped using hand-made rope and sealed with beeswax and xanthorrea grass tree resin. This greeting and welcome on the water pays tribute to the maritime culture of Australia’s indigenous people as over 170 years ago Aboriginal bark canoes glided on the waters of Sydney Harbour. Drawings and paintings showing the canoes co-existing alongside English sailing ships faded from view in the mid-1830s.

According to historians, Aboriginals worked as guides, boatmen, sailors, whalers and trackers. Bundle was the first Aboriginal Australian to sail beyond the horizon. Others, including Bennelong and Salamander followed in his footsteps and their travels included England, Vancouver, United States, India and New Ireland. Bungaree was the first Australian to circumnavigate Australia with Matthew Flinders.

Once berthed, the crew and those who have joined them aboard will participate in a traditional smoking ceremony. Green leaves from plants used by the group that conducts it are placed on a small fire. The smoke is used to cover the participants’ bodies, ridding them of what is not needed. It also cleanses the area. The group feels that it is leaving behind troubles and beginning something new. The voyagers will then be welcomed by the Director of Australian National Maritime Museum, Mr Kevin Sumption and the Hon. Rob Stokes MP – New South Wales Minister for the Environment.

History-making completed, the Pacific leaders will present the Pacific message to Australia and the delegates of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature-organised World Parks Congress. The message focuses on “Our People,” “Our Oceans,” “Climate Change” and the “Pacific Call to Global Action”.

The crew will then spend the next week participating in the World Parks Congress, joining in talanoa sessions and making presentations on their experiences, sustainable sea-transport, climate change, the ocean and a host of issues connected to our island way of life.

Yesterday/Tuesday afternoon, I sat on the Uto Ni Yalo absorbing the energy of the sea and observing the work of this now seasoned crew who I have prayed for, encouraged and twice tried to join (God having other plans for me), as we sailed from Yarra Bay to Watson’s Bay, the final stop at the entrance to Sydney Harbour.

So what is a Methodist talatala doing here? Good question. As I shared with the congregation at Canterbury Fijian Parish on Sunday, the answer can be found in the 1st and 12th pillars of the Methodist Church in Fiji. Pillar 1 is, of course, “The Salvation of Souls” and Pillar 12, is “Stewardship of Creation.” Having served as the chaplain of the Uto Ni Yalo in a voluntary capacity for the past four years, providing spiritual nurturing to the voyaging community and being a keen, swimmer, stand-up-paddler and someone who loves and respects the ocean and our envirionment, the Mua Voyage for me is a way for me to connect these two important pillars together as part of my ministry and as an example of what we in the Methodist community can do.

In what ways does our spirituality, our faith journey, our walk with God, connect not only with our social interactions – our love for neighbour, but also our interaction with the rest of life on this planet we call home – our love for God’s creation?

We may not all get to be a voyager like these brave men and women who not only have a passion for traditional navigation and sailing but also for the environment. Yet each of us has a responsibility, for some of us, understanding it as a God-given responsibility to live symbiotically – in harmony with the environment –to nurture it, to protect it, acknowledging the divine presence in it; and be guided by it. This is the meaning of Mua – to be guided by nature.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Rev. James Bhagwan is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and is a trustee and voluntary chaplain for the Uto Ni Yalo Trust, which works to revive interest in traditional voyaging and respect for the ocean and environment. 

Plastic not fantastic...much

Last week I was surprised to learn that there is a difference between “bio-degradable” plastic bags and “degradable” ones. And here I was cheering on the shift to degradable plastic bags.

According to, the word “degradable” just means that something breaks down. Technically, all plastic is degradable plastic.  You can break it with a hammer. You can grind it into a fine powder.  This all counts as “breaking down” the plastic, and therefore (technically) “degrading” the plastic.

This creates a little bit of confusion, because some plastics will add chemicals that will make the plastic break down faster under certain conditions. For example, you can add an additive to normal, petroleum-based plastic that will make it become brittle and crumble in sunlight: this is referred to as making “photodegradable” plastic. Other additives can be put into plastic that will make plastic break down by oxidation: this is referred to as making “oxo-degradable plastic.”

These methods will make the bulk of the plastic appear to disappear; however, the small pieces (or even find “sand”) that is produced by this effect is still small pieces of plastic.  Nothing has changed. Over a matter of years, it is possible for the pieces to become small enough to be assimilated by microorganisms, but there is still a lot of research that needs to be done to verify how long this might take.  In the meantime, they are just very small pieces of plastic.

So be cautious when you see a plastic product that advertises that it is “degradable” but not “biodegradable” or “compostable,” because this is nothing special.  The plastic material does not “return to the earth” in any real way. It just gets really, really small.

Biodegradable plastic on the other hand, is not just degradable, but it also means something more: it means that it can be broken down by the metabolism by micro-organisms.  When a plastic is biodegradable, it can be digested, so that the carbon atoms in the chains of the polymer are broken apart and can actually participate in the creation of other organic molecules.  They can be processed by, and become part of, organic living things. This returns them to nature in a very real sense: they become part of the carbon cycle of the ecology of the earth.

Only bioplastics will biodegrade within any reasonable timescale.  Petroleum-based plastic that simply breaks down into a fine sand or small pieces still cannot be digested by microorganisms. Perhaps over the time-span of many years, the pieces may get so small that they can be digested by microorganisms. This is currently the focus of a great deal of research and debate, as different groups try to establish how quickly oxo-degradable plastics can be reduced to a form where they are actually biodegradable.

It is also important to note that even some plastics that are made from renewable resources are processed in a way that makes them non-biodegradable.  They are still “degradable” but they do not return to the earth, and cannot be processed by microorganisms. That is why the difference between biodegradable plastics, and non-biodegradable plastics, is so important.

I also happened to find out about a third type of plastic - Compostable Plastic.  When something is compostable, it means that it biodegrades, but it also means something more: it will degrade within a certain amount of time, under certain conditions.  For many types of bioplastic, it’s possible to say that it will break down “eventually”, but if you seal it in an air-tight room, it could take thousands of years.

The standards organizations that regulate materials have come up with a series of tests and benchmarks, saying that if a biodegradable plastic will completely biodegrade fast enough in a certain type of environment, then it can be labelled “compostable.” 

So these three terms aren’t really different “classes” of plastic, in the sense of being separate sets. They are subsets of one another: all compostable plastics are biodegradable, and all biodegradable plastics are degradable.  But be wary of people who make claims about the “degradability” of their product: because not all degradable plastics are biodegradable, or compostable.

As I go for my Stand-Up-Paddle sessions in Laucala Bay I come across so many discarded plastic bags on the beach and in the ocean. Because they are “degradable,” it is very hard to scoop the plastic out of the water. Instead it disintegrates in your hands, before your very eyes, leaving you with the knowledge that it will now end up in the stomach of a fish and then enter the web of life in the ocean.

With all that we are doing to our planet, the disrespectful way we are treating creation, can we take a moment to make educated, careful and positive decisions to take just one simple step, which will begin to restore the balance of nature – take your own bags for shopping (especially the recycled kind).   And find out, if the plastic that is being used is truly “bio-plastic”. If it is not.. perhaps you can educate others on the importance of knowing the difference.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”


Back to the Future – Rebirth of Traditional Voyaging


“They’re crazy!” “How do they do it?” “Wow! I wish I had the guts to do that.” “Its amazing!”

These the most common comments I receive from people who find out about my relationship with the traditional voyaging canoe, “Uto Ni Yalo”.

As you read this, the Uto Ni Yalo, Cook Islands’Marumaru Atua and Samoa’s Gau’alofa have arrived in Australia, preparing to sail into Sydney Harbour on November 12th for the IUCN World Parks Congress, joined by the Haunui from Aotearoa.

The Fiji voyaging project that resulted in the Uto Ni Yalo voyages and establishment of the Uto Ni Yalo Trust may not be a long or old story, but its genesis, out of the ocean we call home, stretches back almost eight decades.

Inspired by Pacific voyaging canoes and guided by the indigenous people of Hawaii, Eric de Bisschop built the Kaimiloa in 1936. However, he used modern building materials and methods. For example, he joined the two hulls together with old car springs instead of tying them to wooden beams (long pieces of strong wood). After many adventures, he succeeded in sailing west across the Pacific and Indian Oceans and then around Africa to France.

In the 1947 ”Kon Tiki Expeditiion,” Thor Heyerdahl, set out to demonstrate how South American Indians could have settled Polynesia by raft. The voyage of the KonTiki raft, in 1948, to prove the theory of the settlement of the Central Pacific islands from South America (East-to-West theory), achieved worldwide fame for Thor Heyerdahl. However, after studies of languages, cultures, and artifacts (objects created by people) from the area, modern researchers believe that Heyerdahl’s theory is incorrect.

After Kon-Tiki’s voyage, Eric de Bisschop wanted to prove that Polynesians could have sailed by raft to South America. In 1955 he built Tahiti-Nui (a bamboo raft) and sailed south from Tahiti to catch the west winds east. Tahitian navigator Francis Cowan went with him. However, he and his crew had to abandon (leave) the broken raft near  Chile. They were rescued by the Chilean navy. Later, in 1958 they sailed back to Polynesia on Tahiti-Nui II, a raft made from Cyprus wood. Which eventually crashed on the coral reef of Rakahanga in the northern Cook Islands, killing De Bisschop. James Wharram, took up the banner of Eric de Bisschop and between 1954 and 1959, in two pioneering double canoe voyages across the Atlantic, confirmed that Eric de Bisschop was correct in his assumption that the ancient Pacific raft-stable double canoe enabled ancient Pacific migrations to have been made from West to East out of SE Asia.
Since the ancient voyaging canoes and their navigators had disappeared from the Pacific, the obvious course was to experiment, to recreate the voyaging canoes and ways of navigating without instruments and then try them out at sea. In other words, the situation called for a nautical application of experimental archaeology, that branch of prehistory concerned with the reconstruction and testing of ancient artifacts and techniques.

This experimental effort got underway in the mid-1960s, when David Lewis navigated his catamaran, the “Rehu Moana” from Tahiti to New Zealand without instruments. This form of traditional navigation is known as “Wayfinding”. Wayfinding involves navigating on the open ocean without sextant, compass, clock, radio reports, or satellites reports. The wayfinder depends on observations of the stars, the sun, the ocean swells, and other signs of nature for clues to direction and location of a vessel at sea. Wayfinding was used for voyaging for thousands of years before the invention of European navigational instruments. In the 20th century

In the mid-1960s, a New Zealand historian named Andrew Sharp claimed that the Polynesians did not explore and settle the Pacific on purpose. He said that their canoes and ways of navigation weren’t good enough. He argued that they’d been blown to the islands by storms and bad winds. To show that Sharp was wrong,  anthropologist (person who studies human cultures) Ben Finney started a project to build double-hulled canoes. He wanted to test these canoes on long voyages and
recover the old ways of navigating. The first tests were made with Nalehia, a copy of a Hawaiian double hull. The tests showed how well double hulls could sail on the open ocean. They provided the information needed to build the big voyaging canoe Hokulea and sail it to Tahiti.

In 1975 Hawaiian artist Herb Kane designed Hokulea, a 19-metre-long voyaging canoe. Hokulea was built mostly with modern materials (plywood hulls and cloth sails). However, it sailed like a traditional canoe. No old Polynesian navigators were available to guide Hokulea from Hawaii to Tahiti, so Ben Finney brought a master navigator from Satawal, Micronesia. His name was  Mau Piali. He guided the canoe on a 2,300 mile voyage to Tahiti in 1976, the first voyage in over 600 years navigated without instruments on this ancestral Polynesian sea route.

On  July 12th, 2010 Mau Piailug, master navigator, died on his home island of Satawal in the Federated States of Micronesia, aged 78. However, the traditional knowledge had been handed on to others including Hawaiian, Nainoa Thompson, who in 1980 navigated the Hokulea back to Tahiti and in doing so became the first Polynesian in hundreds of years to navigate a canoe so far. The voyage marked the rebirth of long-distance voyaging in Polynesia.

38 years later, the Hokulea is still sailing. Many other vaka have set sail from their island homes to celebrate or protect the science of traditional navigation and call the world to respect the wisdom of the ancient peoples of Oceania.  This is the mana, the power with which the 4 vaka and their crew carry the message of the Pacific to the World Parks Congress.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

NB: Rev. Bhagwan has served as the voluntary chaplain of the Uto Ni Yalo since 2010 and is a trustee of the Uto Ni Yalo Trust. Material in this column, courtesy of the voyaging community across Oceania.

The Flavours of Unity in Diversity


This year the month of October is special for my family. My eldest sister celebrated the completion of her half-century on this planet. My son will today celebrate entering the age of double digits – he will be a decade old.

The month of October this year is also special for our nation. Not only did we celebrate Fiji’s 44th birthday in a new democracy, a few days earlier the first sitting of parliament since 2006 took place with new members sworn in and our first female  Speaker of the House appointed.

This October is also significant spiritually with a number of religious festivals, holy days and events taking place. These events serve as a reminder that Fiji is a microcosm of the world – a country rich in diversity. It is also time when Fijians shift from sometimes grudging tolerance to celebration.

On the 4th of October the Muslim community celebrated Eid-ul-Adha. This holy day is not just significant in its marking the end of the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca (holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia), but serves as a reminder of the close ties that Judaism and Christianity hold with Islam, which recognises Jews and Christians as “People of the Book”. It is a reminder that despite theological differences, differing beliefs about the Messiah, scripture and faith practice – they share a common spiritual ancestor or patriarch in Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic, Avraham in Hebrew).

Eid-ul-Adha (the 'festival of Sacrifice'), is also known as the Greater Eid. In the "northern" Islamic tier between the Balkans and Central Asia, Eid Al-Adha is known as Kurban Bayram, a translation of "feast of sacrifice." The festival remembers the prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son when ordered to do so by God. In the Islamic tradition, Eid-ul-Adha celebrates the occasion when Allah appeared to Ibrahim in a dream and asked him to sacrifice his son Isma'il as an act of obedience to God. The devil tempted Ibrahim by saying he should disobey Allah and spare his son. As Ibrahim was about to kill his son, Allah stopped him and gave him a lamb to sacrifice instead.

The sacrificial festival is with many social aspects: it is all about charity, community and family as well as the pilgrimage. During this holiday, people always visit their relatives and friends; family ties are strengthened and that gives children an opportunity to bond with the older generation. The sacrificial festival is a time for wishing one another well, exchanging gifts, having big feasts, donating and praying.

This story is also found in the Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament (Genesis 22). Here God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Yitzḥák in Hebrew), his son with Sarah. Isma’il, (known also as Ishmael) was his son with Hagar. The Jewish name for this event is Akedát Yitzḥák, also known as "The Binding".  The only difference in this Abrahamic event is that in the Jewish/Christian tradition it is Isaac (the son of Abraham‘s wife Sarah) who is supposed to be sacrificed as he is their particarch. For Islam it is Isma’il (the eldest son but by Hagar) who is the one intended for sacrifice and who is their patriarch.

Nevertheless, the story and its message of obedience, willingness to sacrifice what we love, and God’s abundant grace are common to all Abrahamic faiths. In Christianity, the connection is made to God’s willingness to sacrifice His only Son, Jesus the Christ for the salvation of humanity. Abraham's sacrifice was unprecedented in that he was not governed by motives of custom, honour, or fear, but solely by his love of God.

Two weeks ago, the Methodist community in Fiji concluded their Golden Jubilee celebration, which had included internal reconciliation and a commitment to national healing and reconciliation. 2 days after Fiji Day it commemorated the 179th anniversary of the arrival of formal Christianity in Fiji in the newly dedicated Baker Memorial Church, which once house the first teacher training and vocational training institutes in Fiji. They have also launched their journey into the next fifty years with a new Connexional Plan designed to take the largest religious community in Fiji forward into the 21st century as an inclusive and transformational community of faith. It is a long journey with twists and turns in the road of the New Exodus, but the journey has begun.

Tomorrow, the Hindu community, and with it the nation, celebrates their new year, the festival of lights known as Diwali. The themes of the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness are universal and so resonate with all who wish to live lives of goodness, compassion and peace. Already fireworks are lighting up the night sky and all Fijians, regardless of ethnicity, religion or ideology are enjoying a taste of sweets in their places of work or school.

Tommorrow afternoon, my son, an Christian, multi-ethnic child, will spend the afternoon celebrating Diwali at the home of a friend from school who is Hindu. At night people of all ethnicities and spiritual inclinations will enjoy the lights, children will visit neighbours asking for sweets and friends will cross chasms of difference as they sit around a tanoa or basin of kava.

The commemoration of certain holy days as national holidays open up spaces within the national sphere for us to celebrate our religious diversity as cultural celebrations which add colour and flavour to our communities. The concept of unity in diversity dispels the fear of unity as uniformity and strengthens us in our quest to live as an extended family, in which differences are not seen as threats but opportunities to learn, collaborate and even celebrate.

Belated happy Eid-ul-Adha, happy almost Diwali… and happy birthday Francisco-Xavier.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”