Friday, November 27, 2009

Break On Through

Published in The Fiji Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2009

About a decade ago, someone referred to me in a conversation as a "Spiritual Wanderer." However, as every creature on Earth has an accent, it also sounded like, "Spiritual Wonderer".
At that time both descriptions were correct in their pronouncement. After all, "all our life is a journey. All life travels that journey." These were my thoughts on Saturday morning as dawn broke Fiji-style at Suva Point, and I stood on the shore to survey the flotilla of canoes in the Laucala Bay; one awaiting a sunrise blessing, adorned with a frangipani salusalu. Next to that canoe, dwarfing it in size was the 21st century drua. The double-hulled canoe named Uto ni Yalo - The Heart of the Spirit is made out of synthetic material but complete with traditional-designed manual giant rudder/oar. It too awaited blessing.

Uto ni Yalo is one of seven ocean-going double-hulled canoes which have been built for the Pacific Voyagers' network, voyaging groups in American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Tahiti, Tonga and Western Samoa. The development of the canoes was made possible by the Okeanos foundation, an international philanthropic organisation based in Germany, formed with the objective of protecting the ocean environment and marine life.
Fiji's involvement in this project is due largely to Letila Mitchell, Manoa Rasigatale and Colin Philp, who recently formed the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society and lead the awakening to rekindle Fiji and Rotuma's proud maritime heritage. The trio hope to revive traditional Fijian canoe building, sailing and navigational knowledge, skills and customs and voyaging, in order to re-establish cultural links and traditional sailing routes.

My role on Saturday was to seek God's blessings on the event and for the drua, its crew and passengers, the first of which were the contestants of the Miss South Pacific Pageant. It was somehow fitting these young women of the Pacific, who will raise awareness of the issue of climate change among the many people of the Pacific following the pageant were the first passengers on a canoe that would be used to promote the issue of ocean noise.

As I watched the Uto ni Yalo make its maiden voyage, complete with fair maidens onboard, my thoughts shifted to another fair maiden who was being farewelled that morning. You see on Saturday, I also attended the funeral of a woman who despite her own adversities inspired others to overcome their own. Her name was Belinda Mani. A good friend of my wife during their university days, Belinda was, at the time of her death, a lawyer, describing herself as a "people's advocate". She was also a paraplegic.

The eulogies at her funeral paid tribute to a woman who did not let her disability conquer her life. Her determination to live life to the fullest and be all that she could be inspired others who were able-bodied to do so as well. While her body could not keep up with her indomitable spirit, her legacy will live on. Rest in peace Belinda.

The new day of Tuesday, November 24 dawns as I write, and I am reminded of another group of women who like Belinda are part of the breakthrough of the barriers.

This afternoon, six women will complete ministerial formation at Davuilevu Theological College, the largest number of women to graduate from the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma's training institute for clergy. For a church that is perceived to be a bastion of a traditionally male-dominated society, this is an important day.

These six women and two others were the largest number of women to be accepted into the ministry within the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma at the Nausori Methodist Church during the 2006 Bose Ko Viti. It was also the same year that I and most of their male classmates also entered the ministry.

The next time we were to meet would be at Davuilevu Theological College, where they were first-year students and I a first-year member of faculty.

Of worthy note is that a female minister, Reverend Mereia Votomosi is the Head of the Bibical Studies Department at Davuilevu. This year in its mini-conference, the church appointed its first female Divisional Superintendent, Reverend Kelera Wesele.

The Methodist Church in Fiji has one of the highest numbers of women ministers in the South Pacific.

Today is also a special day for a woman who has created a legacy of breaking through the barriers, again doing so in her own way, as are the contestants of the Miss South Pacific Pageant, as did Belinda Mani and as will the six female ministers who will soon be leading their flocks through the paths of righteousness.

This woman embodies what it means to live in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-faith environment. Today my mother, the unconventional, the feminine feminist, Rachel Bhagwan turns 71. Happy Birthday Mother!

In my family we have always seen November 25 as the beginning of a special two-month period.
Mother's birthday marks the arrival of the Advent season (it is Advent Sunday on November 29).

A month later, Christians mark the birth of Jesus. Another month after that, by my late father's birthday of January 25, it is time to knuckle down and get into the New Year.

The Advent season is, for Christians, a time of preparation for the incarnation of God among humans in Christ Jesus. The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Consequently, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2000 year old event in history.

It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. During this time we pray for the grace to accept the Christ who comes in God's name, the Christ who broke barriers of social, cultural and religious status and evoked a consciousness of peace on Earth and goodwill toward all. This Advent let us ask God for the courage to be Christ for others.

May the rest of your week be blessed with light, love, peace and joy!

* Reverend Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as Librarian/ Assistant Lecturer (Theology & Ethics) at Davuilevu Theological College and as an Associate Minister at Dudley Methodist Church in Toorak, Suva.
* All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Mr Bhagwan is affiliated with.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Shepherding the Flock through the Valley of Globalisation – By Padre James Bhagwan

Doomsday Thinking

Published in The Fiji Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

I was introduced to the "Prophecies of Nostradamus," in the mid-1980s when my father brought home a documentary movie featuring the actor/director Orson Welles. Welles is known as much for his poignant films such as Citizen Kane as his live radio play of War of the Worlds which threw America into a panic when many people mistakenly thought it was real news coverage of an alien invasion.

For a young child, this film was life-altering as I heard of Michel de Notre Dame's many prophecies which had come true hundreds of years after his death and more importantly, the prophecies of events yet to happen. Still I remember the nightmare I had the night after watching the dramatic portrayal of the nuclear holocaust, which the according to the film, Nostradamus had predicted starting in the Middle East. Many years later, I was to reflect on the character playing the man who would begin the nuclear holocaust looking a lot like Saddam Hussain.

The prophecies of Nostradamus have been tied to every major disaster and crisis in the last century and those unfolding in this new century, including the terror attacks of September 11 2001 and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Recently I came across a television special by HBO which makes claims to a newly discovered "secret" book of Nostradamus which is supposed to add weight to the idea that the world as we know it will end in 2012.

This claim of the world coming to an end on December 21, 2012 gains credence from the the fact that there are "end of days" prophecies in almost every major religion, from the Christian Apocalypse to the Norse Ragnarok. References are to cataclysmic events, wars, famines and natural disasters, anarchy, one world government etc. Add to this doomsday mania the calendar of the ancient Mayans of central America which ends with a particular alignments of planets on 12/12/12 (December 12, 2012) and you have the formula for the best end-of-the-world scenario. Or the plot for a block buster film. I recently watched the movie 2012 which joins these and other dots to tell the tale of the shifting of the earth's crust and the end of the world as we know it. In an age where climate change is a major issue and where earthquakes and tsunamis are becoming all too frequent, it is the ultimate disaster movie for this generation.

But doomsayers have been proclaiming "the end is nigh" for a long time, albeit with changing signs of the times. In the mid to late twentieth century it was fear of the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) of nuclear war, a key movie being "The Day After". The aliens have been and gone (taking Elvis with them, according to one story). We survived Y2K with no planes falling out of the sky or computers crashing. Then came Armageddon in the form of Bruce Willis saving the world from asteroids and comets, in the film of the same name. The dawn of the next ice age, an extra hot burst from the sun and climate change have now made it to the big screen as the next threats to life on earth and civilisation as we know it. That's not including terrorists, biological warfare, famine, HIV and AIDS, the H1N1 pandemic and the global economic meltdown.

As I watched the super-tsunami wash over India, Tibet and turn the Himalayas into an island group in the comfort and safety of Cinema 1 at Village Six, it hit me that no amount of training at the National Aquatic Centre is going to prepare me to swim through a wave taller than any building on the planet. Not that I will stop my early morning floats among the serious swimmers.

Given that the price for a ticket onboard one of the "Super-Arks", which held all the precious art work of human civilisation as well as Noah's required stock of animals, was a billion euros per person, perhaps surfing big waves is a good hobby to take up now. We of Oceania who live in the so-called "Ring-Of-Fire" disappeared without even a mention of Fiji Water in the script.

What this movie really got me thinking about was the futility of planning our lives so far forward that we miss living in the now. It also reminded me that as human beings we really think far too much of ourselves. This year's floods, the recent tsunamis and realities of years of cyclone disasters serve as harsh reminders that nature is a force more powerful than human will.

But these disaster stories and realities also give us an opportunity to correct our perspective on who and what is important. We are reminded of the frailty of humankind and of our failings as stewards of creation. When in the midst of disaster, where it often is every man, woman and child for themselves, selfless acts of courage and compassion display the true value of our humanity, the true mark of what we call civilisation.

Personally, I don't know what to think of the claims made in the film 2012. I am still waiting to see if we actually do "make contact" in 2010 as per the Stanley Kubrick film /Arthur C. Clarke book. What I do know is that we have two choices. We can either panic and become fatalistic, holding a "what's the point, none of this will matter" attitude. Or, whatever the future holds and until that day comes, we can embrace the life that we have our families, the vanua, our communities to which we belong and commit to working to make this world the best possible place for all God's creatures to live and give our children a planet worth living on.

* Reverend Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as a librarian at the Davuilevu Theological College and an associate minister of the Dudley Methodist Church in Suva. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Mr Bhagwan is affiliated with.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Starved of the food of love

As published in The Fiji Times - Wednesday, November 04, 2009Padre James Bhagwan

I read with interest the statement by local musician Knox that he releases his music exclusively on one particular radio station because the other broadcasters do not give airplay to local music on their English-language stations.

If that is correct, it is a damning indictment of the failure of local radio stations to promote the only local music that actually has a chance of commercial success internationally.

By this I do not mean that locally produced songs in the vernacular languages of Fijian, Hindi and Rotuman have no opportunity for international commercial success.

Indeed, they do, but only within the genre of world music -- a category that puts them with other traditional/fusion music recorded in languages that are not commonly spoken in the global village.

World music appeals to only those within the potential global audience who either speak the language or have an affinity with that particular culture or region from where the music comes from.

That, or to those who have an eclectic taste in music.

Not withstanding any foray into the Hindi-language music scene, it is songs in the English language which have a bigger chance of commercial success internationally for local musicians.

The two major commercial radio networks relegate homegrown music for the most to play on Fijian-language stations.

At the same time, it must be acknowledged that while Paulini Curuenavuli and George 'Fiji' Veikoso fill the airwaves, they are not local musicians any more.

Their songs are recorded overseas in million-dollar studios with overseas back-up singers and session musicians.

Their albums are released on foreign labels. They are international artists.

That is not to say that English-language radio stations have not supported local artists.

I grew up listening to the latest local English songs on Radio Fiji Three. But much of the airplay was due to the individual producer/presenters (before the days of radio personalities) support of the local musicians, with the broadcasting and local music industry enjoying a symbiotic relationship.

Whether it was Bernadette Rounds-Ganilau's breakfast show or Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls' PM Show on Thursday nights, you could be sure of hearing the homegrown music of Jimmy Nathu, Sakiusa Bulicokocoko and the Dragon Swingers, Rootstrata or Danniel Rae Costello.

Producers made the effort to record live performances of local bands churning out quality renditions of popular covers and ground-breaking originals.

Even television followed suit, with FM Vision, Ready To Roll and Power Jammer generously giving precious time to local artists, with producers going out of their way to produce video clips, from the simple to the innovative.

So, it seems that there is a change in attitude toward local music in the English language. On one hand, the radio stations are using international standards and overseas charts to judge music worthy of airtime, while on the other hand the majority of televised local music consists of vocalists singing to backing tracks on reruns of M.I.C. or promos of M.I.C.

How much airplay did the aspiring musicians participating in the Young Mussos Acclaim get on television or radio for that matter?

Considering both major radio networks have one station dedicated to youth and one to classic hits, both in the English-language, the silence in terms of classic local songs and new upcoming artists, is deafening.

It would seem that the adoption of a Top 40 music strategy with a clock hour formula of programming, has vastly limited access for local musicians to local audiences.

While some local artists turn to the internet or cheaply produced singles or video for direct release, many are not able to do so. More importantly, what many radio and TV music directors and producers fail to understand is that local music can be considered as narratives of the popular culture.

Popular music genres in Fiji such as Reggae, Hip-Hop and R&B have emerged as a form of narrative from African-American and Jamaican cultures.

Local Reggae and Hip-Hop music follows in the tradition of the genre, focusing on issues such as poverty, political oppression, youth, unemployment, etc.

These musical genres continue the oral narrative because they are a form of story-telling.

For example, Unem Lament by local reggae group Rootstrata tells the story of a young man lamenting the ethnic tension of the 1987 military coup.

Lately, young local Hip Hop groups have emerged.

The similarities of Rap/Hip-Hop to traditional chanting and local songs offering a narrative of life in Fiji highlight the possibilities of music to reconnect the audience to communal experience.

The framing of songs in a certain context or background information about the song and the performer during their introduction by presenters also expand the narrative, making the listening experience more meaningful. It connects the presenter into that meaning in a process known as dynamic equivalence -- a model of translation in which listeners "feel as well as understand".

This, in turn, forges a better bond between the station and the listener.

So, whose responsibility is it to help the musical artists of today reach the widest possible audience? Certainly there is a responsibility that the radio and television broadcasters of Fiji must embrace.

Danny Costello hit the proverbial nail on the head when he said in an interview for Living in Fiji (now Living Pacific) magazine, that the Fiji Audio-Visual Commission needs to remember that the word audio also refers to the music industry.

But beyond that, it is us, the listeners, for whose ears and eyes radio and television station vie.

Our constant requests for local music on English-language stations can perhaps lead to great things for local musicians on the international scene, or at least give them a shot.

After all, all it takes these days is one hit.

* Reverend Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, working as a librarian at the Davuilevu Theological College and is an associate minister of the Dudley Methodist Church in Suva. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.