“A new nation was being born. It symbolized the fact that a new order was coming into being and an old order was passing away. So I was deeply concerned about it. I wanted to be involved in it, be a part of it, and notice the birth of this new nation with my own eyes.
Before I knew it, I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles, all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment.
These are the words of civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr on his visit to Ghana for the celebration of its independence from Great Britain in 1957.
On the final day of the Hong Kong Sevens tournament, before the final match, the nation and almost every Fijian living abroad, such as myself, saw the emotion in our national team as the national anthem was sung. As is tradition for my circle of friends, we always stand for the anthem, hands on our hearts. Usually it’s our patriotic gesture. Sometimes, it’s just in the spirit of the tournament. I think that it is an emotional moment for us too.
Those few weeks ago, in my dormitory room, as my roommate watched me in amazement, I stood in front of my little screen with my white t-shirt and sang along with the team, tears rolling down my face.
When my roommate asked me what I was doing, I realised what it might have looked like, especially as I had been wearing headphones the whole time.
However it wasn’t just the emotion of the team and the song that brought me to tears. I had remembered that our national anthem isn’t just a song. It is a prayer; a petition to God for blessings for our nation. We ask God to make us one people, we pledge to defend the cause of freedom ever. We ask God to make our nation a land of freedom, hope and glory and to help us endure whatever may befall us, whatever we may go through.
I remember some five years ago, at a World Council of Churches meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, a choir from Soweto came and sang to our group. They concluded their performance by singing the South African national anthem, beginning in the Xhosa and Zulu languages with the famous “Nkosi Sekelel' iAfrika.” was composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Methodist school teacher, originally as a church hymn but later became an act of political defiance against the apartheid Government.
Many in my group had prayed, lobbied, or protested for the end of apartheid in South Africa and knew this song as a protest song, listened to with a fist in the air out of solidarity. To hear this hymn in South Africa, sung by South Africans as their national anthem was a deeply moving experience, with most of the group in tears.
Rev. Dr. King, in his biography, described the moment after the first prime minster of Ghana made his speech:
“...we could hear little children six years old and old people eighty and ninety years old walking the streets of Accra crying: ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ They were crying it in a sense that they had never heard it before. And I could hear that old Negro spiritual once more crying out: ‘Free at last, free at last, Great God Almighty, I'm free at last.’ They were experiencing that in their very souls. And everywhere we turned, we could hear it ringing out from the housetops. We could hear it from every corner, every nook and crook of the community. ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ This was the breaking loose from Egypt.”
As I reflected on the words of our anthem, three questions drifted into my consciousness. Whose freedom? Whose hope? Whose glory?
Some would argue that we could just say, “Fiji”.
However, we cannot honestly answer these questions so simply as long as the words “people” and “power” only come together in sentences about electricity.
In a sermon not long after his trip to Ghana, Rev. Dr. King said, “It seems this morning that I can hear God speaking. I can hear him speaking throughout the universe, saying, ‘Be still and know that I am God. And if you don't stop, if you don't straighten up, if you don't stop exploiting people, I'm going to rise up and break the backbone of your power. And your power will be no more!’"
Empowerment must come for all parts of the community, in every community.
According to King, “When I hear, "People aren't ready," that's like telling a person who is trying to swim, "Don't jump in that water until you learn how to swim." When actually you will never learn how to swim until you get in the water. People have to have an opportunity to develop themselves and govern themselves.”
We cannot answer “Fiji” as long as those of us who have neglect those who have lost everything or as long as our words do not match our actions.
Dr. King once said, “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
Each of us needs to do what is right not only for the good of our friends, families, and neighbours, but for our own souls.
We need to believe in and live out the prayer we sing as our national anthem.
Otherwise it is just a song.
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”.