Friday, May 3, 2013

A Historical Examination of the Indian Synod’s Amalgamation into the Conference of the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma

Below is a paper my wife, Maelin Pickering-Bhagwan wrote as part of her Postgraduate Diploma in History in 2011. Uploading it for posterity... and because its interesting from  historical perspective...

oh.. by the way... the J.S. Bhagwan mentioned in this paper is not me... but my grandfather and namesake James Shri Bhagwan I.... I be JSBII... we share similar girth and views on ethnic, social and cultural  integration as essential for unity in Fiji.



The Methodist Church in Fiji, the second largest Protestant Church in the Pacific, became independent under its own conference and constitution in 1964.   The church is predominantly a church of indigenous Fijians.  However, a portion of the second largest ethnicity in Fiji is Indo-Fijian Christians.  The number of Indo-Fijian Christians in Fiji is minute in comparison to the indigenous Fijians and also to Indo-Fijians[1] in general. The Methodist Indo-Fijians totals only 5,432 members out of 280,268 (overall number of Methodists) and 313,798 (overall total of Indo-Fijians) respectively. [2] Indo-Fijian Methodists only comprise 2% of the Methodist Church and Christians make up only 6% of the Indo-Fijian population.

The writing of the 1964 document was warmly endorsed by the indigenous Fijian members of the Conference, ministerial and lay.  The initial drafters included white missionaries, leading Fijian and Indo-Fijian ministers and laity.  The document met the requirements of the Australasian Conference of the Methodist Church and the standard in other parts of the world. [3]

This paper seeks to examine the reasons for the formation of the Conference of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma.  It will discuss in detail the reasons for merging of the Indian Synod[4] and Fijian Synod, the reactions to this amalgamation, with particular attention to the members of the Indian Synod and illustrate how the decisions of the leaders of the Indian Synod in the build up to the formation of Conference in the 1960s have impacted the leaders of the Indian Division of the present. 

Early Methodist Mission to Indians in Fiji and the Origins of the Indian Synod

According to Wood (1978), the whole of Fiji was technically Christian when the indentured labourers from India arrived in Fiji in 1879 onwards, five years after the cession of Fiji to Great Britain and fifty-four years after the first Christian Mission to Fiji had begun. [5]  By the end of the indenture system in 1916 over 60,000 Indian labourers had been brought to Fiji.[6]
A mission to Fiji’s Indians was not seen as a priority by the Methodist Church. Perhaps this is because of experiences in India. For missionaries from Europe or from Australia, a mission among Indians was difficult. Indians were culturally different in their ways of doing things.  Coming from the East where old religions (faiths) were in existence long even before Christianity, Indians regarded Christianity as inferior to their own religions which surpassed it, they believed, in intellectual strength. 

Initially Australian and New Zealand based missionaries were not very interested in ministering to the Indians.  Mission work in India had little success and the missionaries were concentrating on their Fijian converts to ensure that they were not influenced by the non-Christians who were arriving in Fiji after 1879 in large numbers.   Indigenous Fijians did not argue with the missionaries as Indians did.  The arguments of educated Hindus were much more subtle and difficult to refute. Motivation for the early evangelism reflects attitudes of European missionaries towards indentured Indians. Wood documents reports of “coolies” being described as dregs of Indian society and a danger to Fijian society because of their “ill morals” and age and attractiveness of their “pagan” religions.[7] While it is understandable that missionaries were primarily concerned with the protection of their Fijian converts, some of their comments about Indians betray their own bigotry as reports in The Missionary Review state:
Some people say that there are only two classes of Indian coolies, viz. those in gaol and those who ought to be there.  However, we hope and pray for the evangelisation of these people…A large percentage of them are men of the lowest morality, the very dregs in fact of the Indian people…All the evidence we can get points to the terrible menace these people are to the well-being of our Church and the people of Fiji.[8]
At the beginning of the indenture period only 0.1% of Indians considered themselves as Christians despite their low numbers. In 1884 the Fiji District Meeting of Methodist Missionaries resolved to give attention to the numerous Polynesians and Coolies (as the Indians were referred to) now in Fiji.[9]   They proposed to hold services for these newcomers whenever they were found and asked the Mission Board in Sydney for an Indian Evangelist to be sent to minister to Indians. On the 10th of July, 1892, Pastor John Williams of Faizabad, India arrived in Suva.
Williams worked under the direction of Reverend Henry Worrall, an outspoken missionary, visiting Indians in their houses and in the “lines”, the squalid barracks where the Indian labourers lived. Despite his devotion and early successes, Pastor Williams faced a number of serious obstacles. The Colonial Sugar Refinery, for which the indentured labourers worked on 5 year contracts of 1 shilling per day for men and 9 pence per day for women, was against the whole idea of Christian mission among the Indians as they felt that the “coolies,” as Indian labourers were called, might be spoilt for labour if taught by the missionaries. Pastor Williams was not a very good English speaker and this meant that he had difficulty in communicating with the European missionaries (who could speak or understand Fijian but not Hindi or Urdu) and they in turn, neglected him.  He was given shoddy accommodation in the Rewa Delta, albeit better than the “lines” where the indentured labourers lived. He asked for a boat to travel up and down the Rewa River for visitations, but this request was denied.[10] He requested for schools to be set up to teach the children of the Indian labourers. This request was also denied and he was told to remain a travelling preacher. Eventually these difficulties, compounded by the neglect of his fellow missionaries took its toll.  Mrs Williams, who as lonely and homesick in their isolated cottage in the Rewa Delta, fell sick as did their son and returned to India in 1893.  Left alone, Pastor William’s devotion and drive to evangelise were replaced with loneliness and frustration and in May 1894, disappointed with not being able to complete his term, he returned to India.

Following the failure of Pastor Williams’ mission, a new policy emerged:
…the 1897 General Conference meeting in Auckland directed the Mission Board to undertake work on “a more aggressive scale” – and the outcome was to appoint one mission sister to work among 10,000 Indians![11] 
The mission to the Indians officially began in 1897 with the arrival of Hannah Dudley and her work marked the beginning of mission as part of evangelism, establishing a school and an orphanage (the precursor of Dilkusha Girls Home was her own home in Toorak). The method of approaching the non-Christian Indians in evangelisation and mission worked proved very expensive and time-consuming especially when the results were poor.  “The Indian section felt they had to fight hard for its claims for staff and for finance for its schools, orphanages, dispensaries and hospital, all these being peculiar to the Indian needs only.” [12]
The differences in approaches to mission work among the two different ethnic groups, as well as in Colonial policy and racial prejudice among some missionaries, along with anti-colonial sentiment in India which was communicated to Indians in Fiji, led to issues of equity within the Methodist Church being raised.  Reverend Ramsey Deoki, the first Fiji-born Indian to be ordained in the ministry challenged the Church to pay equal salary to both European and Indian and Fijian ministers.  At the same time missionaries in the Indian section wanted recognition of their special needs and were enthusiastically backed by the young Indian Christians, who were not afraid to voice these needs and propose a policy for their own church.  Their voice, needs and concerns they felt would not be met effectively in one synod, serving both Indians and Fijians.  Hence a demand for a separate synod that grew steadily.
The Indian Mission was established in 1901 as a separate administrative section under the direction of the District Chairman, the Reverend A.J. Small.[13]  Its membership continued to grow.  By 1909, the Indian Mission Staff consisted of 11 members under the leadership Reverend J.W. Burton who resided Davuilevu[14].
Mission-based evangelism through Welfare (Dilkusha Girls Home, Ba Boys Home), Health (Ba Mission Hospital) and Education (Dudley House School) remained the core of the mission to the Indians. Currently, the Indian Division is the Methodist Church’s only nationwide Division with 11 circuits (parishes) spread over Viti Levu, Vanua Levu and Taveuni.  It is currently in the process        of re-envisioning its name and relevance within the Methodist church. 

The Long Road Towards Amalgamation

By 1960, the Methodist Mission in Fiji was 125 years old. The Overseas Mission of the Methodist Church in Australasia began to explore what the future of Methodism in Fiji would look like.  By this stage, the Australasian Mission had been through years of meetings about the future of the Fiji Mission.  The process to self autonomy or Conference seemed prolonged, but steps were gradually being taken, nevertheless. 

Although European missionaries Joseph Waterhouse and Lorimer Fison envisaged Conference status for the Church in Fiji well before (about 90 years) it was achieved, very little notice was given to this foreshadow as the missionaries at that time, both Europeans and Fijians alike had more pressing matters that took up their attention:
In 1888, the Fiji Synod responded with no enthusiasm whatsoever to a suggestion from the Mission Board about creating Fiji a Conference.  “It is impossible to this”, the Synod declared.  It seems that the Board was thinking of its financial difficulties through the expenses of New Britain and the preparations for beginning for beginning another Mission in Papua (British New Guinea) in 1981 and wanted to reduce its commitments to Fiji.[15]

In 1909, the Board called for an investigation of Fiji becoming a self-supporting District and also the possibility of separating the Indian work from the Fijian work in Synod.  Already it was clear that the responsibilities of the two diverse spheres of missionary work would complicate the question of self –government and eventual Conference status.  However, Lelean[16] expressed his misgivings about Fiji’s inability to pay its own way as an “, independent District”, highlighting that the Indian section would not be able to meet expenses for many years to come. 

The discussions and debates for Conference continued over the many years that followed.  The hindrance to the developments laid in the incapacity of Fiji to fully maintain its European staff, especially because of heavy expenses for the Indian section.  In May, 1917, the General Conference was held where it expressed the hope of Fiji becoming a financially independent District in future.  General Conference recognised that wartime economies were delaying self-support and that funds from Australia would still be needed in Fiji.

In 1923, the General Conference gave its approval for the Fiji Synod to be separated into two sections, Fiji and Indian – this meant that the Indian community would have more responsibility than in the past.  At the 1926 General Conference, the amended constitution provided for a United European session, a Fijian Session, and Indian Session, the Fijians and Indian Sessions to have both Pastoral and Fiji and Financial Sessions.[17]  Over the years, there was growing desire for autonomy from the Australasian Church but the fear of the power of the chiefs who might intimidate the Fijian ministers by pressuring them to gets loans for themselves from local church funds and or interfering with discipline and order in the affairs of the church.  These fears, together with the dwindling finances during the First World War, delayed the realization of Fiji becoming an autonomous Church, or even a self-supporting District.

Moreover complications arose from the Fiji Synod members to a separate Indian Synod and also the resentment to what was regarded as interference by the Mission Board – such as the removal of European missionaries during the Depression, delaying the building of Ballantine Memorial Girls’ School, and the construction of the Centenary Church.[18]

By 1936, Fijian Ministers outnumbered the European missionaries.  In the same year, a group of farmers, with its name “Toko Farmers” vowed to collect 500 British pounds and 100 tabua[19] by June 1941 to send representatives from Fiji to Australia appealing for more money to establish Conference. Also, Tonga, which was only 9 years ahead of Fiji in the establishment of Methodist missions, had already achieved Conference status in 1924.   In 1940, Rev. Burton, who was then General Secretary for Overseas Missions[20], proposed the elimination of the separate European Synod to ease the problem of finance.  However, the Chairman of the Missions Board, Reverend William Green was opposed to this idea.  He claimed that the pressure was coming from the Indians mission workers who wanted equality with Europeans in status and salary. Green also doubted that the Fijians were ready for a United Synod and he did not think that there were enough Fijians ready to take on the responsibility of circuit stewards. [21]

Despite Green’s doubts and opinions opposing a United Synod, the step towards Conference status came a little closer to reality with the formation of the United Synod in 1943.  This United Synod dealt only with specific matters.  The numbers continued to grow in favour of complete union between the Fijian and Indian sections.   Alongside a United Synod, would be two other Synods, Fijian and Indian headed by a Chairman for each, where these Synods would be able to send its own recommendation to the Board.  On the 9th October, 1943, the Board decided that it was not the right time to set up a Conference, but approved Fiji’s suggestions for the United Synod with two separate racial Synods. [22]

After much perseverance from the Toko Farmer’s Group and Fijian Synod for a Fiji Conference, the General Conference in Australia expressed satisfaction with the movements towards it.  The Fijian ministers were taking more initiative in their ministries and this accelerated more while European missionaries went on leave.  The local Indian and Fiji ministers had by now developed a new found courage to challenge European missionaries on matters that concerned their people’s welfare.  These matters dealt particularly with education, social welfare and alterations in the laws of the Church: 
Even in those matters Fijian and Indian representatives sat together with Europeans in the United Synod and could outvote them.  (In 1950, there were twenty-one Fijians and fourteen Indians in the United Synod).[23] 
Undoubtedly, the establishment of the United Synod was an all-important step in keeping the door open for Conference status.  However it must be noted that the purpose behind the tabua and money from the Toko farmers was not for an integrated church but for the Fijian Church to stand on its own feet.[24]
The European Synod was eliminated in the 1945 Fiji Constitution; this action was a clear indication that Conference status would follow.  However, not all the conservative Fijian members jumped at this change and so were slow to accept them. 

It was not until the era of 1960 to 1964 did significant or the mains discussions take place about merging the two Synods into one Conference.  The Indian Synod, still minority within the Methodist Church was given the opportunity to agree to the merger or not.  Long and detailed deliberations were held when meetings for the formation of Conference were called. 

One of the early meetings in 1960, some options or possibilities were of what organisation structure would look like were discussed.  The first option proposed a complete integration of the Fijian and Indian work – a completely integrated conference, where all business is decided by the complete conference.  This proposal was favoured by the chairman of the Fijian District.  Although there were a number of aspects were appealing, the separation of an Indian District with seven Fijian districts would not really achieve what was being aimed at.   Another possibility was that there be a Fijian Conference and an Independent Indian District, such as which existed in Samoa for many years.  The implementation of this could completely separate the two races.  These two options were not received with much enthusiasm from some of the members of both ethnicities. 

The only other alternative seemed to be an arrangement which would give effective co-operation and a sense of unity without complete unity.  This was hoped to be achieved sooner to give a greater sense of togetherness between the two Churches and which would be a basis for conference status.  This arrangement might involve one conference for both sections of the Church together, but with sectional meeting of the groups, each responsible for its own domestic affairs.  Decisions of both groups might be reported to the Conference.  Some matters should be the responsibility of the whole conference.  This system would provide “community, if not full unity”.[25]

In this meeting, Rev. Deoki said that it appeared that all circuits favoured a Fiji Conference.  Deoki added that the Indian Synod was a minority and would perhaps not be fair for it to be too vocal in trying to influence Fijian thinking.  While Deoki felt it would not be possible to come to a decision by 1963, work could still be carried out to approve a standing committee of each synod, with the United Synod collecting data.  He recommended that Districts be divided regionally rather than racially.  He would rather see four districts corresponding to four political divisions.  He favoured whole-heartedly a Fiji Conference satisfactory to all people.  This motion was seconded by only some members present at that meeting.

Reverend Mastapha, an emerging leader in the Methodist Church, said that this matter could not be discussed without discussing the position of the Indian District within the Conference also adding that the challenge was to unite the members within the Indian Circuit.  He elaborated that it was no use to integrate church government and impose it on people.  To make his point Mastapha also reminded the Synod of the incident in his home town of Levuka, the first capital of Fiji, where the Indian congregation had been handed over to the Fijian District and had been ignored. 

Reverend Caleb, a young, dedicated and enthusiastic Minister in the Methodist Church agreed with Mastapha on integration and on educating the members of the Indian Synod.  He added that the two important aims that were to be achieved through conference would be togetherness and realizing the responsibility.  Caleb said that the Indian people needed first to proceed from the known to the unknown as they did not sufficiently understand the present set-up.  He agreed that conference would help the Indian Church to carry out its responsibility towards the 190,000 Indian people in mission work. 

Reverend Masih, the representative of Lautoka, said that the feeling in the Lautoka Church was that there must be either complete unity or none. There was no half-way.  A Conference must have jurisdiction over all Methodist Church Affairs.  Otherwise it would be a farce.  For this reason, Lautoka could not understand the suggestion of different scale of representation for the Indian Church.

Rev. Cecil Gribble, who as General Secretary of  Overseas Missions represented the Australasian Methodist Church during discussions in 1960[26], warned against setting out on a perfectionist journey and saying wait until there was complete integration at lower level.  The great work in missionary today was “flexibility” so a uniform pattern over the whole church should not be imposed.
Mr. Sultan Ali and Mr. J.S. Bhagwan, two active lay leaders in the Indian Synod, surged that the delay should not be too long.  They believed that this merger would also be good for acknowledgement on the Fijians part that some Indians are Christians living in Fiji.   Christians of both races must have a chance of knowing one another. 

However, the issue of disunity within the Indian Synod was an ongoing one.  Some leaders were sceptical about a conference because they felt that unity should first be achieved within their Synod before thinking about unity with the Fijian Synod.  They first needed to examine what the barriers were that kept them divided.  Some difficulties suggested by Bhagwan were that there were not enough chances for the two sections of the Church to mix as each had no confidence with the other.  Another reason was that combined services did not provide the opportunity for the members to get to know one another, and that a Conference would provide that platform. 

Rev. Masih stated that the thing that kept the races apart was the way they were governed in this country– separately.  Caleb supported Masih on this observation and added that one of the barriers was psychological, a sense of inferiority of the Fijian people.  Removing the barrier meant that each member of the Indian Synod take the initiative to do this.  Mrs. Deoki agreed that three years should be allowed to allow for discussion down to the lowest levels, even to the children in Sunday school.  As for the mixing of races, experience in Levuka showed it could be done where Fijian and Indian Church leaders could come together for prayer meetings and there could be more combined services and youth meetings.[27]

The meeting in 1960 reassured the United Synod that they agreed in principle to a Conference for Fiji but should be suitable for the needs of all its members.  This motion was moved by Deoki and seconded by Bhagwan.  Deoki also suggested a standing or constitutional committee.  Mastapha said that he would like to hear the point of view of the Fijian ministers, and suggested that the United Synod be asked to elect a standing committee and state its terms of reference.  Deoki’s motion was passed unanimously.

Mastapha urged that the constitutional committee be a committee of United Synod, as this would help the two districts come together and would enable each to make contributions.  Representatives of the two districts should come together face to face in prayerful meetings.  The focus should be on the similarities and not the differences. 

Names for this proposed committee that could be chosen by the United Synod included: The Chairman (ex-officio) Rev. Roy. Salway, Mr. Hari Charan, Mr. Sultan. Ali, Mr. J.S. Bhagwan, Revs Deoki, Caleb and Mastapha, Miss Mavis Prasad, Miss Pauline Campbell, and Dr. David Lancaster. 

The final resolution was passed which recommended to United Synod for a conference constitution committee to submit recommendations to the quarterly meetings and annual meetings and 1961 synods that will make possible for recommendations regarding constitutional change necessary to attain conference status to be submitted to General Conference 1963.

Over a period of 3 years, a series of discussions were held as to what type of amalgamation was to be adopted.  There were three proposals put forward for consideration by the Conference Constitution Committee which would outline the structure of the new constitution that was to govern the new Conference of the Methodist Church in Fiji.  Proposal A was dropped fairly early, but Proposal B and C continued to be discussed and were sent to the Fijian and Indian District. 
One of the recommendations for integration to Synods was that the two present synods be abolished.  Proposal B recommended that the there be 8 Divisions, 7 of these to the Fijian Districts and 1 to the Indian District).  These Districts are to be known as Divisions. [28]
However, Proposal C included the establishment of six integrated Annual Meetings.  Some Fijians favoured Proposal C with fairly full integration of Fijian and Indian Churches at divisional level, but with an Advisory Committee on Indian Affairs (A.C.I.A).  In fact the Constitution Committee recommended this at one stage. 
Reverend Setareki Tuilovoni, who was Chairperson of the United Synod in 1962, but was in New York undertaking further studies, wrote letters to the Chairman of the Fiji-Fijian District, J.B.H. Robson for Constitution Committee in favour Proposal C but was against the idea of the formation of the Advisory Council on Indian Affairs (A.C.I.A) (which was included in Proposal C) as it undermined the role of the Committee for Evangelism.  Tuilovoni was adamant that integration of the ethnicities was dependent on the dismissal of the A.C.I.A.  He based this justification on the issue of equality for all – why should only the Indians have an Advisory Committee?  How is that fair to the other ethnicities?
As we consider ourselves to become Conference, we should understand that we are not thinking of two people only, Fijians and Indians, but of many others whom we call members of Christ’s family such as the part-Europeans, Rotumans, Samoans, Tongans, Europeans, Chinese and many others.  These also should be considered and provisions made for them…….When the Church is integrated, it will depend on our being one in mind if we are to build up our work on the one fountain Jesus Christ.[29]

Tuilovoni’s solution to dealing with the Indian Affairs was the Committee for Evangelism.  The only challenge he saw with the Indian people was to Christianise them. He did not look beyond the duty of mission to the non-Christian Indians.  He did not touch on any of the ethnic or cultural differences in any of his correspondence to the Constitution Committee as Chairperson of the United Synod:
 It is clear that one of the duties of the Christian Church in Fiji is to christianise the Indian people.  A person who wrote the Annual Church Report in 1961, finished his report about Fiji in this manner, “The Christian Fijians in Fiji refuse to Christianise the Indians because of their hatred for them.” To me this has been a thing of great shame.  Perhaps it is true that this report is not absolutely correct but it is clear that in the eyes of the world the thinking is.  Are we concerned with making our Indian population Christian or not?  There was a time when we used to boast that Fiji was almost 100% Christian.  Today the picture has greatly changed and there are only 50% of the population that is Christian …..if we do not set about evangelizing the Indian people then we will be judged by God for having hidden the light of the Gospel under a bushel…..In resolution B (proposal B), we are not going to be united on this evangelical work as we are divided into two divisions one Indian and one Fijian.  It is not possible to for the members of the Indian District to say to us to help them to evangelise the non-christian if they will not approve of us being one family together.  If we remain divided from one another, then we are not able to bring them into our spiritual family and we will not be bound together in our work of Evangelising the Indians of Fiji.[30]

On the 28th of April, 1962, yet another conference committee meeting was held.  In this meeting, Deoki raised his concern that many people were not informed of the proposals put forward by the committee – this was coming from the feedback he received when recently visiting the other side of Viti Levu.  He felt that more time was needed to carry on with this work before implementing a Conference.  “Rushing it would deal a death blow to the Indian Church.”[31]  The ‘death blow’ here meant the implementation of Proposal C where the Indian Church was to integrate with the six proposed divisions which was Fijian dominated.  The Indian Church would be intimidated and eventually be swallowed up by the Fijian Church:
If Fijian Church is unanimously for “C”…..should Fijian Church ‘go it alone’?  Pleaded for retention of Indian Synod…… Do the Fijian brethren think of Proposal “C” as the only way to achieve ‘integration’?  We are forcing the issue – quite a number of the Indian people are unhappy about it.  Let the Fijian Church go ahead, but don’t drag the Indian people into it.  The Fijian people would lose a lot by losing their Synod…….. How can we Indian people appreciate Fijian tradition unless we know their minds?  Cultures are so different – but perhaps could be united under English pattern.[32]
However, J.S Bhagwan, head teacher of Suva Methodist Boys School and a senior Indian lay leader, was determined to see the establishment of Conference as soon as possible and continued to remind the committee members that waiting and delaying conference would create suspicion among the members: Why the stop?With anything new there is fear, but fear stops when it works.  If we can’t come together today, no guarantee we can come together in 5 years time.[33] 
Like Bhagwan, the Australian missionaries present at that meeting felt that there was a need to move the process along a little faster and as Reverend Fullerton puts it, “tide is coming in, unless we use it, we could be stranded and these problems could be better solved by coming together and accepting each other.”[34]
The realism for Conference continued to progress.  The stage was now being set for the merger of the two Synods to take place to form Conference of the Methodist Church in Fiji.  Although most Fijian members favoured Proposal C, which was to have six integrated meetings – the most influential person being Tuilovoni himself – some member s of the Indian Synod expressed hesitations and concerns that the Indian members would be swallowed up by the large number of Fijian members at each Division and would therefore make the Indian members feel insignificant.  A consequence of this could lead to the decline in the Indian membership altogether which defeated the purpose of the mission to the Indians.
In 1962, the Acting Chairperson’s report to the Annual Meeting of the Board of Missions on Proposal for a Fiji Conference stated that United Synod of the Methodist Church in Fiji passed the resolution that Proposal B be adopted. 
ii. Resolved (a) that the degree of integration be outlined as in Proposal B, i.e. the abolition of the two present synods, their replacement by Seven (7) Annual Meetings – the six Fijian Annual Meeting similar to the present structure, plus an Annual Meeting for the Indian Church to replace the Indian Synod.  (This was an amendment to a resolution and the amendment was carried 28-2, and the substantive motion was passed unanimously, with all present casting a vote.)[35]
The task now was to choose a language which was to be used during conference meetings.  The question of language in a Conference of Fiji and English-speaking Indians had been a contentious issue but it was decided that Fijian would be the language of the Conference, with English as the “associate language”. 

Fears of the Indian Division

Four key issues seemed to be the sticking point for the Indian Synod:

1.      Land - The Indian Synod had purchased all their land for their mission work.  The total number circuits under the Indian Division encompasses freehold land in their physical locations.  The amalgamation to form Conference meant entrusting the presiding of the land to the President and 2 other executives as the sole trustees.  On the other hand, the Fijian Districts did not purchase any of their land but either leased it from or was given land from their respective chiefs.  The amalgamation meant that any decision concerning land would rest solely on the trustees and thus out of the control of Indian circuits.

2.      Racism - The Indian members, for whom the memory of the oppressive Girmit indenture system was only a generation back, were concerned about being discriminated against when it came to important issues or would be brushed aside if they voice their concerns.  One of the reasons for discrimination in Fiji could be a consequence from the British Colonial administrative principle of “divide and rule”.  The Indian minority could easily be outvoted or silenced by the Fijian majority. 

3.      Finance - The Indian Synod feared the mismanagement of funds if everything was handed over to Conference.  Past experience suggested that Fijian people did not have the best record for keeping a credit balance in the bank and so worried about the regular payment of minister’s wages.[36]

4.      Autonomy – Because of their small number in comparison to the Fijian members, the Indian Synod felt that they could easily be ignored.  This concern was raised repeatedly by Deoki in the Constitution Committee Meetings in 1962 as mentioned previously in this essay.

In optimism, Tuilovoni wrote “As we consider ourselves one Conference, there will be many things to unite, such as land, the funds of the Church and other things that previously divided.[37]
In regards to Ministers’ stipends, Tuilovoni proposed that all ministers’ stipends be pooled together, and all then paid from this fund.  He suggested that there be a Common Money Pool.  In that way Ministers’ stipends would be paid on time.  Some ministers suffered when they were not on good terms with committee, so their stipends were withheld.  Tuilovoni proposed that all ministers be paid the same wages and there should not be any race barrier or class distinctions and that there should be no grades in stipends.  This meant that the Indians would be able to help in the work of evangelism.  According to Tuilovoni, the arrangement at that time in the Indian District with regards to minister’s stipends made it possible for the Indian people to support many ministers.  If there was to be one system suitable to all, it would be possible for a fund to be created by which many more Indian ministers can be supported:
The Church in Fiji belongs to them all, and it is fitting that there should be one rule for all.  It would be very good if the Missions Board could find a way to whereby missionaries and local ministers could be together in this: perhaps the Board could keep something for missionaries when they returned to their own land.  While missionaries are in Fiji, let there be an allowance from the Missions Board that is to be put into the common pool from which all of us ministers.[38]

The Amalgamation

The Australasian Missions Board supported the idea of the amalgamation of the two synods and used their representatives in Fiji to subtly lobby for it. On a political note, atmosphere in Fiji was changing as the locals enthusiastically started taking charge.  While Fiji was preparing herself for independence from the British, the feeling of self-government and independence gave hope and a sign of a new beginning.  As this was made to be seen as good for the people of Fiji, in reality, the burden to financing and looking after Fiji (along with other Pacific Islands nations) was becoming on heavy on the British.  The same experiences can be understood about the Australasian Missions Board hence the support for Conference.
From 1951 to 1961 all of the six Fijian Divisions including the 7th Division, which came under the Indian Synod, had European missionaries as Superintendents.  In 1964, when the Conference status eventuated, only two out of the seven Divisions had European missionaries as Head, the rest had Fijian and an Indian (for the Indian Division) as Superintendents. [39]  While this was proving true for self-governing and self-supporting, some chiefs objected to having Fijian ministers as it was thought that these chiefs had lost some of their prestige.  These difficulties were noted.  Only one minister was seen fit to lead this Uniting Synod and that was Tuilovoni.  Tuilovoni was a well educated man and was well recognised and respected by everyone.  He was appointed President of the Fiji Conference in 1964. 

The Conference was officially inaugurated by the Australian President-General, the Reverend Dr. Frank Hambly on the 11th of July 1964.  It consisted of 123 Fijian ministers, 3 Indian ministers and nine European ministers.  The Indian Division (which it was now called) was headed by Deoki.  [40]

Proposal B was adopted as the outline of the new official constitution.  The worry of land misuse was subsided to allow for trust to find its way into members of the Indian Division – the Conference Constitution stated that the decision of Methodist properties would solely lie in the hand of the Executives who became their trustees.  The same can be said with the issues of finance and autonomy.  They needed to let go and trust in God that all would be well. 

The Indian Division Since Conference

Crises of Political Influence
Despite being given permanent membership of all church department committees - including the Standing Committee, which governed the church in between annual conferences - as a way for Indian participation in the management and affairs of the church; the fears of the Indian Methodists, highlighted above, manifested in the aftermath of the military coups of 1987. The General Secretary of the Methodist Church Rev. Manasa Lasaro and his advisers within the church had very close connections with the ethno-nationalist “Taukei Movement”, which was the driving force in organizing street demonstrations and looting Indian properties during and after the military coups.[41] As a result, more fire was added into a simple protest that became more of a political issue and at the same time victimised the Indo-Fijian population.[42] Suspended for these actions Lasaro retaliated and on 2nd February 1989, mirroring the military coup just two years earlier Lasaro and a number of his supporters stormed the office and ousted the then -President Rev. Koroi, and acting General Secretary Rev. Paula Nuikula. The dissident faction installed Rev. Isireli Caucau as president who promptly reinstated Lasaro as General Secretary. Eventually, by traditional succession, Lasaro eventually became president of the Methodist Church.
The racist sentiments of the Takuei Movement permeated the Methodist Church hierarchy. Rev. Ragho Prasad, who was at the time the Superintendent of the Indian Division was silenced and verbally abused during meetings and conference when he tried to raise issues. Overseas funding aid for the Indian Division and channelled through the church office was withheld or redirected without consultation with the Indian Division. Between 1989-1990 stipends for ordained ministers and deaconesses in the Indian Division were withheld by the church office. While this gave the Division a “mandate” to manage their own funds, it came with a heavy price. Prasad was initially forced to pay withdraw his own pension so that ministers could be paid and later the mental and emotional stress resulted in him suffering from a stroke.[43]

Today only half the Indian Division’s members are of Indian ethnicity, with indigenous Fijians, Rotumans, Europeans, Part Europeans and other minorities making up the other half. As a result it is the most multi-racial Division in the Methodist Church. It is currently in the process of discussing change of the name of the Division, to reflect its inclusive nature with membership of other races.
However as a result of the coups of 1987 and 2000, the ethnocentric nature that the Methodist Church has displayed has led to insecurity and frustration among the leaders and members of the Indian Division. As a minority Division, while it enjoys representation in almost all facets of the management of the church, it is still outnumbered and often its voice or presence goes unrecognised. This has been the case in the instances of land, where property originally belonging to the Indian Synod and until recently managed and used by the Indian Division has been transferred to the church’s Holding Trust, without consultation with the Division. Other recent cases include the rescinding of management of Suva Methodist Primary School (formerly Suva Methodist Boys School), Ba Veilomani Boys’ Home and Dilkusha Girls’ Home by the church. While accusations of mismanagement, corruption and financial abuse have been made by the Division about the current management, no investigations have been undertaken by the church nor have they taken the resolutions and requests to return management to the Division which has offered to undertake investigations and a cleanup of the institutions on behalf of the church.
Because it does not stand for some of the causes that church leadership have involved in the Methodist Church in, it is often brought into conflict with the church leadership and discriminated against. This has lead the Division to re-examine its position within the structure of the Methodist Church Conference and seek equity and if necessary, legal autonomy.[44] However the insecurity has breed disunity among ministers. Out of fear of discrimination and with personal agendas, some ministers are not loyal to their current Divisional Superintendent, hence the inability to unite and fight for a common cause in the search for equity and, if necessary, for independence from the Conference. According to current Divisional Superintendent can it be a cultural thing /an Indian thing to look out only for themselves – “mahabarat” is in their blood.”[45]

Conclusion: An Analysis of Perceived fears
Based on the above section, it is possible that the fears perceived by the leaders of the Indian Synod in the lead up to amalgamation may have been realised. This is certainly the case in terms of racism and discrimination, finance, land and autonomy. However the factors and catalysts of the realisation of these fears were very different to what these leaders would have envisaged. Perhaps it is possible to suggest that the events of 1987, 1989 and 2000 brought these simmering issues to the boil.  On the other hand it is also possible that these events provided a morally corrupt leadership the means to extend their control of the church to the financially secure Indian Division.
Beyond the recognition and analysis of the perceived fears of the Indian Synod, further questions arise that will need to be answered if these fears and the underlying issues are to be addressed. The question of unity for the sake of peace among races is a battle that the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma will continue to struggle with.  There are a lot of “what ifs” that needs to be re-examined closely if there is a genuine want for unity and togetherness.  The current situation the Methodist Church in Fiji is in speaks a lot about their disunity – disunity within the two major ethnicities.
 The Indian Division leadership currently is being undermined to cater for the grievances lodged with disgruntled ministers of the Indian Division itself.  Could it really be “Indian nature” or in the words of Reverend Lucas, “conflicts and drama – it’s in our blood”? [46]
If Proposal C would have gone ahead, the integration of ethnicities in the 6 Divisions may very well have been what the Church needed for genuine integration and real unity.  The proposal may have been done without any political agendas.   Take the Catholic Churches in Fiji for example; their members irrespective of ethnicity belong to a sector or area where they are given the freedom to worship in or to choose another parish.  The division is along geographical boundaries, not ethnic.  The language maybe a barrier at first but given time, the Indian members could have been well-versed in both languages down the years – perhaps practiced by the generation after.  This move would allow for assimilation, where the different ethnicities learn from each other’s culture and adopted the best of both for a true integration.  The real move was not only for tolerance of each ethnicity, but for acceptance as well. 
This is already evident in the makeup of the Indian Division today. The membership Division is in reality a microcosm of Fiji and offers to be model for the Methodist Church as a whole. The discussion around a name for the Division may give rise to the similar fears about legacy and existence. On the other hand, it may well prove to be the key to putting the fears to rest once and for all. Perhaps the solution to these fears lies in the motto of the flagship school of the Indian Division, that bears tribute to the legacy of Indian Mission, Dudley High School: “From Within Out”.


Bureau of Statistics, 2007. 28th September 2011.
Clark, J.  Aborigines & Activism: Race, Aborigines & the coming of the sixties to Australia,  (Crawley: University of Western Australia Press, 2008)
Ernst, M. Winds of Change, (Suva: Pacific Conference of Churches, 1994)
Meo, J. Religious Freedom in Fiji, (Speech at FDFM Australia Conference 19th November, 2011)
Mustapha, D. “The Indian Christian Church in Fiji,” in Mai Kea Ki Vei: Stories of  Methodism in Fiji and Rotuma, ed. Andrew Thornley and Tauga Vulaono (Suva: Methodist Church, 1996)
Weir, C. “An Accidental Biographer? On Encountering, Yet Again, the Ideas and Actions of J.W. Burton” in Telling Pacific Lives: Prisms of Process, (Accessed 30th October, 2011)
Wood, A. Harold, Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church, Volume II: Fiji, (Melbourne, Aldersgate, 1978)
Wood A. Harold, Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church, Volume III: Fiji-Indian and Rotuma, (Melbourne, Aldersgate, 1978)

Personal Interviews
Mastapha, Daniel. Interview with author. 29th August, 2011. 11am
Lucas, William. Interview with author. 23rd September, 2011.  5:15 p.m.
Prasad, Mere and Traill, Doras. Interview with author. 30th October, 2011. 5:45 p.m.

Unpublished Notes:
Campbell, P. Notes Taken on the discussion on Conference Question.  Synod, 1960.

Tuilovoni, S. Correspondence to Rev. C. A Hatcher (Acting Chairman) 27th January, 1962

Minutes of Meetings:
-Minutes of the Conference Constitution Committee held at Dudley House School on Friday, 15th June, 1962 at 8:15 p.m.
- Minutes of the Conference Constitution Committee held at Dudley House School on Saturday, 28th  April, 1962 at 9:00 a.m.


[1] The term “Indo-Fijian” is used to describe Fijians who are descendants of indentured labourers brought from India by the British to Fiji and made to work in extremely oppressive conditions on sugarcane plantations in the late 19th century. Because the bulk of this paper focuses on the era of the 1900s-1964, the term “Indian” instead of Indo-Fijian will be used as it were during that period.
[2] Bureau of Statistics, 2007. 27th September, 2011
[3] John Garrett. “Methodism in Fiji since 1964” in Kea Ki Vei: Stories of  Methodism in Fiji and Rotuma, ed. Andrew Thornley and Tauga Vulaono (Suva: Methodist Church, 1996), 193
[4] The word ‘District’ was replaced by “Synod” in 1902.  Ref: A. Harold Wood, Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church, Volume II: Fiji  (Melbourne, Aldersgate, 1978) pg 9
[5] A. Harold Wood, Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church, Volume III: Fiji-Indian and Rotuma, (Melbourne, Aldersgate, 1978) pg 9
[6] Wood 1978, cited in Daniel Mustapha, “The Indian Christian Church in Fiji,” in Mai Kea Ki Vei: Stories of  Methodism in Fiji and Rotuma, ed. Andrew Thornley and Tauga Vulaono (Suva: Methodist Church, 1996), 130
[7] A. Harold Wood, Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church, Volume III: Fiji-Indian and Rotuma, (Melbourne, Aldersgate, 1978), 9
[8] Ibid pg. 9
[9] A. Harold Wood, “Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church Volume III: Fiji Indian and Rotuma,” (Victoria: Dominion Press, 1978), 9.
[10] ibid, 11
[11] . Harold Wood, “Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church Volume III: Fiji Indian and Rotuma,” (Victoria: Dominion Press, 1978), 12
[12] Ibid, 46
[13] Daniel Mustapha, “The Indian Christian Church in Fiji,” in Mai Kea Ki Vei: Stories of  Methodism in Fiji and Rotuma, ed. Andrew Thornley and Tauga Vulaono (Suva: Methodist Church, 1996), 136
[14] Purchased in 1908, Davuilevu was a large piece of land across the Rewa River from Nausori. The land was the site for the Teacher Training Institute, Technical/Vocational Training centre, the Methodist Theological College, a medical mission and mission school. The area in which the residence of District Superintendent of the Indian Mission was located became known as Dilkusha when the Dilkusha Orphanage was established there.
[15] Daniel Mustapha, “The Indian Christian Church in Fiji,” 341
[16] Rev. Charles Oswald Lelean was an Australian missionary who served in Fiji for 36 years.   He spent twenty years of this as Senior Superintendent and Principal of t he Davuilevu Theological College, 1914-1934.
[17] Daniel Mustapha, “The Indian Christian Church in Fiji,” in Mai Kea Ki Vei: Stories of  Methodism in Fiji and Rotuma, ed. Andrew Thornley and Tauga Vulaono (Suva: Methodist Church, 1996), 343
[18] Ibid, 343
[19] Tabua – whale’s tooth.  This item is of great value in the Fijian custom. 

[20] Christine Weir, “An Accidental Biographer? On Encountering, Yet Again, the Ideas and Actions of J.W. Burton” in Telling Pacific Lives: Prisms of Process, (Accessed 30th October, 2011)

[21] A. Harold Wood, “Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church Volume II: Fiji” (Victoria: Dominion Press, 1978), 344
[22] ibid, 344
[23] ibid, 345
[24] Point raised by I.B. Vatucicila in Minutes of Meeting of Conference Constitution Committee held at Dudley House School on Friday, 15th June 1962 at 8:15 p.m.
[25] Pauline Campbell. Notes Taken on the discussion on Conference Question.  Synod, 1960.

[26] Jennifer Clark, Aborigines & Activism: Race, Aborigines & the coming of the sixties to Australia,  (Crawley: University of Western Australia Press, 2008), 98
[27] Pauline Campbell. Notes Taken on the discussion on Conference Question.  Synod, 1960.

[28] Minutes of A Conference Constitution Committee Meeting held at the Dudley House School, Suva, on Friday 29th June, 1962 at 2pm; pg 1
[29] Rev. Setareki Tuilovoni, Correspondence to ….
[30] ibid     
[31] Point raised by Rev. R. Deoki in the Minutes of the Conference Constitution Committee held at Dudley House School on Friday, 15th June, 1962 at 8:15 p.m.
[32] ibid
[33] Point raised by Mr. J.S. Bhagwan in the Minutes of the Conference Constitution Committee held at Dudley House School on Friday, 15th June, 1962 at 8:15 p.m.
[34] Point raised by Rev. L. D. Fullerton, in the Minutes of the Conference Constitution Committee held at Dudley House School on Friday, 15th June, 1962 at 8:15 p.m.
[35] Acting Chairman’s Report to the Annual Meeting of the Board of Missions, 1962, on the Proposals for a Fiji Conference.
[36] See pages 8-9 above.
[37] Setareki Tuilovoni, Correspondence to J.B.H. Robson of the Fiji-Fijian District. 9th April, 1962.
[38] ibid
[39] Ibid, 345.
[40] A. Harold Wood, “Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church Volume II: Fiji” (Victoria: Dominion Press, 1978), 347.
[41]   Manfred Ernst, Winds of Change, (Suva: Pacific Conference of Churches, 1994), 208.
[42] Jovili Meo, Religious Freedom in Fiji, (Speech at FDFM Australia Conference 19th November, 2011)
[43] Personal Interview with Mere Prasad (Rev. Prasad’s widow) and Doras Traill (Rev. Prasad’s daughter), September, 2011.  Suva
[44] Personal Interview with Reverend William Lucas, September, 2011,  Suva
[45] Lucas, Interview
[46] Lucas, Interview

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