Friday, February 23, 2018

For A Culture of Love

Published in the Fiji Times as Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

LAST month I received an emailed invitation from the Vunisalevu na Ratu na Tui Noco, Ratu Isoa Damudamu, to "the Celebration of the naming ceremony, the "vakatoka yaca" of our newly adopted children — descendants of indentured labourers."

The invitation, by Ratu Isoa, went on to say: "The tikina (district) of Noco and the Vanua (province) of Rewa celebrated the birth of a new relationship on Rewa Day 2016 through the traditional adoption of the descendants of indentured labourers into the Noco and Rewa family, ensuring that they now belong to the sacred relationship boundaries that exists in i Taukei relationship systems branching from its Noco and Rewa roots.

"The naming of this newborn member of the Noco and Rewa family is essential in sustaining the narrative of the roots, the foundation and sacred protection of this relationship for current and future generations. We believe that this has sustained our non-discriminatory linkages as i Taukei, binding us as one people, providing the basis of peaceful relationships and we are extending the same privileges to our new family members.

" As the Ratu, na Turaga na Tui Noco (chief of Noco District) I am proud to foster this newborn relationship and nurture and protect it under my leadership wings and boundaries and I know that I represent the oneness accord of my vanua of Noco and Rewa and the blessings of my paramount chief of Rewa, the Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi."

In his opening devotion, Noco Circuit minister Reverend Isireli Turaganiqali preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The background of the parable is that of two distinct ethnic and religious group who are in constant conflict, discrimination and suspicion of each other and an act of kindness by a Samaritan towards a Jew.

Mr Turaganiqali reflected on what it meant for Fiji to be "the way the world should be" in a time of civil wars, bombing, the loss of life, family and homes when there is crisis after crisis.

"We see that people have become stonehearted … they couldn't care less for their neighbour … it is every man for himself.

"The world is looking for an example of peace, real peace that is rooted in love and humility. This must be allowed to be the starting point for everything else like development, business, education and prosperity. Can Fiji be the example the world is looking for? Is this the time that the above favourite statement (Fiji the way the world should be) is finally fulfilled and shown to the world?"

The act of kindness by the Samaritan required him to put aside generations of enmity and risk the anger of his own people for helping the "enemy". This risky act of unconditional love is the foundation of the Kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated.

"No matter what religion we belong to, and where our belief lies, one thing is for sure: we cannot see God, touch God, taste God, love God, if we cannot be kind and loving and be at peace with people — our neighbour, those we have thought of as our enemy — whom we interact with every day. We are nothing but liars and do not qualify for God's Kingdom and eternal life.

"The Tui Noco, the people of Noco and the paramount chief of Rewa have followed the example of the Good Samaritan and gone further to make the descendants of indentured labourers their own.

"In the Bible reading, the Samaritan did not just use words to show love, but showed love through his actions. In picking up, transporting and providing the best treatment for this traditional enemy, he cut through the barriers of discrimination, unforgiveness, hatred and anger. He showed the will to do what was right even though it was viewed as wrong by society. This is peace-making and peacebuilding.

"Fiji needs to learn from the Good Samaritan story. The story of Noco and Rewa is a story of love. We must amplify this message of belonging to one another. We belong to the same need for love, kindness, peace and good relationship. Just as the term Good Samaritan is known around the world for love in action, let the name that is going to be announced today be the name that will be told forever to represent good relationship, love and peace with each other and with our neighbour."

Mr Turaganiqali's message was echoed by the Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa, in her address who said the process was about practising Christian principles.

"It is about Christianity, accepted by our chiefs in 1838. It is about loving your neighbour as you love yourself, that we extend this act of unity.

"Pope Francis implores us to extend hospitality to all, so that at the end of the day, we all have a sense of belonging.

"It is my genuine belief that it is same spirit of human kindness and God's love for us all which will be the hallmark of today's ceremonies and will govern all of our future relationships."

She suggested that in this newfound, newly-formed relationship, the Luvedra na Ratu may have received the raw end of the deal.

"Rewa can by no means be called a rich province. Unlike our neighbouring provinces of Tailevu and Naitasiri, we are bereft of great tracks of arable land and natural resources. Yet we accommodate within the Suva-Nausori corridor, the greatest percentage of Fiji's population and must share with everyone our fishing grounds and what little farming land we have.

"A great majority of our people in do not share in the wealth of urban development. They neither live in sleek modern homes nor do they participate in the greater wealth of the economically powerful.

"We are people forced to live by our wits, to rise by education and hard work and I believe that this tradition of having to labour and overcome great odds we share with people who came here as indentured labourers.

"So being a member of Rewa Province and together with the tikina of Noco does not mean great tracts of beachfront land, nor mining rights nor seabed mineral resources. There is no easy income from tourism leases. Being Rewan, in the tradition I was raised, means always being able to look beyond our individual circumstances and ask what we together can do for the common good."

This return home of the Luvedra na Ratu invokes for Ro Teimumu another recent homecoming when in January 2013, Robert Combie of Sydney Australia, together with his family and friends, returned to Lomanikoro, the war clubs given to Reverend William Cross by the then Roko Tui Dreketi, when he laid down warfare and cannibalism and accepted the living Word of God in 1838.

"I was overcome with humility and gratitude to accept back the war clubs on behalf of the Christian faith in Fiji and the people of Rewa. Rewa has indeed been blessed with inner strength and fortitude to overcome overwhelming odds with the faithful guiding hand of our Lord and Saviour.

"With equal fervour, I pray the Lord will hold the newly arrived Luvedra na Ratu and blessing them, one and all in His loving arms and into the bosom of our province."

Addressing the vanua of Noco and Rewa and the Luvedra na Ratu, Tui Noco said the day was the beginning of a new journey that we are all one people under God's eye.

Speaking in the iTaukei language Ratu Isoa went on to say it really did not matter what race, colour, or where people were originally from, because the Son of God died for the whole world on the cross. Through that, we are all one in God's eyes the vakatoka yaca was a reaffirmation and validation of that oneness as God's children and in the vanua of Noco.

In the conversation of gospel and culture, the models put forward 68 years ago by H Richard Niebuhr in his book Christ and Culture were 1) Christ against culture; 2) Christ of culture; 3) Christ above culture; 4) Christ and culture in paradox; and 5) Christ the transformer of culture.

Perhaps as we listen to the fresh expressions of faith shared at this historic Vakatoka Yaca we might also consider how the Gospel of Christ and the message of God's unmerited, unconditional love — understood as grace — has enhanced the culture the vanua of Noco and by extension, the vanua of Rewa.

As we as a nation continue to move forward in this still young century, are we able to move in God's grace, which overcomes and transforms fear and suspicion into practical expressions of love for neighbour?

"Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity."

* Reverend James Bhagwan is an ordained Methodist minister and a citizen journalist. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Methodist Church in Fiji or this newspaper.

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