Giving expression to mission

Fr. Rouse is the Director of the Columbans in Fiji.
December 5, 2011

As I have come to know and respect the diverse cultures of the indigenous Fijians, I have long been struck by the structure of the speech that accompanies the presentation of a traditional gift, whether it be a tabua (whale’s tooth) or yaqona (kava). While allowing for flexibility and creativity, there is normally a five-fold structure.

The opening part of this speech is one wherein the speaker, or presenter of the gift, names the vanua (land or people) and the chief or leader to whom the gift is being presented. Then the speaker names the people on whose behalf the gift is being presented.

In the next section of the speech, the purpose or the nature of the gift is explained. For example, this is a gift of thanks or farewell or condolence. Here the speaker will demonstrate his or her ability to weave together a number of symbols or Biblical quotations that help to highlight the significance of the gift.

Thirdly, it is important to make it clear that this gift is inadequate – “e lailai.” In response, those to whom the gift is being presented will loudly call out “levu, levu” (meaning that it is more than enough).

The fourth part of the speech is a plea for forbearance. It asks the recipients of the gift to please excuse or forgive those who have come to present their gift for any possible misdemeanor or offensive behavior.

Finally, the speaker will usually refer again to the vanua or people from whom and to whom the gift is being presented. Then there is a concluding statement which follows a familiar and established formula. As he or she concludes the presentation speech, the speaker holds out the gift to whoever will receive it.

Cross-cultural mission calls one to leave one’s own vanua and enter into the world and culture of another vanua. The missionary brings the gift of his own life and service.

It’s a great gift to offer. That it can be expressed through the traditions of his own culture speaks of a mission that crosses all boundaries and challenges each one of us to recognise the treasures, the symbols, the patterns, the speeches in our diverse cultures that help us to give ongoing expression to the call to mission.