Pages from a Missionary's Diary
Today I escaped from my Hindi studies to visit two veteran French missionaries, Frs. Cocereau and Debois at Naililili mission station. I was impressed by the fine old church despite the green fungus on the walls. I heard that Fr. Debois polled his way in a boat up the aisle to say Mass there during a flood. It is still no bother to him to tramp in his big boots to nearby villages.
Fr. Cocereau showed me his tavioka flour factory. The Rewa delta is very vulnerable to flooding. The root crops then all rot unless they are all taken out of the earth within a couple of days. But they can be stored only for a few days before they become inedible. Fr. Cocereau has found a solution. By peeling, drying and scraping the tavioka into flour it can be preserved for a long time. The villagers can cook and eat it until the new crops, planted after the flood, are ready. Impressive!
They invited me to lunch and even offered some home-made wine. I was impressed again. The wine was poured into the three glasses and I raised my glass to drink. I was embarrassed to find wine trickling down my raised arm. I hoped they hadn’t noticed. I sipped the wine again - very carefully. But once more a trickle of wine ran down my arm. I was totally confused. The two Frenchmen burst out laughing. The glass was perforated right around, near the lip, with tiny holes. Whatever way it was tipped the wine would leak out. They had caught out many guests!
I have been in Nacemaki village now for almost two months. It is a great place for practicing Fijian after my six months course in Suva. I go to a different Catholic family every day for meals. So I get to know who belongs where. The variety of breakfasts is amazing. It is different every day of the week. One day pie, another day bani, next day roti; then yams or breadfruit or dalo. Many different kinds of fruit too! And drinks! They range from tea, coffee, milo, lemon grass tea and so on. I feel like a king.
Ilimo and Kali have been good friends. On a picnic one day they caught and roasted some fish. They garnished it with “miti ni wai tui” (seawater in a rock crevice with chopped up chili in it). We did a two day walk from village to village around Koro island. I helped the old (untrained) catechist instruct Kali and Dibuna for marriage. I was struck by the old man’s injunction to the couple not to watch the dogs in the village copulating. Seemingly that would give them wrong ideas.
Today I was chatting with Ilimo in his bure. He said, “Father, you probably think that I am a poor man when you look around my house and don’t see any fine furniture or gadgets here. But you would be wrong. I am a rich man. You know Jeke here? He has a tabua of mine. I gave another tabua to a friend in Nasau village. I helped Patimo build his house. I played rugby with our village team. If I need help I only have to call, and all these people will come to my assistance. Yes, Father, I am a rich man.”
Father Forgive them ...
Miriam was married to Raju and they had six children – all girls. I liked Miriam because she was kind and gentle. She always had a cup of tea for a young priest visiting families. I never got to know Raju very much. He looked a bit scary and hadn’t much to say for himself. The family seemed poor.
I called to the house one morning. It was locked on the outside, but Miriam was inside. I was puzzled. Later, I returned one evening. As I sat drinking tea I asked her why she was locked inside the house that afternoon. “Raju locks me in when he goes to another town,” she said, “He doesn’t trust me.” “Have you given him any reason to mistrust you?” I asked. “No,” she said. “There is something not right with him. He won’t let me visit any of my family or even go to town. Sometime it is really bad. One night last week he sat sharpening his cane knife as I prepared to go to bed. He said to me, ‘You won’t see the light tomorrow morning.’ I was so scared I couldn’t sleep all night.”
In recent years Raju became weak and sickly. Two of the girls were married, and two had gone overseas. Raju was afraid now that Miriam would leave him. But she didn’t. He was hospitalized. She took him food every day and sat by his side until night fall. When he died she made sure that his burial took place from church and she observed all the cultural rites.
Today I visited her again. She just arrived home as I got there. “Where were you?” I asked. “I have just come back from the graveyard,” she replied. “I go there every day to pray for Raju.”
Columban Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.