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Mata ni Gasau - a Formal Fijian Apology

Fijian sperm whale tooth

By Fr. Frank Hoare

I was preparing to say the monthly Mass at Votua village in Western Fiji.  A family approached and requested me to accept a whale’s tooth at the beginning of Mass as an apology to the Church. A member of the clan had “borrowed” some Church money years before and had neglected to return it. A series of misfortunes which befell the family was interpreted as a punishment. I accepted the traditional apology (i soro) and hoped that it would bring peace to the family.

The mata ni gasau or isoro is a traditional apology done to atone for a wrongdoing that in some way injured the person or position of another. It is widely believed that misfortune indicates that a person has done some wrong which needs to be apologized for. 

Soon afterward, the parish council and we two priests planned a new building for our parish church which had accidentally burnt down. We consulted an architect, got our drawings, began collecting money and prepared the ground for the new church.

Then someone remembered that we hadn’t consulted the Archbishop about our plans nor received his permission and advice before proceeding. It was a big gaffe. There was nothing to do but take a whale’s tooth and yaqona to the Archbishop. Our spokesperson, holding aloft the whale’s tooth, contritely admitted our mistake and asked forgiveness. The Archbishop graciously accepted it and he treated us kindly when we discussed the project with him afterwards. It probably helped that we approached him in the traditional way.

Columban Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.

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