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The Spokesperson

Sacred Heart Parish, Levuka, Fiji

By Fr. Frank Hoare

Many of us passengers gathered on deck as our boat neared the port of Levuka, the old capital of Fiji. I had ministered for some weeks in a Catholic village, part of Levuka parish, on a nearby island. I intended to stay the night at the presbytery and return to Suva by boat next morning.

A young girl I recognized slightly sidled up to me. She greeted me politely and then asked if her friend could leave some luggage at the Levuka presbytery. I replied that I could not give that permission as I didn’t belong to the parish. “Why didn’t your friend come directly to ask me?” I added. The girl smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Thinking about it afterwards I realized that I had actually experienced the reason the girl’s friend did not approach me directly. A direct refusal of her request would have been more embarrassing than having the refusal conveyed by another person. 
Requests can be sensitive. They can put a relationship in jeopardy. So, the Fijian culture gives an important place to the mata ni vanua or spokesperson. The spokesperson learns from the elders how to approach a person of higher status with information or requests. She or he is the go-between who can explain the situation to both parties so that whatever the outcome there is no break in the relationship. 

Columban Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.

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