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They All Sound the Same!

By Fr. Frank Hoare

I have been studying the Fijian language for almost 3 months now. It is great to have a chance now to learn the Fijian language and culture. It has been decided that I should spend Holy Week helping Fr. Seamus McMahon at Naililili.

Just before I started my Fijian course, I did a 15 minute Hindi interview with Thomas Ambika Nand for Radio Fiji. He also recorded me playing the baja (harmonium) while singing a Hindi bhajan (hymn).  I never found out when the program would be broadcast. I actually forgot about it.

Fr. McMahon had lined up a full program for Holy Week. Monday evening was for married couples to renew their vows. The anointing of the sick and elderly took place on Tuesday. Tonight, Wednesday evening, we both heard confessions for hours. These were my first confessions in Fijian, and I didn’t understand all that was said to me. One lady told a very sad story with copious tears. I was embarrassed at not understanding the problem, and I had very little in the way of comfort or advice to offer.

After that “baptism by fire,” I joined Fr. Seamus in the presbytery for a cup of tea. I absent mindedly switched on the radio – just in time to hear myself singing the Hindi bhajan I had recorded three months previously. I turned to Fr. Seamus and asked him if he knew who was singing. He said that he had no idea. “But, you actually know this singer,” I said to him. He listened again for a few moments and said, “All those Indian singers sound the same to me!” I laughed.

Resolving an Elopement Issue.

I have been living in Nacamaki for 6 months now. I have been accepted as an honorary member of Manukira mataqali. This evening I attended a gathering of clan members as they collected enough tabuas (whale’s teeth) for a vulo (ten).  A mataqali youth eloped with a girl from the neighboring village some time ago.  A deputation of clan elders is to visit that village soon to offer their traditional apology for the offense.

The whale’s teeth arrived slowly one by one, brought by clan members who had one, or who had been able to borrow one. The yaqona was stirred up and shared around every so often. Eventually the magic number was reached. The vulo was ready.

The mataqali chief, an elderly man, then gave a lecture to the culprit who was sitting quietly among his friends. “You see how much trouble and expense we have gone to for your sake tonight,” he said. “You had better look after that girl. If we hear that you have beaten her we will all be very upset. We don’t want the good name of our clan spoiled and we don’t want any more trouble with our neighboring village.”

Then, as the culprit looked suitably contrite and humble, someone shouted from the back of the group, “And you cauravou (youths), if any of the rest of you want to elope with a girl, will you please find an Indian girl who is willing!”

A Smart Intermediary

The mata ni vanua (herald) has an important place in Fijian culture. In the Indo-Fijian culture too, if a problem between two important men is causing trouble to others in the community, one or two intermediaries may be called on. They talk to both parties separately and put pressure on them to reconcile. But today I realized that even European priests and a local community can be helped by a suitable intermediary.

My informant told me that he had attended a meeting of the church committee that went on for most of the day. Some of the Indo-Fijian committee members where quite strong in their views about different matters, and they seemed to have annoyed Fr. Theo. One of their leaders put a key question to Fr. Theo, and they all sat up attentively waiting for his answer.  But Fr. Theo said nothing. He gave no answer. He remained silent for a long time.

One of the leaders of the community, who was a big support to the priest, noticed that though Fr. Theo was silent the toes of both his feet were wiggling. The lay leader read this as a sign of great frustration and perhaps anger. So he turned to the questioner and said, “Fr. Theo will think about that question and will give you an answer later!”

Columban Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.

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