Across oceans, spirit of sacrifice binds two communities

15 September 2015
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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — The Pacific Ocean is home to one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries in the world. In this nation—Papua New Guinea (PNG)—over 800 languages are spoken, and some 700 tribal groups inhabit the mountainous terrain.

Recently, one of Papua New Guinea's two major national television channels, EMTV, aired a special episode prepared in partnership with the Baha'is of PNG, juxtaposing their experience in the country—in which the Baha'i community has witnessed an efflorescence of community life in recent decades—against the harsh conditions experienced by the Baha'is in Iran, who are enduring an ongoing, state-sponsored persecution of their community. Though far from one another in distance and in the realities of their cultural and social settings, the documentary reflects the profound connection that the Baha'is in PNG feel with their co-religionists in Iran.

The documentary features aspects of the teachings and history of the Baha'i religion, which originated in Iran in the mid-ninteenth century but has had strong roots in PNG since the 1950s. The first segment of the program tells the story of the arrival of the Baha'i Faith to PNG and the contributions of several individual Baha'is whose dedication to the people of the islands impacted the development of the Baha'i community and the society at large.

Mr. Apelis Mazakmat, the first indigenous Baha'i of the country, is among the figures from the early history of the Baha'i Faith in PNG who are introduced in the film.

Quoted in the documentary, former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Julius Chan, described Mr. Mazakmat as a "living legend in promoting and maintaining an integral approach to the development of a just and prosperous society".

The documentary also tells the story of Ms. Violet Hoehnke, an Australian Baha'i who moved to PNG in 1954, taking to its shores for the first time the teachings of the Baha'i Faith. Ms. Hoehnke was a champion of the principle of the oneness of humankind, and the video highlights her dedication to this fundamental Baha'i principle.

"A trained nurse who was widely known as 'Sister Vi,' Ms. Hoehnke was the matron of the first integrated hospital in the country," describes the narrator.

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Apelis Mazakmat, the first indigenous Baha'i of the country. He was one of several early Baha'is in Papua New Guinea who were highlighted in a documentary program on the Baha'i Faith.

"Ms. Hoehnke invited local people to her home in the Admiralty Islands and held first aid classes for them, which prompted criticism from members of the European community, who practiced racial segregation. As a result, the hospital authorities quickly transferred her to a hospital in Rabaul on a nearby island."

In the second segment, the focus is on the persecution of the Baha'i community in Iran, drawing attention to the persistent waves of oppression and attack since the earliest days of the religion, including executions and imprisonments after the revolution in Iran in 1979.

The program's final segments describe the endeavors of the Baha'i community for the betterment of society in PNG and worldwide. Highlighting the efforts of the Baha'is to bring about unity and harmony, the film surveys a range of efforts to contribute to constructive social transformation.