Four islands unite in celebrations

21 December 2003

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar — Representatives of Baha'i communities in four Indian Ocean islands gathered here to celebrate the 50th jubilee of the arrival of the Faith in the region.

Baha'is came from Reunion, Mauritius, and Seychelles to join with the Baha'i community of Madagascar for three days of festivities.

Malagasy government ministers, local government leaders, and religious representatives were guests at the opening ceremony in the Hilton hotel in the heart of the capital.

Those attending the opening ceremony viewed an exhibition that depicted the growth of the Baha'i Faith throughout the world in the last half century. It also portrayed the garden terraces that embellish the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel in Haifa.

One of the guest speakers, the Interior Minister of the government of the Republic of Madagascar, General Soja, outlined the world-embracing principles of the Faith and noted how its teachings were introduced to Madagascar by Meherangiz Munsiff in 1953.

Mrs. Munsiff first set foot in Madagascar on 21 April 1953. She was able to stay through the hospitality of a local Muslim family, the Ismails, and later with the Robert family, of Tananarive (now Antananarivo), who were among the first to become Baha'is in Madagascar and who later played an outstanding role in the history of the Faith here.

Suffering ill health, Mrs. Munsiff left in January 1954 a day after Danile Randrianarivo, 29, accepted the Faith, becoming the first Malagasy Baha'i.

The first Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Tananarive was formed in April, 1955, and the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Madagascar was elected in 1972. There are now 33 Local Spiritual Assemblies.

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Fifty Baha'is from the other three islands joined 120 Malagasy Baha'is and Baha'i visitors from North America, Europe, and Africa at the jubilee festivities, held from 19 to 21 December 2003. Among those present were Baha'is who had been members of the community for more than four decades.

During one of the sessions of the jubilee, the daughter of Mrs. Munsiff, Jyoti Munsiff, told anecdotes of the history of the Faith in Madagascar. Daisy Robert, one of the first Baha'is of the island and the widow of Gilbert Robert, who had served as a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors, related stories of the growth of the Baha'i community on the island.

Musical groups from the four islands sang spiritually uplifting songs from their respective homelands.

At the closing ceremony two ministers from the Malagasy government gave speeches praising the faith for its teachings of universal unity and peace.

The media gave extensive coverage to the celebrations. Several newspapers published articles about the events, and the national television channel covered the closing ceremony.

After the celebrations, a group of Baha'is from the four participating islands went to Ansirabe, about 250 kilometers from the capital, to teach the Faith.