Unveiling galvanizes island
TANNA, Vanuatu — Over a thousand people gathered Sunday, 18 June 2017, for the unveiling of the design for the local Baha'i House of Worship in Tanna in the island nation of Vanuatu, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.
Hailing from Tanna, neighboring islands, and further afield, participants included government dignitaries, tribal chiefs, and representatives from various religious groups including Yapinap, an indigenous belief system.
During his remarks at the gathering, President of Nikoletan Tanna Island Council of Chiefs, Chief Freeman Nariu Sawaram, emphasized the importance of unity, sharing the analogy of the diverse organs of the human body working together for a common purpose. "We are here today to launch a starting point in a journey by the Baha'i community," he said. "We have to join hands, work together, and forgive one another. Then we can achieve whatever the whole body requires and build a better Tanna."
"Unity is a strong powerful force for our nation that will change our society," said Chief Sawaram in an interview later. "The answer to progress and true development is unity—without this we cannot advance forward. Our people must know this truth."
The event was a collective celebration for the island. Its inhabitants have come to see the House of Worship as a sacred space that will belong to all of their people. Plans for the raising of the Temple have been a rallying point for unity with a palpable impact on the sense of comradery and oneness among the island's population.
"Our forefathers predicted that one day the people of the island would unite, work and live together, and consult with each other," said a prominent tribal leader, Chief Mikim Teinakou. "I see the fulfillment of their vision in this Temple."
The Chairman of the Yapinap Nasuman Asul Peoples Association spoke about the impact of planning for a Temple in Tanna: "I praise the Baha'i community for this Temple, which will educate us to have respect for the sacred, to stop our disputes over land, and to bring respect and unity to our villages."
Sunday's ceremony began with a devotional program that included writings from a number of major faiths and traditions, followed by singing and dancing, and then the unveiling of the Temple design.
Celebrations began in the morning and continued with much joy and excitement through the afternoon, punctuated by prayer, song, and dance.
"The unveiling of the design was amazing," said a youth from the nearby island of Efate. "It captures the culture of the Tannese people—how humble they are, how beautiful, how respectful, and how happy."
Another participant remarked, "The unveiling ceremony brought so much joy to my heart that I am certain the transformation that the Temple will bring to our society will be great, so great."