Community builds its first Baha'i center

January 7, 2004
Daniel Pierce of Tahiti (left) and Ato Tuhei, a pastor from the Keretitiano church.

HUAHINE, French Polynesia — Devotional songs and prayers marked the inauguration of the first Baha'i center to be built in French Polynesia.

After the local mayor and a Baha'i representative cut a ribbon of flowers to open the center, the Baha'is sang in Tahitian "Blessed is the spot," a song whose lyrics are a prayer by Baha'u'llah.

The event held on 7 January 2004 was attended by representatives of three other religions, as well as by Baha'is from Huahine, Tahiti, and Switzerland.

The ceremony also included Baha'i children singing selections from the Baha'i writings in French and Tahitian.

Francis Dubois, a Baha'i from Paea, summed up the feelings of those present when he rejoiced in seeing the physical presence of the Faith established: "Our hearts are on fire and filled with joy," Mr. Dubois said.

The opening ceremony came only eight months after the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Huahine decided to undertake the project.

Huahine, with a population of 8000, is an island in the Society Islands group, one of five archipelagoes in the territory of French Polynesia. Most of French Polynesia's 245,000 people live on the island of Tahiti, also one of the Society Islands.

Once the decision was made to build, the Baha'is -- three families and four individuals -- threw themselves into the task of constructing the center, which will be used for spiritual gatherings and study classes.

Some of the members of a dance troupe from Huahine with Iraj Sabet from Switzerland. Slideshow
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Some of the members of a dance troupe from Huahine with Iraj Sabet from Switzerland.

One of the families provided the land, and Saturday was designated as work day. The Baha'is put in long hours.

Working together, they used coconut palm logs for the base of the building. The Baha'is built the walls of bamboo and made the roof of corrugated iron on a timber frame. They spread white sand to form the floor.

The construction proceeded so rapidly that the Local Spiritual Assembly decided to add a sleeping area, a kitchen and bathroom. Other Baha'i assemblies contributed generously to provide the funds for these extra projects.

For the inauguration ceremonies, the Baha'is prepared a feast of fruit -- coconuts, pineapples, watermelon, rock melon, banana, and grapefruit. They also cooked taro, fish, breadfruit, and bananas in a traditional earth oven.

They made the "hei" (headpieces) and the "auti" (necklaces) using the strongly scented Tahitian white gardenia, berries, ferns, and colored leaves.

A member of the local Baha'i community, Tema Raurii, observed custom by welcoming the guests with traditional oratory before they entered the building. This was followed by a rousing song of greetings.

Once inside, the chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly, Hubert Bremond, introduced all participants and issued another warm welcome.

Mr. Bremond, who is a well-known broadcaster, promoter of Tahitian culture and a community leader, emphasized the Faith's worldwide character and its principles.

Later, he explained the origins of the project.

"We are only a handful of Baha'is, and we are families that are not very well off," Mr. Bremond said.

"By any human standards, it was probably impossible to take on this project and build a center, but each person made their contribution and brought along their piece of the building."

Another Baha'i speaker was Daniel Pierce, of Tahiti, who is a member of one of the two auxiliary boards assisting the Continental Board of Counsellors.

Mr. Pierce invited the guests to investigate the Baha'i message more closely, and he quoted the words of Baha'u'llah addressed to all humanity: "Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch."

The mayor, Marcelin Lisan, expressed his gratitude to the Baha'is for the invitation to the inauguration of the center.

"Thank you for the thoughts that have been shared today -- I will keep with me the idea that love, fellowship, and respect must come before all else," Mr. Lisan said.

Speakers from the Catholic, Protestant and Keretitiano churches also gave warm and encouraging addresses.

A deacon of the Tahitian Protestant Church, Raoul Mare, said: "My Baha'i brothers...hopefully we can share and help each other. There are things that we might lack that might be found with you. There are things that you are missing that we might have."

The guests then feasted on "poe" (sweet pudding with coconut cream), fresh fruit and the cooked food, all served on banana leaves and using coconut shells as plates.

Following the opening ceremony, the Baha'is held a mini-conference about the environment, and then discussed the progress of capacity-building study circles.

The Baha'i community of Huahine is active in the three core activities of the Five Year Plan currently being carried out by Baha'is throughout the world -- study circles, devotional meetings and children's classes.