Tree-planting marks Fiji anniversary

April 12, 2005
Seven members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Fiji at the International Baha'i Convention, Baha'i World Centre, Haifa, Israel, 1998.

SUVA, Fiji — Fijian Baha'is have planted trees to mark the 80th anniversary of their community and as a tribute to Baha'is in Fiji and Iran.

Four trees, each a different type of Norfolk pine (Araucaria) from different Pacific countries, were planted at the Baha'i compound in Suva, said Kim Bowden-Kerby, the secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Fiji.

"A Norfolk pine from Australia signifies the services of Irene Jackson Williams, who came here in the mid 1950s to assist the Baha'is," Ms. Bowden-Kerby said.

"Another type of Araucaria, which can only be found in Fiji, stands in memory of the first Fijian Baha'is," she said.

"An Araucaria from Papua New Guinea was planted at the national Baha'i center to mark the 80th anniversary of the Faith in Fiji and one, a Cook pine from New Caledonia, for those Baha'is who have been martyred in Iran."

Norfolk pines, distinguished by their height, beauty and symmetry, are well known by Baha'is for gracing the approaches to the holiest places in the Baha'i world, the Shrine of Baha'u'llah and the Shrine of the Bab in the Holy Land.

The plantings took place at the anniversary festivities, which were held 12-15 November 2004. The first day of the celebrations also involved the observance of the Baha'i holy day commemorating the birth of Baha'u'llah.

Third convention of the Baha'is of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji, April 1961. Slideshow
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Third convention of the Baha'is of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji, April 1961.

Present at the festivities were some longstanding members of the community including Victor Williams, Aisea Aisake (the first Rotuman Baha'i), Apisai Matau, Yee Wah Sing (the first Fiji Chinese Baha'i), and Lepani Vakaloloma. They spoke about the early days of the Faith in Fiji and shared stories about their first encounters with the Baha'i teachings.

Among those warmly remembered at the anniversary festivities were distinguished Baha'i visitors Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani and other Hands of the Cause of God including Abu'l Qasim Faizi, Collis Featherstone, Rahmatu'llah Muhajir, and Enoch Olinga. The Hand of the Cause of God Martha Root deposited Baha'i books in the Suva library while on her way to Hawaii in 1939.

Among the official guests at the celebrations was Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, who subsequently became vice-president of Fiji.

During those celebrations, Fiji-based historian Graham Hassall addressed participants about the history of the Fijian Baha'i community and the individuals who played an important role in establishing it.

Dr. Hassall highlighted the contributions of Irene Jackson (later Mrs. Williams), a Baha'i from Australia, who arrived in Suva on 21 March 1954.

Ms. Jackson, who worked as a bookkeeper in the capital, was soon elected as a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Suva and served as its secretary.

In 1959, when the first Regional Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the South Pacific was formed, Ms. Jackson was elected secretary.

A New Zealand Baha'i, Nora Lee, had lived in Fiji from 1924 to about 1930. Before Ms. Jackson's arrival there were already a number of staunch Baha'is in the country. Among Baha'is who visited in the early days were Loulie Matthews, and Alvin and Gertrude Blum. Among the first Fijians to accept the Faith were Nur and Violet Ali, and Wali and Zainab Khan.

The celebrations were rich in music and dance. The Baha'is of the Lau Islands danced a traditional meke, while a youth group from the island of Rabi and a Baha'i choir sang songs. The performance of a Nasinu youth troupe included European, Fijian, and Indian dances.

Following the public ceremony there was a joyous and emotional two-day celebration in the Baha'i compound where Baha'is from all over Fiji shared stories and joined in group singing.

The "Fiji Times," one of the mostly widely read dailies in the country, published an article about the anniversary festivities.

Today there are 21 Local Spiritual Assemblies in Fiji. Baha'is live in more than 80 localities throughout Fiji and are engaged in community service.

For example, they hold regular prayer gatherings and children's classes, both of which are attracting increasing members of the wider public.

A weekly multi-faith prayer gathering is held every Sunday at the national Baha'i center in Suva, where participants read prayers and verses from a variety of religious scriptures.

The community also organizes study circles, where Baha'i and other participants learn how to assist others to investigate spiritual truths and to express themselves eloquently. They also learn how to carry out acts of service to others, such as teaching spiritual values to children.