Baha'is celebrate new year

21 March 2008

EUREKA, New Zealand — Baha'is celebrated their new year today with programs and festivities in thousands of localities around the globe.

New Zealand Baha'is were among the first to mark Naw Ruz - literally "new day" - because their nation lies just west of the international dateline.

In the Waikato region, Baha'is and their friends from the whole area gathered for an international dinner in Eureka, a small rural settlement in the dairying heartland of the country. Sandra and Babak Paymani began the tradition last year on their three-acre property, pitching a marquee festooned for the occasion in their garden.

"Naw Ruz is all about getting together and celebrating with friends, neighbors and work colleagues," Mr. Paymani said.

The smorgasbord ranged from Persian cuisine to lamb cooked Tongan style in an umu, or underground oven, by local Baha'i Melini Taufalele.

Mr. Taufalele, who said he learned the method of cooking as a child growing up in Tonga, described an umu as being similar to a Maori hangi where food is cooked using super heated rocks buried in a pit oven. "With an umu we leave the rocks in the pit and only remove the embers to prevent smoking the food. It's an easy way of cooking for large numbers of people."

Melini said preparing an umu was a social affair. "Everyone can join in. It's a real family thing."

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Melini Taufalele and Geoff Jervis uncover the umu, the underground oven used for their Naw Ruz dinner in Eureka, a small rural settlement in New Zealand.

The Waikato Baha'i community is geographically widespread. A region of lush green hills, bush and farmland, with exceptional surf on the West coast, the area has the scenic Waikato River winding through its landscapes and intersecting the regional hub of Hamilton, one of New Zealand's larger cities. Dairy farming is the backbone of the local economy.

Elsewhere in the country, some 150 young people were able to celebrate together in Christchurch because the annual New Zealand Baha'i Youth Conference happened to be planned for this weekend.

"This will be the first time the national youth conference will be taking place over Naw Ruz," said Rebeccah Hindin-Miller, a university student in Christchurch. The youth celebrated with dance performances, music, food, and prayers.

The Baha'i calendar, which today begins the year 165, has 19 months of 19 days each, with intercalary days added to reach the 365 or 366 days of the solar year. Naw Ruz comes at the end of the Baha'i month of fasting, a special period of prayer and meditation during which Baha'is abstain from eating and drinking between sunup and sundown.