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Christianity in Fiji

Ana Madigibuli
Tuesday, December 25, 2012

CHRISTMAS Day as we all know is one of the two most important days in the Christian calendar, including Easter.

It is the day on which all Christians around the world commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.

To mark Christmas Day, we take a look back today at how Christianity began in Fiji and how the early missionaries worked tirelessly to get people to understand and accept Christianity.

As the number of Christians and different denominations increase in Fiji, we take a look at how Christianity took hold in Fiji and how the iTaukei replaced their traditional religion with the Christian faith in 1835.

Christianity came to Fiji through missionaries who were passionate about spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world with a few of them focusing on the Pacific region such as Fiji and Tonga.

As highlighted on Andrew Thornley's book Exodus of the iTaukei, the first missionaries had first settled in Fiji on October 12, 1835 in Lakeba, Lau under the protection of Lau's paramount chief, the Tui Nayau.

The arrival of David Cargill who was the Superintendent Minister of the Wesleyan Mission, and William Cross in 1835 brought about changes to the community in Lakeba as they slowly introduced the influence of Christianity into how people lived.

In the book Conversion Scripture and Ministry of Rewa Andrew Thornley wrote that the two missionaries had come from the island of Vava'u in Tonga where the Wesleyans had been working for a number of years.

Alfred Harold Wood in his book Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church Volume 2 wrote that Fijians in the Lau Group heard that Wesleyan missionaries were coming and that their expectations were of mixed nature, some centring on the idea of receiving material benefits like guns and powder.

Mr Wood wrote that Tui Nayau, the all powerful chief of Lakeba, said he would become a Christian if he was given guns that would ensure victory over his enemies but when Cross and Cargill arrived he showed no inclination whatsoever to receive their teaching.

He wrote in his book that if it had not been for Tongans living in Lakeba and not subject to Tui Nayau's direct influence and also the assistance of Joshua Mateinaniu, the Wesleyan Mission might have met almost insuperable initial difficulties.

Even with Tui Nayau still remaining impervious to any teaching at that time, the missionaries were able to hold a first Sunday service on October 18, 1835 which was held out in the open with 150 people present.

In his book, Mr Wood highlighted the number of people who attended and the fact that approximately half of those attending the service being Tongans.

He wrote that the service was also conducted in the Tongan language which many of the iTaukei at Lakeba then were familiar with. Tui Nayau had shown a vacillating attitude ever since Cross and Cargill arrived in Lakeba but he finally converted to Christianity in the year 1849 which had results beyond Lakeba itself, he wrote.

But the conversion of Tui Nayau did not bring about peace like the conversion of the Vunivalu of Bau Ratu Seru Cakobau did.

Ratu Seru Cakobau had himself converted to Christianity and renounced cannibalism in 1854 which had also resulted in the conversion of many Fijians.

At last on April 30, 1854, Ratu Seru Cakobau openly professed his conversion to Christianity as was mentioned in Mr Wood's book Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church Vol 2 which marked the turning point of Fiji's missionary history. Mr Wood wrote that on a fair Sunday morning on 30th of April 1854 the great war drums of Bau beat not for human sacrifices but for Christian worship

He highlighted that on Sunday May 7, 1854 following Ratu Seru Cakobau's profession, 300 more Bauans accepted Christianity publicly and that 600 worshipped that day.

It was also the decision of Ratu Seru Cakobau with the agreement of other chiefs, some of whom had been rebels against his authority that brought about the cession of Fiji to the British Crown in 1874.

From there Christianity progressed in the country which led to Wesleyan (Methodist) not being the only Christian body in Fiji.

Mr Wood also highlighted the fact that Roman Catholic priests in Fiji had made their first attempt to begin their work in Fiji in 1842 but the chief of Lau Tui Nayau refused them permission to land and they proceeded to Tonga where their mission was launched at Pea, in Tongatapu in July 1842.

The Catholic priest later made progress in June 1850 in Lakeba where the priest had laboured for six years and managed to win 25 to 30 converts.

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