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Masonic mystery

Shalveen Chand
Monday, June 06, 2016

WHAT is a cult? Any other religion that is not yours! A comical but thought provoking response and perhaps at times the reason why a new or closed practice is viewed with cautious eyes. And a little knowledge of what is happening makes it a good enough ground for speculation.

Perhaps this is the fate that was met by the Masonic Lodge in Levuka. The Lodge was a meeting place for a closed group of distinguished gentlemen.

Research showed Freemasonry as one of the world's oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and charitable organisations.

According to Freemasonry doctrines, it teaches self-knowledge through participation in a progression of ceremonies. Members are expected to be of high moral standing and are encouraged to speak openly about Freemasonry.

Members are taught its principles by a series of ritual dramas — a progression of allegorical two-part plays which are learnt by heart and performed within each Lodge — which follow ancient forms, and use stonemasons' customs and tools as allegorical guides.

In 1875, a sailing captain named Alexander Barrack established Freemasonry in Levuka and later built the Masonic Lodge in classic Greek style.

Businessmen, top government officials and distinguished gentlemen quickly became members.

Historian at Levuka's Department of National Heritage, Culture and Arts Suliana Sandys said there were a lot of misconceptions about the practices of the Freemasons.

"It was nothing more than a club. A place where successful people came together to discuss issues including progress of the society they were in," she said.

"Their practices were nothing as what is rumoured to be. In fact, the Freemasons were responsible for the development of Levuka.

"They had organised funds for needy school children and have played an important role in shaping Levuka.

"I fear that people who did not know or were ignorant not to find out and understand came up with ideas and theories contrary of what was happening in Masonic Lodge."

The Masonic Lodge was burnt in 2000 by some villagers on Ovalau. Their action provoked by the thought that the Freemasons were a Satanic cult.In fact, the word in town was that Freemasons were satanic and held strange rituals inside the Lodge.

Conversations with nearby villagers brought many different types of responses.

Saula Waqanalagi from Waitovu claimed that human blood was a favourite cocktail at the lodge.

Meli Tukai from Baba claimed there were secret tunnels beneath the Masonic Lodge leading to the Royal Hotel or to Nasova House, near the cession monument, south of town.

Timoci Nasilasila from Nasinu claimed that human sacrifices were done to appease the Prince of Darkness.

There are many theories told by some members of the public as to what used to happen but none proven. But sometimes people assume that those who do not discuss their affairs openly must have something to hide.

Perhaps this was what led to the angry mob in 2000 shouting "Out with devil" and they burnt the lodge.

The lodge still stands or rather what remains of it but there has never been any evidence of Satanic practices, artefact or the tunnels for that matter.

Levuka as a town also prospered when the Masonic Lodge was still intact. The second half of the year would see scores of tourists, mostly touring Freemasons, coming to the Masonic Lodge as part of trips organised by their Freemason group in their country.

Many of Fiji's statesmen and chiefs were members of the Freemasons. A Masonic Lodge still stood in Suva.

Elsewhere in the world top scientists such as Dr Edward Jenner and Alexander Fleming, statesmen such as Sir Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and a list of others have been part of the Freemasons.

In Fiji, there are very little attempts made to understand something new and rumours spring to life on the basis that there is very little understanding of the subject matter.

Similarly strong Christian beliefs render some people ignorant to the new and what they do not understand.

Ms Sandys said this had happened to the Masonic Lodge in Levuka.

"Because of the private nature of the Freemasons practice, the people may have developed their own ideas as to what happened inside the Masonic Lodge," she said.

"And in a small island community, moles could become mountain because there were no answers proving that otherwise were happening. There was no attempt made to find the truth and the Freemasons saw no reasons in disclosing their practice to those outside of their organisation.

"But at the end of the day, a beautiful building in Levuka was destroyed which could have contributed to its National Heritage."

A combination of fear, religion and very little knowledge on what was happening maybe doomed the Masonic Lodge in Levuka but the practice continues even in Suva and other parts of the nation.

To date Freemasons have over six million members worldwide, and despite being in its fifth-century the group remains shrouded in mystery.

The one thing that is public about the masons is their member list and some of the most powerful people in the world were at one time part of the club.

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