Tuesday, 16 October 2012

East New Britain’s Fijian connection

By Grace Tiden 

THE word “Matalau” is a Fijian name, a word that is not found in the Kuanua dictionary. Yet there is a Tolai village nestled on the foot of Mt Kabiu located to the North East part of the Gazelle Peninsula named Matalau.

It was the Fijian Methodist Missionaries that gave the place its name. The missionaries were with Methodist Minister Dr George Brown when he came to the shores of Nordup Village outside Rabaul on October 12, 1875.

Seeing the beautiful black sandy beaches and the “splendid and scenic” environs, the Fijians exclaimed in their language saying “Matalau” (scenic) and the name was and is known to this day.

This Sunday, the beach at Vatnaim (Memorial) will come alive with a performance depicting the arrival of the missionaries to this part of main land New Britain 137 years ago.

The Matalau United Church Circuit will be commemorating the 137th anniversary of the arrival of the first missionaries tomorrow. (Sunday) The “To bola Day” is usually held on October 12 but it was deferred to October 14 to allow school children and working class church members to attend the event.

The Vatnaim (Memorial) at Matalau where the Methodist Missionaries first landed

According to Chairman of the organising committee Reverend Morton Amos, a local warrior and clan leader named To Bola from Nordup Village had heard about this “New Magic” (the Gospel).

Dr George Brown had arrived at Molot in the Duke of York Islands in August 1875 and established the church there. Word reached the mainland that there was some sort of “new malira” (magic) that was practiced in the island communities. ToBola left his village and went to Molot to enquire and after learning about the Gospel, he decided to take it back to his people.

Reverend Amos said the warrior purchased the ‘new magic’ with a fathom of shell money but Dr George Brown, wanting to know if To Bola was genuine, asked the warrior to prepare a piece of land, make a garden and build a house for the missionaries at Nordup.

The warrior returned to his village and did what he was told to do. He returned a month later to inform Dr Brown that everything was ready and the minister and two Fijian missionaries then went to Nordup.

The delegation was still in their boat when a commotion broke out at the beach. Warriors from Nordup, Bai, Korere, Rakunat and Rabuana gathered at the seaside after hearing that To Pulu and To Warwarum from the Duke of York Islands were also with the missionaries on board the boat.

Reverend Amos said the two Duke of York men were previously cannibals who usually raided and kidnapped people from the coastal villages of Nordup, Bai and Korere.

After the arrival of the church at Molot, these men converted to Christianity and accompanied Dr Brown to Nordup. However, raids conducted by these two warriors from the islands were still fresh on the minds of the coastal people of Matalau and nearby communities. The warriors wanted to pay back and gathered to wait for the two men at the shoreline.

At the same time To Bola and Dr Brown were trying to protect the two men and turned down requests by those on the beach to allow the two islanders to come ashore. There were other confrontations but eventually, through prayers by the missionaries, the people accepted the “Good News” and two Fijian missionaries Peni Luvi and Livai Volavola were brought over to Matalau to establish the church.

Reverend Amos said despite the opposition from warriors in nearby villages, Christianity was established at Matalau on October 12, 1875. From there, the Gospel spread to other parts of the province. Hundreds are expected to turn up at this anniversary celebration this Sunday at Matalau.

He said invitations were sent to New Britain Region Bishop Reverend Nathiel Pairuai to lead the service and Kokopo MP and East New Britain Governor Ereman Tobaining Junior to be the guest speaker.

There will also be other activities including choirs who will be presenting songs composed purposely for the event. Reverend Amos said invitations have also been extended to other distinguish people and Christian friends in the Kabakada Division. He appealed to people from Korere, Rabuana, Rakunat, Matalau, Nordup and Baai villages who were residing in other communities to attend this memorable event.


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