Read: Baha'i Faith, Christianity and local religions in the Pacific Islands


Web Published: February 2001

Paper presented at the First International Conference of the Chair for Bahá'í Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 17-21 December 2000, "Modern Religions and Religious Movements and the Bábí & Bahá'í Faiths"

  

In general terms ãmodern religious historyä in the Pacific Islands refers to the conversion of Pacific Islanders to Christianity by Catholic and Protestant missionaries, under conditions of colonial rule.  The introduction of the Bahá'í Teachings to such controlled socio-religious environments, notably in the 1950s, tended to perplex secular and religious authorities alike.  In the Gilbert and Ellis Islands (now the independent states of Kiribati and Tuvalu), the arrival of a new and little-understood religion disturbed the delicate church-state relationship operating at that time.  This paper uses colonial records and other sources to examine the responses of churches and state to religious change amongst the Gilbertese.  The possibility exists that these interactions were experienced in similar ways in other colonial environments that had comparable socio-political conditions.

All Pacific Islands societies have rich religious traditions that include a mythical past and strong attachment in more recent times to one or other Christian tradition.  Catholic and Protestant missions sailed into the region through the seventeenth into the nineteenth centuries, and even in the 20th Century made extensive use of sailing vessels to ensure the spread of the Gospel throughout the islands scattered across the vast Pacific Ocean.  In a number of instances the missions established a foothold prior to the arrival of the European secular powers, which inevitably annexed the islands during the era of global colonization. 

            By the mid-twentieth century the authority of Christian churches in the realm of religion and of the colonial powers in that of secular rule, was pervasive, and apparently secure.  The various Pacific Island groups gave an appearance of stability and calm, and a sense that the people had consented to the replacement of much traditional belief and culture by the beliefs and practices of modern Christianity.  This view was also conveyed by much scholarship of the time, which invariably relied on the patronage of the missions and the colonial authorities for access to the field and to official records.  Indeed, anthropologists were often much involved in the colonial project, contributing their knowledge of indigenous cultures and languages to the processes of pacification and ãmodernizationä.  Missionaries, too, collaborated with colonial authorities to these ends.

            Juxtaposed with this official narrative of church-state collaboration in the cause of social and political progress is another, detailing opposition to the imposition of colonial rule, conflict between traditional authorities and the new religious leaders, and sectarian conflict among the adherents of the new religions.  Little of this context was known to the first Bahá'í pioneers to the Pacific, whose thoughts were focused on introducing the Bahá'í teachings to peoples who had the right to know of the advent of Baháâuâllah. 

            Whereas much Bahá'í scholarship has focused on the emergence of Bahá'í communities from the Faithâs Islamic roots, and in the West, their appearance in other settings is no less important or instructive.  At present the references to Pacific Islands Bahá'í communities are few in number, and invariably inaccurate.[1] Until 1973 the government's official biennial reports said of the Bahá'í Faith:

In 1954 two representatives of the Bahá'í Faith arrived in the Gilberts and there is now a small Bahá'í community.[2]

 

 This paper examines an eventful episode in the establishment of a Bahá'í Community amongst the Polynesian and Micronesian peoples of adjoining archipelagoes in the North Pacific Ocean, known as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands during the period of British colonial rule, now the independent states of Kiribati[3] and Tuvalu.[4]  Roy and Elena Fernie took the Bahá'í Teachings to the colony in 1954, as part of a plan of expansion known as the World Crusade (1953-1963).  In 1959 the Community assisted in the establishment of the Regional Spiritual Assembly of Bahá'ís South Pacific, and in 1967 established the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'í of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands.  By 1963 Bahá'í membership had reached 521, (1% of pop.), spread across 14 of the colonyâs 33 islands.[5]  In recent years the Bahá'í Communities of Kiribati and Tuvalu have continued to record growth in both membership and institutional development.  In 1979 it was reported that 8.77% of the population were Bahá'í.) In 1986 there were 90 Local Assemblies and a total of 140 localities.  The relative success of the Bahá'í community, as well as of other newer religious groups in Kiribati, continues to concern the more established churches, and calls for bans on Înew religionsâ have been made in the Kiribati as well as in other Pacific parliaments.[6]   In Tuvalu, Bahá'í statistics indicated that 5.8% of the population was Bahá'í by 1987, and the 1991 Ridvan Message of the Universal House of Justice noted that the Bahá'í community had attained the status of one of the "common religions" in Tuvalu.

 In 1992 a graduate of the Pacific Theological College in Fiji published a thesis seeking to understand these events, and calling on representatives of the newer religious traditions to contribute their own histories in the interest of promoting inter-religious understanding.[7]  Ieuti introduced his study by explaining:

 ãSeveral new religious movements have come to Kiribati since World War II.  Most significant for I-Kiribati history in terms of their growth and impact on society are the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the Bahá'í World Faith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints.  Other religious bodies in Kiribati are the Kiribati Protestant Church and the Roman Catholic Church, both established in the 1800s and some more new religious movements, such as the Church of God and Assemblies of God.  None of the older groups has experienced significant growth since World War Two.  The Kiribati Protestant Church has experienced a considerable erosion of membership into the three major new religious movements.ä [8] 

Ieuti then presents his understanding of the origins and emergence of the Bahá'í community, as presented to him in interviews and in the literature most readily available to him.  I will proceed by including this story here, then exploring the variations in fact and interpretation that arise from examination of records from colonial and Bahá'í archives.  In this way some errors of fact can be corrected, and alternative interpretations of the narrative can be offered.  Ieuti offers the following account:

 

In 1954 Roy and Elena Fernie from the national Spiritual Assembly in Panama arrived as Bahá'í pioneers in Kiribati.  They went to Abaiang and established their center there.  During their stay the Fernies conducted meetings; these brought opposition from the Roman Catholic priest who told his congregation not to attend such meetings.  In trying to suppress the Fernies and the Bahá'í Faith, the priest began to criticize them in the Roman Catholic newsletter, Te Itoi ni Ngaina, stating that they came to destroy the Christian religion.  Timeon Tamaroa, a Bahá'í, told me that the priest actually contributed to the spreading of the Bahá'í Faith in the whole group as the newsletter was read by so many people.

               In spite of the Ferniesâ problems, they managed to convert a Roman Catholic, Kanere Koru, who became their interpreter.  The people, because of their curiosity, wanted to know more about this new religion, so they began to flock around the Fernies and to hear their teachings.  The Roman Catholic priest did not give up his opposition.  He informed his superior in Tarawa, the bishop, to ask the government to send the Fernies away and send Kanere back to his native island, Tabiteuea.  In those days, to be a registered religious organization, a group needed 100 members, so the government approved of sending the Fernies away.  However, in a single night nearly 300 people registered. The government issued a certificate of registration on 24 September 1955 authorizing the Bahá'í Faith as a legal religion known as the Spiritual Assembly.  Nevertheless, the government managed to send Roy Fernie away in 1955, although his wife Elena stayed to continue the work.  She was responsible for the spread of the Faith on Abaiang. Kanere was sent back to Tabiteuea, his home island.  There he converted a Protestant minister who was under discipline by his church.  Together they spread the Bahá'í Faith on Tabiteuea.

               Elena established a school which attracted people as they wanted to be educated.  The Morkiao school on Abaiang established by the ABCFM was full, so parents who saw education as a means of getting good status for their children sent their children to the Bahá'í School.  Further progress in education was seen in the establishment of another four Bahá'í primary schools on Tabiteuea Island.  The Bahá'ís could not continue these schools as they did not get approval from the Universal House of Justice, and in the late 1950s they were closed down· [9]

 This account, while essentially correct, glosses over the tumult and intrigue that accompanied the Fernieâs first months in the colony.  It omits all reference to the role of personality, and to the interests of other central actors of the time: the colonial administration, the Protestant missions, island-level leaders, and individual Gilbertese.

            Elena Maria Marsella, originally from Boston, had trained as a concert pianist before entering the US foreign service. She pioneered to the Caribbean in 1945[10] and in 1950 was elected secretary of the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Central America and Antilles.  Roy Fernie (1922-1964), whose wealthy family owned the C. Fernie Steamship Company, was born in the Panama Canal Zone, and spent his school years in England.  In the mid-1940s he returned to the Canal Zone from a period spent in St. Louis Missouri, and soon after heard of the Bahá'í Faith from his future wife, Elena. He became a Bahá'í in March 1953.  With the announcement of the goals of the World Crusade that year, the Fernies decided to pioneer in the Pacific, and arrived on Tarawa, the main island in the GEIC, on 5 March 1954.[11]  About one week later they moved to Abaiang, where they rented a house from a Mr Schutz.

            Shoghi Effendi had advised all pioneers to establish friendships in their new environments before attempting to promote the Bahá'í Teachings in an active way.  Roy Fernie, it seems, had an effusive personality that attracted immediate attention.  Fernie arrived in the Gilbert Islands intending to study parapsychological phenomena in connection with Duke University. A charismatic figure who also played the piano and performed magic tricks, he thrilled curious locals with an impromptu show on his first day on the island, and within weeks attracted Sunday audiences of such magnitude as annoyed the resident Catholic priest.  In April 1954, one month after arriving on Abaiang, he offered to assist the Island Council establish a school.  He informed the District Officer that the Island Council had agreed to the idea that each village would build a dormitory at Buota, south of Tuarabu, where the concrete floors and cistern still remained from a school formerly operated there by the Catholic Church. 

            The secretary to government wanted to discuss the idea with the senior education officer at Bikenebeu.  Prior to the Fernie's arrival, the British administration had been consulting the Catholic and Protestant missions about provision of schooling. Following generations of conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities the government now sought their cooperation in establishing a network of schools that covered the population more evenly, and reduced the tendency for competition and conflict between rival school systems. The LMS had decided to cease offering village-level schooling.[12]  In April 1953 the colonyâs highest officials[13] had expressed the hope that the Sacred Heart Mission could be persuaded to "accept responsibility for the establishment of island type schools in predominantly Roman Catholic islands, rather than compete with government in the establishment of island schools elsewhere", and had assured the London Missionary Society that the Government would "start to take over their amalgamated village mission schools as soon as the island type schools (had) been properly established."

            Preliminary arrangements had been made in 1954 for the establishment of Island schools. The people were to pay half the teachersâ salaries through their cooperative societies. When island councils agreed to these conditions, the government went ahead with the building of the school. Abaiang had been the second island to apply under this scheme, but was not given a high priority for government action, as it already had Marist and LMS "higher" schools.  In this context, Roy Fernie's enthusiasm to establish a school was perceived by some as a threat what the delicate negotiations that had been achieved.

            On 15-16 April 1954 Roy Fernie spoke with J.B. McCaig, acting for the District Officer at Bairiki, about his proposed school.  It would teach English and he would contribute 60 pounds per month for a minimum of five years, an offer McCaig did not take seriously, describing the American as a "crank".[14]   The District Officer did not want to turn down Abaiang Island Council's request for a school, but felt Fernie's proposal was "too unwieldy" for one man to accomplish. The Officer also reacted adversely to his reported comment that he would bring in plenty of American ãwild west and comic stripsä to arouse in the boys an interest in reading English:

"I can't quite balance this enthusiasm with the apparently sound standing of the missions. If the people are so keen on higher education are they dis-satisfied with that provided by the existing training schools etc? Has this scheme been brought to the notice of the Missions? If so, what is their reaction; and if not, I do not think we can help. Our own position with regard to the Missions is difficult enough and such a step as Mr. Fernie suggests seems to me to be the start of a bigger rift, especially with the SMH.[15]

             The District Officer, F.N.M. Pusinelli, sought the advice of the Magistrate on Abaiang about the situation and received the following day a telegram indicating that Abaiang Council had already approved the establishment of the school and that the Fernies would be in charge. It would be for males and females who had reached 16, and non-denominational. The magistrate requested the DO's assistance in gaining approval quickly.[16]

            On the same date, 31 May 1954, the Senior education officer at Bikenibeu, Sanadogh (?), wrote to the Secretary to Government[17] to report the contents of a letter just received from Rev. E. Jones,[18] head of the LMS Headquarters for the northern Islands:  

"The Abaiang "old men" are much agog these days because of the hypnotic allurement of Fernie's proposals for a technical Utopia on the island. Before local free labour is conscripted in the name of local government, I think that the whole thing needs close investigation.  Everybody interested in education would support a programme of technical training, but, as the Greek Sophists often stated: "The reality of an object is not always what it appears to be!!" One would not like to see an aftermath of folly and disillusionment. However, I am sure that His Honour is fully aware of such dangers!"

 In June the Abaiang magistrate further reported to District Officer Pusinelli that the Fernies had attended a meeting of the Island Council on the morning of 12th April, attended by just 11 of its 26 members, but also attended by all the members of the lands court.  Fernie had written to the Council:  

"I hear that you are thinking about a school on your island, and the reason for our visit is to study the customs and character of the people. While we are here we would like to spend our time here among you in helping you in this scheme for your peoples' advancement. We shall not leave you until your school is well established and we shall stay a long time among you.  The school to be built will be Abaiang's school for everyone irrespective of whether they are Catholic, Protestants or Seventh Day Adventists. Every one can be admitted to the school from age 16 until they are adults. Abaiang will control the school and make the rules and punishments for breaking the rules."  

By October 1954 the school had been established on land leased by the Fernies.   English text books had been purchased from the Canal Zone government, and a "sizeable library" had been established. "Several serious-minded boys and their wives have also settled on our land", the Fernies wrote to Bertha Dobbins in the New Hebrides, "and are studying English every day in preparation for future studies in other subjects."[19]

            In the same period that the school was being established a number of Gilbertese were becoming Bahá'ís, and Bahá'í Assemblies were being established.  The first convert, Peter Kanere (1920-199?), a teacher from North Tabiteua, had seen Esslemontâs book Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era on the Fernieâs bookshelf, had insisted on reading it. The fourth of nine children, he had studied at the Catholic seminary at Buota, Abaiang during 1933-38, but had decided against the priesthood and instead became a wireless operator. At the time of Kanareâs conversion his Bishop had been trying to persuade him re-join the Church and enter mission employment.[20]

            With growth in adherents, "practice" assemblies were formed, at Tuarabu, Tebero and Kuria, a development that perplexed the missions as well as the colonial government.  The Fernies were evidently focused on the extent of their success rather than the social turbulence it was evoking.  Elena wrote to the Australian-based Asian Teaching Committee: "So you see we are now head over heels in teaching work. Roy spends every night at the new Bahá'í centre, or visiting other centres. The 'practice assemblies' come to the house and I instruct them. Almost all of our waking moments are engaged in teaching the Faith ...the Faith is tearing through the islands like a flame and we watch the marvel".[21] Near the end of 1955 "over 230 Gilbertese" had "declared their intention to be Bahá'ís."[22]

            In August 1955 Roy Fernie sought to register Tuarabu as the first Bahá'í Assembly in accordance with the GEIC Religious Bodies Regulations Ordinance but his efforts in this, as in the establishment of the school, provoked scepticism from British colonial officials.  District Officer I.G. Turbott explained to Fernie the legal procedures entailed in registering a religious body, and after the pioneer had returned the following day with the completed application, reported: 

            Whilst Fernie says it is the people's wish, etc, Fernie typed the letter and it was then accepted by the nine Bahá'í assembly.  Fernie claims he knew the requirements of the law and was therefore helping them. He regards himself as a 'steering committee'. Both A.A.O. Tabunawati and myself formed the opinion that the people really did not know what their Bahá'í religion was about but I suggest in the circumstances it might be wise to concede to the request for registration.  Fernie gave me the impression that he was doubtful if it would be accepted by the government as he is of the opinion that government are against Bahá'ís and prompt registration might alleviate his fears in this respect.[23] 

            Tuaruabu's memorial dated 30 July was accepted, and in terms of the law, that Assembly became the head of the Bahá'í community throughout the colony. 

            Since the Ferniesâ arrival in March 1954 some 200 Gilbertese had become Bahá'ís, and this rapid interest in the Bahá'í teachings antagonised colonial authorities and missionaries alike.  Fernie was most likely unaware of the fact that sorcery and magic were practiced widely in Gilbertese culture, but were being actively suppressed by the Catholic mission.[24] Furthermore, Fernie's efforts to establish an English language school, and the fund-raising activities he organised in Turaubu to accomplish it, hindered the capacity of the Turaubu Catholics to raise funds to match those of their rival village, Koinawa.

            Pressure appears to have been put on Abaiang Catholics to have the Fernies removed from the Island. Land owners who had leased them land on which they built a house requested that they move, and Abaiang Island Council, the members of which had been working with the Fernies to establish a much desired school, unexpectedly voted to expel the Fernies and Kanare from the island.  A Catholic priest wrote a derogatory article in The Star of the Gilberts.  Two officers were sent to investigate rumours that Fernie wanted people to become like Americans (and therefore to reduce their need for the British).[25]

            When orders were given that Roy Fernie be deported, some two-hundred additional Abaiang residents declared their position in the days prior to his departure on 25th November 1955, by announcing their wish to become Bahá'ís. Elena Fernie stayed despite her husband's deportation.[26] The authorities may have expected her to leave with Roy but she remained in the Gilbert Islands for at least another year.  Shoghi Effendi wrote to the British NSA:  

   In spite of the fact that Mr [Fernie] has been expelled from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, the remarkable progress of the Faith there has been a source of great satisfaction. It shows that a spiritual receptivity, a purity of heart and uprightness of character exists potentially amongst many of the peoples of the Pacific Isles to an extent equal to that of the tribesmen of Africa. It is indeed an encouraging and awe-inspiring sight to witness the spread of our beloved Faith amongst those whom civilised nations misguidedly term "savages", "primitive peoples" and "uncivilised nations". He hopes that your Assembly will do all in its power to ensure that Mrs [Fernie] remains in the Islands. Although for some period at least this may entail separation from her husband, he believes that these two dedicated and exemplary pioneers will be willing to accept this sacrifice in view of the extraordinary work they have accomplished and are accomplishing. The community there must not be abandoned, particularly by its "mother", so to speak. It must be well and profoundly grounded in the Faith before such a risky step can be taken. He hopes that you will deal most wisely and co-operatively with the Colonial Office officials in this matter and any others that may arise. Their esteem, their good-will, and their co-operation are practically indispensable for the future work in many islands throughout the Pacific area, and nothing but the frustration of our objectives can be gained through alienating them in any way. This should be impressed upon the pioneers and the local Bahá'ís as well.[27] 

            For Peter Kanare, subsequent events were tragic. On Tarawa waiting for his wife to give birth, and for a ship to take them to Tabiteuea, Kanare received a deportation order from the administration prohibiting him from remaining on either Tarawa or Abaiang.[28]  Kanare's wife was denied adequate medical treatment and died soon after childbirth.  Kanare returned to his home island of Tabiteuea in the Southern Gilberts, and proceeded to spread the Bahá'í principles there, so that by 1960 there were 47 Bahá'ís on the island.[29] 

Motivation for conversion

Why did Gilbertese leave their churches and become Bahá'ís?  The most documented reasons relate to a) aversion to financial and other obligations from the churches, b) a quest for education. Ieuta also refers to the attraction of the lifestyle offered by Bahá'í as well as other ãnew religious movementsä. Concerning dissatisfaction with the life of the churches, the American anthropologist Lundsgaarde has reported: 

As for the reasons in the major shift in religious affiliations among the Buatoa villagers, I was consistently told that the converts preferred the Bahá'í faith for two reasons: first, because Bahá'í missionaries did not require monetary contributions from the villages but, in fact, generously contributed both food and medicine to the people; and second, the Bahá'í faith did not require people to observe the Sabbath. On the basis of these rather fundamental changes it would be reasonable to suggest that the maneaba organization at Buatoa is headed for extinction. Subsequent interviews with government officials who have always attempted to ameliorate relations between disputing religious factions led me to suspect that the picture was, however, far more complicated than this.[30] 

Ieuta similarly reported the case of a wide ãwho failed to pay her levy and who was told not to come to church services and not to allow her children to be in the church Youth Fellowship nor to enter and play in the church maneaba (meeting house).  For this reason, the widow turned to the Bahá'í Faith to find security and real fellowship.ä[31] 

Did the experience with Roy Fernie affect the attitude of the British administration toward the Bahá'í Community? Although Roy Fernie was not allowed to return, British officials distinguished his case from the Bahá'í community as a whole.   In the Solomon Islands, a conference of District Commissioners was told:  "the Colony was having some difficulty with a few individuals, one of whom was a Bahá'í.  His Excellency briefly explained that Bahá'í was not a militant or political religion and that as a religion there was no objection to it..."[32]  In a subsequent despatch a senior government official mentioned in writing to the District Commissioner on Malaita, were a Bahá'í community was soon to emerge: 

            The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony's news is to the effect that a man called Fernie, a follower of the Bahá'í faith, has protested strongly about the Deportation Order made out against him on the grounds of his generally undesirable conduct. His representatives in London have raised the cry of "persecution" and have classified the Colony with Persia, where followers of the Bahá'í faith have had a thin time lately.[33] 

Within the GEIC, the British administration changed its attitude toward the Bahá'í community once it became more familiar with the religionâs tenets, and method of administration.  By 1956 there were some 123 Bahá'ís, organised into four LSAs, and five groups.[34]  The Bahá'í Faith had to be legally recognised in the GEIC to be able to hold property, and this required the registration of at least one Local Assembly.

            Tuarabu LSA had registered under the relevant law on 24 September 1955.[35]  Due to the nature of the Bahá'í Administrative process, however, which includes annual elections for members of Assemblies, the annual change of "board of trustees" led to much paper work for the British administration, and the reluctance of the Administration to entertain the idea of further registrations.  The Resident Commissioner felt the situation was "getting out of hand", adding,  

Surely it is not necessary to register each separate assembly provided the parent assembly is registered?  If so, we should also register each separate LMS congregation and the work involved would be fantastic.[36]

 

The District Commissioner came to realise that the Bahá'ís desired to be a "registered body with pan-Colonial interests."[37]  He suggested to the Resident Commissioner that the parent assembly was in Suva, and that the body called Bahá'í World Faith GEIC was established to lease land: "It would seem that the Bahá'í system of giving self-administration to each of its Local Assemblies is similar, in some respects, to government's aim of increasing the responsibilities of local bodies."[38]  Registration took place on 22 December 1959.             At this time the Catholic Church had 12 registered bodies, as each Catholic Parish, and each island, was registered separately: "It is not anticipated that the number of Bahá'í assemblies seeking registration will be numerous."  The Resident Commissioner wanted an assurance that each registered body had 50 adult Bahá'ís.[39] 

Conclusions 

Roy Fernie held only good intentions. But he worked too hastily on Abaiang, and was most likely ignorant of the tension that had existed between church and state for nearly a decade on the question of state-run schools. He fell foul of local authorities, firstly through his enthusiasm as an amateur magician and subsequently through their skepticism at his offer to build a school.

But more broadly, one reason for misunderstanding with colonial officials was the vastly different approach to Îmissionâ employed by the Bahá'ís.  At a time when most continued to act as though Europeans and Pacific Islanders were unequal races, even unequal in mental and social capacities, the Bahá'í pioneers treated all races equally.  Whereas leadership in the Christian missions and churches remained unquestionably in the hands of Europeans, Bahá'ís were electing new Gilbertese members to local administrative bodies within two years of their arrival. Furthermore, they were electing Gilbertese as delegates to their regional administrative convention within five years. This rapid Îindigenisationâ of religious authority was novel to the colony, and was at first misunderstood by government officials.  The Gilbertese, however, saw the matter differently, and recognized that here was a religion that not only preached but also practiced, an ethic of common and equal humanity.   


 [1] "The Bahá'í Faith became operative in these islands at the beginning of the 1960s. Since then, the Bahá'í have worked most successfully among those who were only nominal Christians, converting them to the Bahá'í faith. When Christianity was first brought to the islands, some opposition was presented by the islanders, probably influenced to some extent by European traders who had long been established in the area. The Bahá'í faith when it was introduced to the islands encountered a similar suspicion, but this time it was not opposition from the traders but from the Christian churches which had already become successfully rooted in the Kiribati cultureä: Kirata Baranite, "Spiritual Beliefs", in Kiribati: A Changing Atoll Culture, Suva: IPS, 1985, p.83.  In their article "Conversion and Church Formation in Tuvalu", Journal of Pacific History, 27:1, 1992, (p44) Michael Goldsmith and Doug Munro write: ãThe London Missionary Society (LMS) took over Tuvalu by degrees, from its early successes in the mid-1860s until pagan resistance in the three northernmost islands was broken a decade later. The archipelago has remained a Protestant stronghold ever since, despite the recent incursions by Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witness, Bahá'í, and Mormons, and the reintroduction of Catholicism.ä Other brief references appear in Kirata, B. (1985). Spiritual Beliefs. Kiribati: A Changing Atoll Culture. Suva, IPS & USA; MacDonald, B. (1982). Cinderellas of the Empire: Towards a History of Kiribati and Tuvalu. Canberra, Australian National University Press; Van Trease, H. (1993). From Colony to Independence. Atoll Politics: the Republic of Kiribati. H. V. Trease. Suva, Institute of Pacific Studies; Wright, C. ã, Christ and Kiribati Culture: Report of Workshop on Traditional Kiribati Culture and Christian Faith, Tarawa, July 1981, p 1186ä; Lundsgaarde, H. P. Social Changes in the Southern Gilbert Islands 1938-1964, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Oregon.

[2] Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony and the Central and Southern Line Islands, Biennial Report 1966-67, et. seq.

[3] The Republic of Kiribati gained independence in 1979.   It consists of 33 islands with a landmass of 860 sq km, spread through 5 million sq km of ocean, and with a population of 60,000 (1973).

[4] The nine inhabited Ellice Islands gained independence as Tuvalu in 1978. With a total landmass of 24 sq km, and population of 8,000, Tuvalu is among the world's smallest nations.

[5] Norma McArthur & J.B. Craig, Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony. A Report on the Results of the Census of Population, 1963, Suva, 1964, table 12.

[6] ãThe Kiribati parliament has been urged to prevent the entry of new religious groups into the country. The urging came from a former cabinet minister, Uera Rabaua, who says Kiribati has too many religious groups. Kiribati requires religious organizations to be registered, for which they need to have a membership of at least 2 percent of the total population over age 18.  There were presently seven registered groups that include Roman Catholic, Kiribati Protestant Church, Seventh Day Adventist and Bahá'í faiths. But, there are also some unregistered groups including two Christian churches and the Islamic faith: ãKiribati Government Asked to Ban New Church Groupsä, Pacific Magazine, November/December 1993, p.13.

[7] Teeruro Ieuti, ãThe Kiribati Protestant Church and the New Religious Movements 1860-1985ä, in Charles W. Forman (ed), Island Churches: Challenge and Change, Pacific Theological College and Institute of Pacific Studies, Suva, 1992.

[8] Teeruro Ieuti, ãThe Kiribati Protestant Church and the New Religious Movements 1860-1985ä, in Charles W. Forman (ed), Island Churches: Challenge and Change, p.72

[9] Teeruro Ieuti, ãThe Kiribati Protestant Church and the New Religious Movements 1860-1985ä, in Charles W. Forman (ed), Island Churches: Challenge and Change, p.101.

[10] Elena Fernie pioneered to Trujillo with Ofelia Montalvo The Inter-America Committee wanted her to spend time assisting the assembly in Port au Prince, Haiti: Bahá'í News, 177, November 1945, p.9.

[11] Reported in Koala News 26, June 1956, p.3.  The Gilbert and Ellice Islands were mentioned in Abdul'Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan, and were assigned to Central America as a virgin goal of the Ten Year Plan, 1953-63.  Shoghi Effendi named the Fernies "Knights of Bahá'u'lláh" in a cable dated 21 March 1954: Bahá'í World 1954-1963, p.452.

[12] A decision very much regretted by the Government: 42/6/3. "Education in the GEIC". Kiribati National Archive.

[13] The High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, the Financial secretary, assistant secretary, and Chief secretary of the GEIC.

[14] 20 April 1954. Kiribati National Archives, 42/4/23.

[15] 20 April 1954. Kiribati National Archives, 42/4/23.

[16] 31 May 1954 F.N.M. Pusinelli, DO, GI District to Senior Education Officer, Bikenibeu. Kiribati National Archives, 42/4/23.

[17] In relation to the DO's letter of 20 April 1954.

[18] Rev. Emlyn Jones had arrived from England at the beginning of 1945 to head the LMS headquarters at Morikao on Abaiang: Pacific Islands Monthly: December 1944, p.21.

[19] Fernies to B. Dobbins, 11 October 1954, 0139/0037. Folder 6.

[20] Shoghi Effendi wrote to Kanare, as the first Gilbertese Bahá'í, welcoming him into the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, and advising him also to be cautious in the way he told others of his belief.

    [21] Bahá'í Bulletin (Australia) November 1955, p.5.

    [22] Elena Fernie, Koala News 20, December 1955, p.4.

[23] Extract from District Office Betio to Sec of Govt, No. 311 of 1/8/55, SR 14/4/10 in 41/5/5 Ecclesiastical. Registration. Application for Registration as a Religious Body - Bahá'í. - KA

[24] On 29 March 1949 the District Officer, Gilbert Islands District, reported to the Secretary to Government the efforts of Bishop Terrienne to suppress Catholic involvement in maneaba activities "His Lordship was asked, recently, the reasons for his more latterly change of attitude towards these traditional Gilbertese dances [batere, ruoia, kamei] and he replied that, although batere in itself may not be a pagan practice there is a tendency for natives to undergo certain magic rites in order that they might perform well at the dance and so attract the attention of a member of the opposite sex....His Lordship has announced that maneaba are places of evil and that converts to Roman Catholicism should not frequent them. Kiribati I, 41/2.

[25] One of the investigators, Kautu Kamoriki, a magistrate (d. 1986) subsequently became a Bahá'í (interview with Moten Naari, Betio, 5/10/86).

[26] Mabel Sneider wrote to the Australian ATC: "Roy has been deported because of attacks by the Catholic Church, and is now in Hawaii. Elena has remained, it is certainly obvious that they believed she would go with her husband and the Bahá'í Faith would bother them no longer. She has remained and they have some 250 persons who are ready to declare themselves Bahá'ís, however Elena states that perhaps 100 have had enough teaching to be ready to be declared. Not only the huge problem of teaching that many people but also a lone woman against the three priests who are on the island! 1 January 1956. 0133/0036.

[27] Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p.365.

[28] The Australian Bahá'í Bulletin reported that Kanare had been "banished" to his home island of Tabiteuea in the Southern Gilberts: Bahá'í Bulletin, 25, 1956, p.2.

[29] By 1960, there were 47 Bahá'ís on Kanare's island. (RSA to Collis Featherstone, 29/3/60, "Hands of the Cause and ABMs" - Suva).

[30] H. P. Lundsgaarde, ãPost-contact changes in Gilbertese maneaba organizationä, in W. N. Gunson (ed), The Changing Pacific: Essays in Honour of H.E. Maude. Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1978, p.75.

[31] Teeruro Ieuti, ãThe Kiribati Protestant Church and the New Religious Movements 1860-1985ä, in Charles W. Forman (ed), Island Churches: Challenge and Change, p.125-6.

[32] Confidential Minutes of District Commissioners' Conference, 217th to 29th July 1955" BSIP 12/I/16.

[33] Senior Assistant Secretary, Native Affairs, to DC Malaita (Tom Russell), November 1955, BSIP 12/I/16.

[34] Shoghi Effendi reported that the number of Bahá'ís in the Gilbert Islands totalled approximately 500: Messages to the Bahá'í World, p.97. 

[35] In January 1956 the District Officer enquired if other Bahá'í groups had registered under Cap. 80. A reply came from the acting secretary to Government, Kelvin Nicholson, on 3 April, reporting that on 21 April 1956 the Tuarabu Assembly filled a form for registration as a religious body. Its members were Taam N, Areieta as the continuing trustees, and as new trustees, A.Tatake, Takabwebwe Sukong, and Elena Fernie: 41/5/25 Ecclesiastical. Memorials of Appointment of New Trustees. Bahá'í. Religious Bodies Registration. ö KA.   This registration was noted by Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Bahá'í World, p.107. 

[36] 18/11/60. 41/5/5 Ecclesiastical. Registration. Application for Registration as a Religious Body - Bahá'í. ö Kiribati Archives.

[37] DC to secretary of government, 2/12/59: 41/5/5 Ecclesiastical. Registration. Application for Registration as a Religious Body - Bahá'í. ö Kiribati Archives.

[38] 41/5/5 Ecclesiastical. Registration. Application for Registration as a Religious Body - Bahá'í. - KA

[39] G. Bristow for sec. to Govt, to DC. 41/5/5 Ecclesiastical. Registration. Application for Registration as a Religious Body - Bahá'í. - KA

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