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"
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.
possibility exists that these interactions were experienced in similar ways in
other colonial environments that had comparable socio-political conditions.
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.
Until 1973 the government's official biennial
reports said of the Bahá'í Faith:
1954 two representatives of the Bahá'í Faith arrived in the Gilberts and there
is now a small Bahá'í community.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ieuti introduced his study by explaining:
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 
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
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
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· 
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
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.
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
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.
In April 1953 the colonyâs highest officials
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
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".
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:
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.
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
On the same date, 31 May 1954, the Senior education officer at Bikenibeu,
Sanadogh (?), wrote to the Secretary to Government
to report the contents of a letter just received from Rev. E. Jones,
head of the LMS Headquarters for the northern Islands:
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!"
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:
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
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."
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.
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
Near the end of 1955 "over 230 Gilbertese" had "declared their
intention to be Bahá'ís."
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
Motivation for conversion
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:
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.
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
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..."
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.
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.
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
Tuarabu LSA had registered under the relevant law on 24 September 1955.
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",
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
District Commissioner came to realise that the Bahá'ís desired to be a
"registered body with pan-Colonial interests."
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
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.
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.
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
 "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.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony and the
Central and Southern Line Islands, Biennial
Report 1966-67, et. seq.
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
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.
Norma McArthur & J.B. Craig, Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony. A
Report on the Results of the Census of Population, 1963, Suva, 1964, table
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
A decision very much regretted by the Government: 42/6/3. "Education in
the GEIC". Kiribati National Archive.
The High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, the Financial secretary,
assistant secretary, and Chief secretary of the GEIC.
20 April 1954. Kiribati National Archives, 42/4/23.
20 April 1954. Kiribati National Archives, 42/4/23.
31 May 1954 F.N.M. Pusinelli, DO, GI District to Senior Education Officer,
Bikenibeu. Kiribati National Archives, 42/4/23.
In relation to the DO's letter of 20 April 1954.
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.
Fernies to B. Dobbins, 11 October 1954, 0139/0037. Folder 6.
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
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. -
 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,
One of the investigators, Kautu Kamoriki,
a magistrate (d. 1986) subsequently became a Bahá'í (interview with Moten
Naari, Betio, 5/10/86).
 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.
Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p.365.
 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.
 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).
 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.
 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.
Confidential Minutes of District
Commissioners' Conference, 217th to 29th July 1955" BSIP 12/I/16.
Senior Assistant Secretary, Native Affairs, to DC Malaita (Tom Russell),
November 1955, BSIP 12/I/16.
Shoghi Effendi reported that the number
of Bahá'ís in the Gilbert Islands totalled approximately 500: Messages
to the Bahá'í World, p.97.
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.
 18/11/60. 41/5/5 Ecclesiastical. Registration. Application for Registration as a Religious Body - Bahá'í. ö Kiribati Archives.
 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.
 41/5/5 Ecclesiastical. Registration. Application for Registration as a Religious Body - Bahá'í. - KA
 G. Bristow for sec. to Govt, to DC. 41/5/5 Ecclesiastical. Registration. Application for Registration as a Religious Body - Bahá'í. - KA