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History of Methodist Church Rabi

SETTLEMENT OF BANABANS ON RABI ISLAND, FIJI AND THE L.M.S. CHURCH 

Written by the Late Rev Temaka Benaia, 1991

 

 

Methodist Church and maneaba at Tabwewa Village Rabi

 

All material in this Web Site is Copyright © K. Sigrah & S. M. King  2001  All Rights Reserved.

Extract: "The History of the Protestant Church in Banaban and Rabi" -  a Final Project Thesis

 presented to the Faculty of Pacific Theological College by the late Temaka Benaia.

September 1991 (pages 53-56,

 

 

Development had already taken place on the island prior to the arrival of the Banabans on the 15 December 1945.  There were countless numbers of cows roaming around on the island, and the Melanesian Labourers working for Lever Brothers Limited lived on the two coconut plantations called Vunisinu and Suetolu at the time, each having a coconut drier.  Some of them lived in the area where the Banaban first landed.  After a number of years these Melanesian Laboureres returned to their respective islands in the South Pacific.  Rabi together with all village names like Vunisinu and Suetolu as well as many others have remained in Fijian.

A church building for the Labourers of Lever Brothers Limited, most of whom were Methodists, was built at Vunisinu Village which is now called Buakonikai.  IT was looked after by a catechist who also worked for the company as a shopkeeper.  It was the only church for the whole of Rabi at that time; however, church attendance was not compulsory because the company did not enforce such rules as one might have expected.  The church building, a bure (a Fijian traditional house), was then used by the Banabans who came to settle at Buakonikai in the late 1940s.

It is also interesting to know that the Banabans’ migration to Rabi had been pre-determined by Britain and the BPC. When the Banabans arrived on the BPC vessel, “Triona”, they saw that tents of tarpaulin were being prepared for them. Each family had the freedom to choose which tent to use as long as they lived together in the same camp for security purposes.

However, on the arrival of the people on Rabi island, there were only two denominations the London Missionary Society which was the majority church and the Roman Catholic Church.  There were three LMS pastors int eh first landing but no Catholic pastor. The LMS pastors were Bonobati, Toromon Aand Tekiau. Bonobati was pastor in Uma, Toromon at Buakonikai and Tekiau in Tabwewa village. The pastor Tabiang village was among those who suffered from Leprosy and was killed by the Japanese soldiers. There was no church building; therefore, one of the larger tarpaulins was used for the purpose of church services and meetings.  Later on, two church buildings were built from local materials such as timber and coconut leaves to replace that tarpaulin. The church meetings consisted mainly of the church elders and their pastors.

 

Uma-Methodist-Church-group

 Members of the Uma Methodist Church Fundraising on Rabi Sept 2003 to try and raise funds to repair

their church damaged by Cyclone Ami.

During one of the meetings, Rotan and some of the elders suggested that a church building should be established to commemorate the first landing of the Banabans on their new island. This was agreed to by the members of the meeting who unanimously chose the hill which rises immediately in the background of their settlement camp, facing the sea.  Work on it started the day after this particular meeting, but slackened when people began to disperse to their own villages.

Elders from each family were chosen to become taan babaire (decision-makers) for the people with regards to the establishment of village locations, government, schools and hospitals on Rabi.  The Elders’ meetings normally became sessions where members would find time to yarn and recall most of their fishing expeditions and other significant incidences back on Banab, their unforgettable homeland. These elders included: Kabanti, Tekoruru, Tabuariki, Teremita, Keangibo, Rotan, Mataio, Taki, Tokinteiti, Akeriba, Amon, Tebuke, Rewi, Iete, Aron, Urebano, Nakaitu, Nakura, Tanaera, Airu, Korauea, Tekenimatang, Tenamo, ANeri, Kaiaba, Ietera.  Eight of these elders were chosen as a separate body of government known as the Rabi Island Council, working closely with the Banaban Advisor, Mr Kennedy.  They were Kabanti, Tabuariki, Rotan, Akeriba, Keangibo, Amon, Rewi and Aron. 

The following list is the names of rorobuaka (warriors or strong men) who assisted the office of Advisers with the development of the community: Beniamina, Tetebano, Kaiekieki, Aneri, Teangoa, Rui, Ioteba, Tebiraki, Kabuta, Natua, Kareaiti, Moutu, Taakai, Karuoteiti, Ikamawa, Iotua, Kautuntake, Kawate, Naikara, Kariatabwewa, Teai, Tio, Tekai, Fred Corrie.  The men assisted the Council in distributing and meeting wht community’s needs in terms of housing and beddings, eating utensils and food supplies which were to last for three months from the day of arrival till 31` March, 1946. Housing and bedding supplies consisted of tents, mosquito nets and blankets, and eating utensils included pots, plates, kettles, spoons, knives and coconut scrapers.  These were not enough to distribute to the people. Food which was available consisted of rice, flour, sugar, biscuits, corned beef, and tinned fish.  Food was distributed once a week but it was rationed on the basis of per individual per day.  That is for each day each adult received 1 pound of rice, 1 pound of flour, 1 pound of sugar, biscuits, 1 tinned corned beef and 1 tinned fish.  Children received half the ration.

 

Uma-Methodist-Church-group

 Methodist Church Uma village, Rabi

About six months to a year later a major decision was made by the Rabi Island Council to disperse the people from the camp site. It was also decided that the names of the four villages of Nuku, Wiinuku, Siosio and Aontengea (formerly known as Vunisinu) in Rabi were to be changed and renamed after the four main villages on Banaba, namely, Tabwewa, Uma, Tabiang and Buakonikai respectively.  It was due to this change that the people were encouraged to move to their respective villages where they felt that their sense of place and belonging was now somewhat secured.

The four villages were each controlled by their own elders and councillors. In the late 1940s to 1950s the LMS churches in each of these villages had their own pastors and catechists with its head quarters back in Kiribati. While the churches functioned individually in each village, quarterly meetings were often held whereby representatives from each church attended. It was in these important meetings where matters of importance, experiences and problems with regard to the welfare of the churches were discussed. From these meetings reports were compiled and sent to the Kiribati headquarters.

 

More on  History of the Churches on Rabi Island, Fiji