HISTORY OF CATHOLIC CHURCH RABI
The Catholic sisters and children outside the Catholic Church at Fatima, Rabi – September 2003.
The church which lost most of its roof during Cyclone AMI is slowly being repaired as funds become available
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The History of the Catholic Church and Arrival of Banabans on Rabi Island, Fiji – December 1945
Written by Joseph Taratai, Rabi Island September 2003
When we left Nauru Island in 1945, we came as one people, anxious to see our new home which my parents have seen the photograph. We arrived on Rabi on 15 December 1945. This time of the year was known as the hurricane season which usually started in August and ended in April the following year: This is also referred to in Fiji as the warm season.
The disappointment came to our elders when we arrived because the place was very different from the one shown to them on the photograph. They learned later that the photograph which was shown to them was the photograph of Leouka town.
Father Ipolito first Banaban Catholic priest. Photograph by John Casey, National Geographic NZ
We were directed to the playground in Nuku where tents from Solomon World War II were erected for their homes. The ground was mostly covered with cattle’s waste (manure) and the place was very much polluted and not suitable for human living. All night they could hardly sleep because the cows often walked inside the tents and often they pulled the tents down.
The air they experienced and breathed was humid compared to Ocean Island. The sickness started spreading especially among children and among our elders. The Banaba struggled to survive in this killing situation. About a year later in 1946, they started to explore their new home. They often met with strange objects like poisonous plants, biting insects, bulls and cows everywhere. They ate from the rations supplied (only 2 months were supplied on their arrival) and fish from the sea. Again some of them got poisoned and died. At this stage our customs and culture were intact. After meeting all the obstacles the Banabans felt insecure in their new home.
About a year later division came to the Banabans because of different diversity. The Banabans have two religions. One is the London Missionary Society and the minor one was Catholic. The councillors (known as the Rabi Council of Leaders), most were members of the London Missionary Society decided that division would be made and LMS on the south end of the playground and Catholic on the south divided by a creek. Our catholic elders were approached by councillors and were told that while we were on Rabi the Banabans should be united under one religion (LMS). Our elders refused that proposal and they stood fast on their ground, refusing to be converted.
They were ordered to shift to Batutu, the north of Nuku about 4 miles. When they were seen to have become well established, they were chased again from Batutu to Rakentai at the northern part of the island: they stayed longer at Rakentai.
The life was difficult for Catholics for they were not allowed by the Council to buy from the store, they were not allowed to cut copra and sell. The means of living is closed to the Catholic so we have to live on coconuts and pawpaw and wild yams. Children were crying for sugar biscuits and other commodities from the stores which were closed to them. After staying in Rakentai for several years, we were shifted again to Fatima which was a very swampy area and mud was up to over our knees. When the Catholics stayed at Fatima most of the Catholic children suffered from malnutrition and some of them died.
It was fortunate that missionaries from the Seven Day Adventist came in, and the change of the LMS to the Methodist created a struggle among them and we were paid little attention. This saw the decline of our struggle.
It was very hard for the Catholics for we did not get jobs because the first choice was for the LMS and it was really difficult for Catholics.
When the Council saw that we had settled, they ordered again for us to leave Fatima, but his time the elder from our Catholic community refused to move. We were ready to fight. They told the policeman, who brought the message that this time we will not move and we will see who was going to make us leave this place. Luckily the Council never bothered the Catholic again and today Fatima is where many of the Catholics amongst the Banaban community reside today.