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Charlot's Black Christ Mural in Ra

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Charlot's Black Christ Mural in Ra

Jean Charlot mural

When you picture beautiful frescoes in historic cathedrals your mind probably wanders to a European city, and not Fiji. However, we've been aiming to see Jean Charlot's mural of the Black Christ in the Ra District of Fiji for some time now. On our way back from Nadi last week, we made it happen! Along King's Road in Naiserelagi village in Ra, there is a sign for St. Francis Xavier's Catholic Mission. Following the sign towards an uphill 5-minute drive leads directly to the Church that is home to the beautiful artwork. We knew right away that this was the right church, based on the descriptions we'd heard. No other cars or people were around; just yaqona (kava) lying to dry in the sun out front.

St. Francis Xavier's Catholic Mission Catherdral

The cathedral was open, so we removed our shoes and let ourselves in to see the frescoes we'd been eagerly anticipating. The cathedral itself is built in the same manner as the Catholic church on Taveuni- a stairway entrance leading to high vaulted ceilings with stained glass windows and ibe (ih-mbay; Fijian woven mats) covering the floors.

Stained glass windowsWoven mats covering the floor

The set of Jean Charlot's three frescoes was everything we'd hoped for and more. The Black Christ and Worshippers mural is the center piece over, measuring ten feet by thirty feet; and to either side there are ten by twelve panels; one of St. Joseph's Workshop and the other of The Annunciation.

Black Christ and Worshippers

St. Joseph's Worshop

The Annunciation

These pieces were painted in the early 1960s, and his style reminds us of the work of muralists Diego Rivera, Hale Woodruff and Thomas Hart Benton. We are so inspired by the multicultural aspects and empowering nature of the centerpiece; looking closely you will notice Fijian, and Fijian-Indian cultural traditions seamlessly integrated into the mural. Traditional offerings are being made on either side of the Christ figure.

Black Christ detailBlack Christ detailBlack Christ detailBlack Christ detailBlack Christ detail

Jean Charlot has painted murals throughout Mexico and in Hawaii. As we head back to the States- we'll make a serious effort to view more of his work in the region.

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Rabi and Kioa

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Rabi and Kioa

Kioa

Yesterday, we went to the islands of Rabi (RAH-mbe) and Kioa (key-OH-uh). We went with our coworkers to offer sevusevu to the villages that may be hosting Paradise guests in the future. Sepo and the waka

Jack mixing kava on boat

Even though the islands were only an hour or two away, it felt like we were travelling internationally. Both islands are home to people who were relocated from other Pacific islands. Their languages, building styles, and cultural traditions differ from what we’ve experienced in Fijian communities.

Rabi

Our coworker, Atu's wife is from Rabi

We visited Rabi first. Rabi has four villages, a town area, and a guesthouse for the occasional tourists. We visited the town area, which is pretty far from the villages.

Rabi jetty

The people of Rabi are originally from Banaba Island (aka Ocean Island), a solitary raised coral island near the Equator that today is politically a part of the Republic of Kiribati. The British Phosphate Commission (a joint British, Australian, and New Zealand enterprise) carried out phosphate mining on Banaba Island from around 1900 to 1979, and subsequently stripped away 90% of the island’s surface. After World War II, the Banabans were told they could not return to their homeland as it was uninhabitable, and they were relocated to Rabi Island in Fiji. A series of injustices and coercion predicated the relocation.

The four villages on Rabi Island are the same as the four that were on Banaba Island. We found that there were no chiefs, as in Fijian villages, and they do not do the Fijian tradition of sevusevu. We experienced Banaban music dancing during the catholic church celebrations in Wairiki.

Banaban dancers

The Banaban people have worked to preserve their identity. They also share their culture and story of displacement through their own website.

After Rabi, we visited Kioa. Kioa has only one village that is adjacent to a beautiful white beach.

Kioa

Polynesian canoes in Kioa

Kioa

The people of Kioa came from the Vaitupu atoll in Tuvalu. The first group arrived to Kioa around the same time as the Banabans did to Rabi, however they came under very different circumstances. Some of the men in Vaitupu assisted the Americans during World War II and used the money they made to purchase the uninhabited island of Kioa. They bought the island as a solution to the potential overcrowding of Vaitupu, and a small group of people made the journey to become the first Kioans.

Bridge on Kioa

Kioa

Sepo carrying sevusevu from the boat

The sevusevu we offered there was understood and welcomed. Kioa also has a website.

Some of our Paradise team in Kioa

It was really exciting for us to experience the diversity within Fiji.

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