For the past decade I’ve had the pleasure of working with the music group MANA, who’ve recently finished recording their fifth album. Many of my friends and the Bahá’ís I’ve met while travelling have asked about MANA and why this project in particular is so important to me.
Well, before I answer that and start going on and on about MANA (which, trust me, I can do for hours), for those of you who haven’t heard of them, here’s a quick introduction.
MANA, which means “inner power” or “strength of spirit” in many of the Polynesian languages, is a musical and cultural performance group made up of young Pacific Island Bahá’ís who are mainly based in Sydney, Australia. MANA’s albums are all based on the passages from the Writings which are studied in the sequence of Ruhi books. Although these albums are predominantly in English, most of their songs are infused with the languages, chants and rhythms of the Pacific Islands. The group has released four albums so far – one album for each of the first four books of the Ruhi sequence – and is currently preparing their fifth album (based on Book 6 of the Ruhi sequence of books) for release.
MANA’s albums have been incredibly well-received around the world, but the MANA project (as we like to call it) is far more than being just about making music and selling CDs. Personally, I have always found MANA to be such a powerful and incredibly inspiring initiative because of the way it exemplifies many of the concepts and ideas discussed by the Universal House of Justice in relation to the Institute Process and the various Plans. To me, MANA represents many of the aspects of the new and exciting culture taking shape in the Bahá’í community.
A Grassroots Initiative
The first MANA album, Reflections of the Life of the Spirit, was the direct result of a study circle on Ruhi Book 1, which was running all the way back in 2001. In fact, the members of MANA and their families had been participating in this study circle and they decided to put the Bahá’í quotations found in the book to music as a way of memorizing the quotations.
Additionally, the study circle wanted to come up with a service project to carry out together, so they decided to make an album of these songs so that others participating in study circles around the world could also benefit from their music.
It’s inspiring to note that with the exception of Tara Makirere, who composes the majority of the songs, the members of the study circle were not professional or career musicians. They simply had a deep love for Bahá’u’lláh and wanted to express this by serving the Faith in this exciting and uplifting way.
The Importance of the Arts
The Bahá’í Faith places great emphasis on the arts. In regards to music, `Abdu’l-Bahá stated:
The art of music is divine and effective. It is the food of the soul and spirit. Through that power and charm of music, the spirit of man is uplifted. [The Promulgation of Universal Peace]
In the last decade, letters from The Universal House of Justice and The International Teaching Centre have stressed the importance of using the arts in a systematic manner. The International Teaching Centre wrote:
The Five Year Plan ushers in a new stage in our efforts to promote the arts in the life of the Cause. As with all other aspects of the expansion and consolidation work, the requirements of the time call on us to be more systematic in the use of the arts…the arts have a vital role to play in the process… [Nov 5, 2001, ITC Letter to Counsellors]
The MANA project is just one example of how we can integrate the arts into the core activities of the Plan.
Developing Resources Through Service
The MANA project is carried out as a service project – all members involved have volunteered their time to create these albums and all the money made from the sale of CDs and merchandise has gone back towards the costs of creating the next CD in the sequence (such as studio costs and CD manufacturing costs). This has allowed the project to be financially self-sufficient in meeting the high costs associated with a project such as the production of an album. Additionally, the decision to use the proceeds from the sale of each album to cover the costs of creating the next album in the series has allowed the group to take a systematic approach to service and to contributing towards the development of resources that are needed within the community.
When the first MANA album was released, there weren’t many Bahá’í albums available which could be used as resources for the sequence of Ruhi books. Even now, ten years later, there are still relatively few resources like this available. The MANA albums are an invaluable resource as they are a great tool for memorizing the quotations in the Ruhi books. Just listen to a MANA song three times while reading the quotations along with it, and you’ll see what I mean!
Having these beautiful songs available on CD and for download, also ensures that they can be used by thousands of others across the globe for devotionals, children’s classes, study circles and other Baha’i activities.
The Institute Process is all about building the capacity of individuals to become active participants in the positive transformation of society through studying the Writings and undertaking acts of service as a group. The MANA project is testament to the amazing way in which the Institute Process builds participants’ capacities for service. The young members of MANA have – through their involvement with MANA – gained a greater confidence in their abilities and their capacities for service and have emerged as active and confident members of the community. I won’t go into details – I know the MANA gang will be reading this and I don’t want to embarrass them! – but suffice to say, the personal transformations I’ve seen in the MANA youth have been remarkable.
The Bahá’í Community: A World-Embracing Vision
An important and often overlooked aspect of MANA is that they represent and provide many of the Bahá’í world with some form of exposure to the cultures of the Pacific Islands, an area which many of the world-wide Bahá’í community may have had very little, if any at all, exposure to – even here in neighbouring Australia.
It’s easy to forget that this area of the world covers a third of the world’s surface and that the scattered and culturally diverse islands which lie between Australia and Japan is called the “Spiritual Axis” by Shoghi Effendi, an area which he says is “endowed with exceptional spiritual potency”.
I could tell you countless stories from my own personal experiences of the amazing connection the people of the Pacific have to the spiritual realm, and how so many in this part of the world have not only become Bahá’ís (many of them through dreams and traditional prophecies) but have advanced the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh in the region through countless acts of sacrifice, service and devotion. So many of the conversations I’ve had with Pacific Islanders about the teachings of the Faith, have left me speechless and awestruck with their profound insight into spiritual matters.
In fact the first and only king to recognize the station of Bahá’u’lláh was His Highness Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II, the late King of Samoa. On top of that there are currently two Bahá’í Temples in the Pacific and the building of another two were recently announced… Okay, okay, I acknowledge that maybe I am a little biased in this regard because I grew up in the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea, and you could say that I have a soft spot for the region, but I do think it’s more than that. As Bahá’ís, we should be familiar with as many different cultures as possible. Many of the Bahá’í materials currently available are still quite Western-centric or Persian-centric, and I think it’s important that the vibrant Bahá’í communities in many of the other parts of the world are fairly represented. This is particularly important in understanding what an emerging Bahá’í culture will look like. Understanding the diverse cultures and artistic forms of Bahá’í communities around the world and observing the different ways in which each community expresses their devotion and love of God gives us a profound understanding of how Bahá’u’lláh’s message of unity in diversity is truly for everyone.
You can listen to and buy their music here on 9 Star Media.
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