Baha’is believe in the power of prayer and you’ll find Baha’is and their friends, throughout the world, getting together to pray. This is often referred to as a ‘devotional gathering’ or ‘devotional meeting’, and they happen in diverse settings, whether in cities or villages. These gatherings are open to all and are intended to embrace that attitude of prayer and practice of devotion that is universal to all religions.
One of the things I always look forward to attending is the Pasifika Gathering. These get-togethers happen every three months in and around the Gold Coast and Brisbane, and they are for Pacific Islanders and anyone connected to the Pacific Islands in any way to come together and share food, music, stories and fellowship. Having been raised in Papua New Guinea, participating in these gatherings have been both meaningful and inspiring to me.
With the help of a couple of friends with cameras, we decided to film one of the Pasifika Gatherings, and interview some of the founders and organisers of the gathering to learn more about its purpose and how it all started. The interviews below are based on the transcripts of the video interviews.
Can you tell us what the Pasifika Gathering is?
Shamim: So this gathering behind us today is the Pacific gathering. The word Pacific in Polynesian is “Pasifika”. And the real purpose of it is to bring the friends of the Pacific together.
Sitarih Paongo: These Pacific gatherings happen every three months. And so the Pacific to have friends come together with the pioneers as well, and we get to rejuvenate and just be in each other’s company.
How did the Pasifika Gathering first start?
Nese: The Pacific gathering is the group that we have formed since the arrival of the Knight of Baha’u’llah, Lilian Ala’i from Samoa, moving back to Australia to live. Since that year, a few friends had the first dinner at their house in north of Brisbane, to welcome her. So that’s when we first gathered, and we kind of make sure that she won’t be homesick. And now we are having it every three months and come and say prayers to remember the Pacific and the work of the faith of the Pacific.
What happens at the Pasifika Gatherings and what do you all do?
Sitarih Ala’i: Well, in Australia we have a large Pacific island population. Many Pacific Islanders have been here for now a number of generations. Their kids are born here. They were born here. Their parents came here. We come together and we we pray, we sing, we do the arts today. There’s a basket weaving. We eat. We have wonderful food. Someone has cooked a Samoan umu for this morning and there are delicacies from everywhere, including Australia. We share news of where we live in different suburbs around south east Queensland and from abroad. And it’s just a beautiful experience to connect in a very loving way where you experience true, deep, genuine friendship.
Ruha: When we were planning for this event today, a group of the elders had wanted there to be something that we could do with our hands, because just believing that learning to work with your hands is a really important part of developing as a human. And it actually came from that. And so there was a few different things we could learn to weave from our elders, and I think they wanted to celebrate that. There’s a lot you can do with resources that are around you that is creative and that’s collaborative. Weaving is a space that any one from any age group can participate in, and it’s a really great space to kind of practice teaching and learning and working with your hands and to connect with our culture.
Why is the Pasifika Gathering important for you personally?
Shamim: So I grew up in Samoa, my parents were pioneers. Moving to Australia for school, it was difficult for us to sort of find our space. We just felt sort of lost and alone and having a space like this is fantastic and provides a space for us to meet with other friends, to get together and listen, to share in the memories of being back home.
Pili: All my family and myself, we always wanted to attend it so that we can see some of these friends whom we have known for years and we wanted them to stay firm, to stay strong. And we wanted to also work together to make this community of Australia as a very strong community. And so, I mean I feel very peaceful that I found this faith and the folks who are in it, they’re full of happiness. And when I come to these gatherings it reminds me of what it is to share this message. It’s not just for my family, for my neighbours. This is the entire human rights.
Sitarih Paongo: For me, it’s a way to engage with my Pacific Baha’i roots. So I guess coming from Samoa now with a daughter who is Samoan-Tongan, she is able to engage with all the friends of her background, bringing them together, having them share stories of the Pacific. And it’s all about fellowship. I think if you ever have an opportunity to attend one, come along.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, and thanks for keeping this wonderful initiative going!
Naysan is passionate about using the arts and media to explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. Back in 2011, Naysan started up the Baha’i Blog project, channeling his experiences in both media and technology companies to help create a hub for Baha’i-inspired content online.