AHO HE MAAMA 2018
Clontarf, Brisbane. On Saturday the 4th Nov 2018, the Niuean community in Brisbane came together to celebrate the day when Christianity entered Niue. (Koe Aho he Maama).
This year, it was held at the Ekklesia Niue Church at Clontarf, Brisbane. This Niuean church was started only a few years ago by Reverend Togia Fakaotimanava Sionetuato, who relocated from Auckland specifically to plant His new church in Brisbane.
If you think the name of this church is strange then yes, this is a Greek name for the Niuean word “Ekalesia” but that’s not the only thing different. For one, it is not affiliated to any large church in Australia or anywhere else in the world. Sionetuato added “we are an independent church, we have relationships or partnerships but we are not controlled by any head office nor answered to anyone, but God.”
In 2015, Rev Sionetuato was ordained as Minister of the Word and Sacrament and Minister of Ekalesia Kerisiano Niue, at his home village Tuapa, Niue. He was ordained by the late Rev Aifolia Poumale. He then spent two years working at Parnell Presbyterian church before coming to Australia. He wants to be known to the Niuean people as a missionary and church planter. But more on the church later, let’s continue.
As expected of almost every Niuean event since Captain James Cook founded the island, the starting time of 10AM was delayed as their senior member (Ulumotua) was caught up in traffic. Almost all Niuean events I have been to, was never on time so there were no surprises here. Island time is deeply entrenched in the Niuean psyche that if you are used to being on time, you will be disappointed.
The mood wasn’t your traditional worship environment where no one is allowed to make noises. Remember those ones? There was noise of children playing from the back of the room, the whispers of people several metres away and a few loud talkers trying to talk quietly. I waited for some fussy old grandmother to tell people off but she never showed. Amidst the chatter, it was still a formal respectful place of worship. Looking around the room I saw something different – several sticks of sugar cane in the corner, probably decorative pieces made of plastic, I thought.
Waiting for the Ulumotua we were asked to sing a few hymns. Beenleigh Ekalesia sang “Omai a Mutolu”, the Northside sang another and our group, sang a well known hymn “Iesu Nae Ho Toto”. My brother Carlos kept changing his voice from tenor to soprano, which would have been okay in the shower, but it wasn’t my place to judge him if he wants to sing soprano in God’s house… ;-).
When the Ulumotua arrived, the service got underway. Rev Sionetuato welcomed us and did a call to worship but not before he emphasised that this is a joyous occasion and he expects everyone to be in a celebratory mood. I pinched myself to check if I was in the right place.
The Ulumotua (church elder), Togiasiua Togaikitama, also welcomed the people and apologised for the delay. He joked that the pig had escaped, but one will be found in time for lunch.
Then came the Bible readings, first in Niuean and then in English. The readings were from these books – Jeremiah 31:31-40; Mathew 11:25-30; John 31:1-16 and John 17:1-17. The people who read the verses were all good readers – Carlos Tukutama, Malama Tukuitoga, Mrs Sionetali, Doug Misipeka, Mia Poumale and Joe Junior Peauvale. For the first time in my life, I didn’t doze off for a few minutes as I usually do, when attending Niuean services.
The first speaker for the day, Roger Jackson, kicked off with a bit of history and how this day was usually celebrated back in the home country (Niue). It used to be on a Saturday when the old Centenary (Senetenali) building was still standing in downtown Alofi, but then moved to a Monday. The celebration, also known as “Aho He Maama” was and still is hugely popular. Each village would put in hours and hours of practice into their songs and dances, that it was usually treated more like a competition rather than a celebration. Every village would go to extra lengths to put on their best on the day.
Roger said “A huge part of the day includes the dancing and singing (tau tame), and of course feasting. The villages also prepared a feast of raw food (galue fafau) which was put up for display.” He said “Peniamina came up to Niue in 1846 to deliver the Word of God and it has been 172 years now since that day. Hakupu may have been the last village to receive the light but when they got it, they were very serious, and they even changed their name to Hakupu Atua.”
Roger connected well with the congregation with a speaking style interjected with humour and lively anecdotes. Before finishing off he spoke of the need to be united and to forgive those who may have done things to hurt us. I thought “great – hopefully my wife is listening…”.
Then the first round of singing started. We sang a song to represent Avatele, where our group came from. The one chosen was composed by our late uncle Alofaifo Lino “Koe Leo he Fakamoui”. After us, Northside sang a nice palagi song followed by Beenleigh Niue, led by Pastor Sionetali. His group sang beautifully which was reminiscent of the old songs from Tamahaleleka Liku.
Niueans are not known for their singing like their Pacific cousins but that has never stopped us trying. The rest of the Pacific was probably deaf because I didn’t hear anyone singing out of tune. Many original compositions from Niuean composers could easily hold their own, against any other songs in the world. I cannot decide which group sang the best, as they all sounded like Hillsong United.
Then came the message, delivered by Pastor Joseph Peauvale in a lively style consisting of humour but interjected by a few heartfelt gems. The choice of having Peauvale delivered the sermon was likely to be an attempt to reach the young minds of our youth. Whether effective or not I have no idea, but I hope that all the young people there including my children were listening. If not the complete message then something they could relate to personally.
He spoke of the need for villages to come together and help promote the Word instead of fighting amongst themselves.
According to Peauvale, the light may have been delivered to Niue 172 years ago but it is still here today. We are also His light; each one of us. That we should shine the same light that God showed through His son Jesus Christ. God’s light is Unity; God’s light is Love for one another. Jesus said we are the light of the world and therefore we must shine so others can also find their way to Him.
His message evolved around the need to first seek our salvation and to back up what we say with action. He provided a few examples which drew laughs from the crowd. Somewhere before the end of his sermon, I remember him saying “salvation is really our freedom”.
The Pastor and Mrs. Peauvale are still young in their journey but they have got the potential, passion and the drive to do wonderful work. Sometimes, the person himself and his conduct is more important than the words he utters from his/her mouth. From what I have seen over the years, Peauvale is probably one of the most devoted and pure of heart.
Then came the time to give donations (offering) to the Lord’s work, followed by the prayer for the offering.
Rev Elisi Sionetali and two of his deacons Jimmy Heka and Puhotau, then prepared the table for communion. Sionetali in his usual gentle and assured voice said a nice prayer in Niuean; his communication style reminded me of our ancestors from the village of Liku.
This servant of God, who may look like he belongs to the front row of the All Blacks scrum, is really a gentle giant. He’s got a huge heart and speaks in his own quiet but authoritative voice. He reminds me of some of our ancestors of old, they are people of few words but when they speak, everyone will listen.
Reverend Sionetuato then closed the formal service with a prayer and then took the opportunity to bless everyone in Niuean and then in English.
If that was the end of it I was wrong, what came afterwards were the celebrations, speeches and lots of eating and singing.
With the service completed and the hall cleared, people started taking their seats on the sides. The community leaders were also invited to go up to the main table – Pastor and Mrs. Joseph Peauvale, Rev and Mrs. Elisi Sionetali, Rev Sionetuato, Elder Polito Sakalia and Mr & Mrs Roger Jackson.
Following the blessing of the food, everyone was then invited to help themselves. There was a giant snapper, tuna, smoked salmon steaks, chop suey, roasted pig, pitako, taro, cassava, different types of salads, barbequed king prawns, corned beef and chop suey. I was not touched so much by the amount of food – although all the foods in the world was probably there, but by the extent that this church went to show their hospitality. Hospitality is a Christian value and one which a lot of Niuean churches have in abundance. The feast was enough to feed the whole of Africa.
That side of my culture I will never understand and one I find ironic. Here we are celebrating the day Christianity arrived in Niue, and we celebrated by eating too much. Isn’t gluttony one of the sins in the bible? And what did Jesus say in Luke 4:4?
While I personally find this over-indulgence a little hard to comprehend, I was surprised to see that here, no one was loading food into baskets like they do in many Niuean functions, including the ones that I have seen in Auckland.
Following the feasting came the speeches and celebrations. Each group that were there were given an opportunity to speak, perform an item and/or make a donation. Taleni, Peauvale, Jimmy Heka, Mia Poumale, Sakalia, Ua, Roger Jackson and other representatives all had their turn. The messages that came through apart from the call to unite was for the young people to stand up and be involved. All the speeches were delivered in an entertaining and humorous way.
Of special mention is our matua fifine Matafiafia Nelisi Lokeni who surprised her brothers Togia and Ua, by flying up all the way from Sydney.
It was also nice to see our Samoan friends and families represented by Mrs Folau, Wani Erick, her Samoan husband and other Samoans who were present. After a few words they sang a lovely Samoan song. It would have been a perfect song had it not been for KT Taleni, one of the deacons and a bit of a comedian, making up his own lyrics… ;-).
It was indeed a joy to witness our people celebrating with such passion. For the number of people there, I think the sound pressure level exceeds the sound of a Boeing 747 taking off.
Some of the reactions I got from the attendees – they really enjoyed the gospel songs, speeches and the celebrations.
Miss Hayley Tukutama will remember this event fondly because of the singing and the spirit in which people were celebrating – she said “its like Niueans were on steroids or something, it was incredible and fun to watch them celebrate”.
Another attendee also remarked that she also enjoyed the item from the Samoan group and the speeches from the young people.
Rev Sionetuato is happy to say that Ekklesia Niue is the only Niuean church here in Australia, that stands independently by itself. He said they only have a few families, but it’s a start. They have two deacons (Togia Puhotau and KT Taleni) and one Ulumotua (Ua Togasiua).
To finish off I want to thank the Ekklesia Niue for their great hospitality and warm reception that Saturday.
Fakaaue lahi mahaki, lahi e fiafia moe mafanatia e tau loto ha koe ha mutolu a tau gahua mae tau momoui fakaagaaga, he tau tagata Niue. Kia fakamonuina atu he Atua ha mutolu a tau gahua, ke ati hake e Ekklesia Niue ke eke mo taha lotu tupu olaola moe malolo, kehe tau tau loga ne toe agaia.
Oh – remember those sugar canes, I thought that was plastic? They were not. I went home with 2 canes, I am currently chewing one while writing this post. ;-).