Who is My Neighbor? Fijian culture featured in debut of new series

May 05, 2022 | by JB Brayfindley

Who is My Neighbor? Fijian culture featured in debut of new series

In California-Nevada we are fond of claiming that we are the most diverse conference in the US UMC.  Yet, how well do we know our neighbors?

Considering this, our Conference Committee on Religion and Race brought a proposal to the communications team that called for the exploration of the 20 ethnic groups across California-Nevada.  The collaboration around CCORR's proposal resulted in a new series entitled Who is my neighbor? in which we will get to know cultures across California-Nevada. Working alongside the conference ethnic sub-committees, CCORR and communications will produce video taped panel conversations with reflection questions for deeper learning, and companion articles for each culture across the conference. These will be published throughout 2022.   
Who is my neighbor? videos and articles will unpack elements of communitarian and individualistic cultures, examining different modes of conflict resolution, leadership style, decision making and worship styles including rituals around baptism and confirmation.  Understanding that no one person speaks for an entire ethnic group, panel discussion participants will be chosen by the community to ensure a balanced cultural representation.

Noting that May is Asian-American, Pacific Islander heritage month, Who is my neighbor? will launch with an exploration of the Fijian culture. 

Click here access the video conversation panel on YouTube.  The video is divided into topic chapters and those are listed with the video on YouTube and posted here:
00:00 - Start 00:08 - Intro 04:16 - Fiji: The Basics 08:20 - Fijian culture: Church, family and communal society 17:21 - Gifts of Fijian culture 22:45 - Values of Fijian culture 31:01 - Fijian civic and social structure 40:04 - Adapting to US civic and social structure 48:18 - Fijian worship and rituals 1:00:41 - Essentials of Fijian culture 1:07:09 - Close and appreciations

Downloadable reflection questions are attached. The following companion article, video and reflection questions will be archived at the conference website News space and on the CCORR space.  


In this segment of Who is my neighbor? we feature a panel conversation between 4 members of the Fijian culture. 

The Fijian panel includes the Rev. Tikiko Lesuma, who is in a cross-cultural appointment at Hope UMC in Sacramento; and Pastor Tevita Koroi, who leads a Fijian congregation at San Rafael First UMC. They are the only Fijian pastors in the California Nevada Conference. Rev. Lesuma arrived in the United States in 1998 and Pastor Koroi in 2011. Joining them on the panel is Iva Codrokadroka Turaga of San Rafael First UMC, a Certified Lay Minister serving as the church’s Council Chair, Lay Leader, Lay member to Annual Conference and SPRC Chair. Turaga came to the United Sates in 1999.
Comprised of 300 islands, Fiji is in the middle of the South Pacific ocean, west of the dateline, a 3-hour flight north of New Zealand or a 4-hour flight east of Australia. Surrounded by island groups including Tonga, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, Fijians take pride in working with various ethnic groups.  
“With a lot of offices that serve the Pacific islands [including] ambassadors that serve other countries in the area, seminaries, universities… Fiji is considered the hub of the Pacific Island people,” states Koroi. “Fiji is host to the Pacific Island secretariat with partnerships over many island countries.”
There is also a particular connection between Fijians and Tongans.  
“We have Fijian communities that live in Tonga and Tongan communities that live in Fiji,” states Koroi. “Our history goes back a long way to [the] pre-Christian era—Christianity entered Fiji through Tonga.” It was in 1854 when Cakobau, the head Fijian clan leader, who first converted to Christianity becoming a Methodist. Today, the population of Fiji is 65% Christian and 35% of those are Methodist.
“We are part of a communal society, and we pretty much thrive on that,” states Rev. Lesuma describing how getting along with and respecting others is important in the traditional Fijian culture and how the family systems are the backbone of the Fijian way of life.
In the United States, Fijians live on the west coast, in California, and most reside in Sacramento. Others have spread across the Bay Area and up into San Rafael and Santa Rosa areas. Even though families may be separated by distance, “they will drive for miles to see loved ones, to be with people they are familiar with.”
“It’s just the connection between families--the relationships between the families,” states Iva Turaga. “Just community… just to be together. It doesn’t have to be a celebration…it’s just the connection.”
“We have folks who actually worship at Hayward that travel all the way from Santa Rosa,” adds Lesuma. “That is the dynamics of the culture that we have. We are very communal. We feel the support of family systems in place.”
“We don’t just work for ourselves, we don’t just think of ourselves,” states Turaga. “We think of others and are always helping each other out.”
“We embrace each other despite anything else,” explains Rev. Tevita. The panel discusses the Whale tooth tradition of making amends. The group explained a basic goodness among Fijian people in being open to new ideas, reaching out to other communities, and “providing space to others in the the church, community and in their selves,” states Koroi.
“Most people reach out for Fijian care givers,” states Koroi who receives regular phone calls for recommendations for caregivers to help the elderly and homebound. “What it means is appreciation of the kind of service Fijians contribute to the life of communities—physical and mental and spiritual care.”
In the church, the Fijians worship as a family with multiple generations singing and dancing together.
“One of the strengths that we have as Fijians, as Pacific Island communities, is when grandma comes to church, she brings the son and the son’s wife and the children. So, the tradition is normally… that when a senior member of the community comes to church it is highly likely that he or she brings one other generation if not two other generations,” states Koroi. “I think this is one of the richness of our community that we bring into the church. …we expose the teachings down the generation or two behind us.”
In the home, families stay connected longer with two to four generations living together, offering extra support for young adults as well as young married couples.
The panel discussed the challenges families and churches have of being relevant to their children and yet, retaining the traditional values. They struggle with how to pass their faith onto their children today. As part of a culture emphasizing acceptance and hospitality, embracing and loving, traditional families struggle with boundaries and when to say, “no.”

JB Brayfindley is a freelance journalist.