Cook Islands: Heavenly voices

By Pamela Wade

Colourful church services are a glorious way to enjoy Sundays in paradise, finds Pamela Wade

Children enjoying life in the Pacific Islands. Photo / Getty Images
Children enjoying life in the Pacific Islands. Photo / Getty Images

The friendliness of Cook Islanders is legendary, but even so I'm surprised to find them naming a child after me.

Like the Sunday-school children quietly fidgeting under the open windows, my attention has wandered during the minister's all-Maori sermon, flitting from the simple stained windows to the jungly peaks visible through them. Hearing my name spoken brings me back sharply, and there she is: little Pamela Inano at the front, being given my name. It's a bit of a thrill, but nothing sends more shivers up my spine than the whole congregation launching into a hymn afterwards.

I'm in Matavera Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC), one of Rarotonga's many white-painted coral churches, and it's the singing I've come for. Loud and shrill yet tunefully harmonious, it's wonderfully stirring - not just to hear but to feel through my feet and my hands on the pew as the men's bass voices make everything vibrate. I see the women's eyes are closed, no hymn books needed as they concentrate on making a joyful noise.

No accompaniment is needed, the energy of the singing filling the whole airy space of the church.

Afterwards, the christening feast in the open-sided hall across the road is enjoyed by everyone, visitors welcome, and the food keeps coming. There are meats, bread, salads, sweets and drinks of juice or coconut milk. A ute arrives with a whole spit-roasted pig on the back; chickens and dogs prowl hopefully around outside. It's a glorious way to start a Sunday, and wherever I go in the Pacific Islands I make the effort to attend a service.

There's always something different. On Aitutaki, the church in Arutanga, built in 1828, is freshly renovated after 2010's Cyclone Pat, with a colourful painted frieze inside matching the bright panes in the windows. Here, Brownies, Guides and Scouts march in proudly in their uniforms; toddlers wander the aisles during the service and the brilliant turquoise lagoon is visible through the open windows.

In Tahiti, Papeete's pink-painted Siloama Protestant church is also full of babies being bounced and little children playing hide-and-seek, the girls in crisp white, the boys in neatly pressed colourful shirts. When the long sermon, in both Tahitian and French, is over, the singing raises the roof.

On a remote island in Fiji's Yasawa Islands, the church is full and chickens roost in the frangipani trees outside the open windows. The warm breeze carries the sound of singing into the tropical night. This is life in the Pacific.

- NZ Herald

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